San Diego State should be the top expansion target of the Pac-12
July 14, 2022
With the Pac-12 conference still reeling from the shocking news that the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans are leaving their west coast conference home for The Big Ten Conference in 2024, the result has left the remaining ten schools scrambling to determine what to do next. Expansion is the likely answer and the most logical school to add is the San Diego State University Aztecs.
First and foremost, adding SDSU to the conference would get the conference back into Southern California. Losing UCLA and USC will cost Pac-12 the Los Angeles market, the second largest TV market in the nation. One estimate has the loss of USC and UCLA costing the Pac-12 conference up to $200 million annually in their TV media deal.
San Diego State is 90 miles from Santa Ana Mater Dei high school, the state and national champions in high school football and about 90 miles from Corona Centennial high school, the state champion in basketball and the 4th ranked team in football in the state of California in 2021. This is important because the Southern California area is a talent rich area and the Pac-12 needs a college football team in Southern California, for both recruiting and television.
The Aztecs are currently a member of the Mountain West Conference. In football, the Aztecs are 106-48 since 2010 and have appeared in ten bowl games in 11 seasons, with the lone absence due to the Covid pandemic. They have not had a losing season in football since 2009. In non-conference play over the past decade, they have beaten UCLA, Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, and Oregon State.
In basketball, the Aztecs have had 17 consecutive winning seasons. They have made the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament 9 of the past 13 seasons. In 2020, the Covid pandemic caused the cancellation of the season, but the Aztecs finished 6th in the nation in the final Associated Press (AP) Poll. SDSU has finished in the top 25 in the final AP Poll five times in the past 12 seasons.
The loss of USC football and UCLA basketball will be difficult to replace for the Pac-12, but at least San Diego State will bring winning teams in both sports. More importantly for the Pac-12, San Diego has the 27th largest TV market and with their presence in Southern California, the rest of the Pac-12 should be able to recruit the Southern California area as they have in the past.
On the academic side, SDSU is ranked No. 148 out of 1,400 colleges and universities in the nation by U.S. News and World Report in the 2022 college rankings. The ranking is good, but in the Pac-12 it is near the bottom in the conference, but ahead of Oregon State and Washington State. The Pac-12 prides itself on their academics, so any school being added will need to meet those rigid standards.
The Association of American Universities (AAU) is an organization of American research universities devoted to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education. It consists of 63 universities in the United States (both public and private). Nine of the current twelve Pac-12 members are members of the AAU. Only the Big Ten has more members with 13 of 14.
Only Arizona State, Oregon State, and Washington State are not members of the AAU. San Diego State is not a member but that would not affect their membership because they are a strong academic school. But if SDSU is the 11th member, the 12th member would be expected to meet the rigid academic standards.
There are several different scenarios for a 12th member, starting with schools like Fresno State, UNLV and even SMU out of Dallas. Kansas and BYU out of the Big 12 are always possibilities. Kansas is the defending national champion in NCAA Basketball and academically would be a good fit as they are an AAU school. A school like Kansas would make up for the loss of UCLA in basketball.
Another possibility is the addition of Hawaii for football-only and Gonzaga for Olympic sports. Gonzaga has one of the top basketball programs in the country and pairing them with San Diego State would instantly elevate basketball in the Pac-12.
But as Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News recently said about the addition of Gonzaga and their powerhouse basketball program, “every school in the Pacific Northwest might object to adding the Zags. If there’s a tiger prowling in your backyard, why let it inside the house?” Thanks to UCLA and USC, they may have to consider letting that tiger in.