The Pac-12 Conference is going to miss UCLA and USC

As the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans get ready for their last season in the Pac-12 conference, the reverberations from the decision of these two schools to move to the Big Ten conference continues to be felt throughout the Pac-12 conference. UCLA and USC announced on June 30th of 2022 that they would be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten after the 2023-2024 season.

At the Pac-12 Football Media Day Meeting in Las Vegas this past Friday, July 21st, it was painful to watch the conference leadership struggle to explain their lack of a media deal, a situation the remaining ten members of the conference are in because both the Bruins and Trojans decided to leave.

The loss of the Los Angeles media market has been a big blow to the remaining members of the Pac-12 conference. Without UCLA and USC, the conference media deal is less attractive. Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff did his best to put lipstick on the pig, but it was obviously not working with the media.

The Pac-12 is coming off a successful season, with 6 of their 12 football teams finishing in the AP Top 25, and 6 of the 12 finishing in the top 18 of the final CFP rankings. Quarterback Caleb Williams of USC won the Heisman trophy as the best player in college football. He returns for another season, along with quarterback Michael Penix Jr., of Washington and quarterback Bo Nix of Oregon. All three are projected to go high in the 2024 NFL Draft.

"It's worth noting that our success last season translated into more viewership with our ABC, ESPN, ESPN-2 and FOX Pac-12 football ratings all up between 19 and 21% year over year," Kliavkoff said. "Our Pac-12 football championship game recorded the highest viewership numbers in its history, along with a sellout crowd. We have a lot of reasons to feel optimistic about the upcoming season of Pac-12 football."

Very few would argue those facts. But what does the conference look like going forward? Do they get a decent media deal done? Is it a heavy streaming deal involving Apple and Amazon? Do they add San Diego State University to keep a presence in the Southern California market? Do they add SMU, which gets the conference into the Dallas/Fort Worth media market and into Texas for football recruiting?

Kliavkoff seemed confident that a deal would be done in the near future and the issue of expansion to replace UCLA and USC would be addressed. "First, we will conclude our media rights deals, then our schools will sign our Grant of Rights, which has already been negotiated, and only then will we decide on potential expansion."

None of this, of course, would be happening if UCLA and USC simply stayed in the Pac-12 conference. But the allure of the Big Ten money and Big Ten football primetime TV slots on OTA Networks (CBS, NBC, FOX) was too much to resist. Which also explains why the Pac-12 football media day event was held in Las Vegas this year, instead of Los Angeles, where it has been held in recent years.

"As you know, I'm from Las Vegas," Kliavkoff said. "I love Las Vegas. It's been great for our fans and for our student-athletes. The experience of coming and playing at Allegiant Stadium, the experience for our men's and women's basketball teams of coming and playing in Vegas, their fans having so many opportunities to take advantage of everything that Las Vegas offers is very special. It's also a neutral site. I think we'll be bringing more stuff to Vegas."

So, the future of the Pac-12 conference is more Vegas, less Los Angeles. They will probably find a way to stage a few regular season football games at SoFi Stadium in the future and they play an annual bowl game in December at SoFi Stadium. They will add San Diego State to the conference at some point in the future, which will help in basketball and give the conference a presence for football recruiting in Southern California.

But none of that is really going to help with the loss of the Los Angeles market. UCLA and USC will become west coast schools playing in the east. Next year's Big Ten football media day will be held in Indianapolis as well as the conference championship game. UCLA and USC will be at distinct disadvantage in the conference when it comes to travel. None of this makes sense so hopefully the extra money is worth it.


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