Pac-12 to 'explore all expansion options' after UCLA, USC depart to Big Ten

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Following the departure of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten, the Pac-12 said Friday that it will explore its own expansion options.

With the conference now in an extremely tenuous position with UCLA and USC leaving in 2024, the Pac-12 Board of Directors met Friday morning and “authorized the conference to explore all expansion options,” the league said in a statement.

“The 10 university presidents and chancellors remain committed to a shared mission of academic and athletic excellence on behalf of our student-athletes,” the statement said.

The move of UCLA and USC comes on the heels of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC last summer. It’s a massive blow for the Pac-12 as the Big Ten and SEC further distance themselves financially from the rest of the FBS conferences.

The Big Ten is currently negotiating its next media rights deal, which could be worth billions. The league's existing deals with ESPN and Fox run through the 2022-23 academic year. With the Los Angeles media market now in the Big Ten’s pocket, the league’s media rights are now exponentially more valuable.

At the same time, the Pac-12’s value has now plummeted without USC and UCLA, two of its flagship members. That new reality undoubtedly has left the league’s remaining 10 members anxious about what’s next.

The Pac-12 said Thursday it was "extremely surprised and disappointed" by the move from UCLA and USC but is "confident" the conference will "continue to thrive and grow into the future."

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  A high angle detail view of the PAC 12 logo on the field at Stanford Stadium before an NCAA football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Stanford Cardinal on November 27, 2021 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
UCLA and USC will officially depart the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten in 2024. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

Will remaining Pac-12 schools look elsewhere?

The movement among schools is almost certain to continue. The Pac-12’s statement says as much. But it’d be naive to think that the Pac-12’s existing members – especially Oregon and Washington — won’t look toward the greener, more lucrative pastures of the Big Ten rather than stay in the Pac-12.

Whether the Big Ten has interest in adding those schools remains to be seen. Notre Dame is seen by many as the bigger prize should the Big Ten continue with its expansion. At the same time, some of the upper tier members of the ACC could have their own wandering eyes toward the Big Ten or SEC as well.

How can the Pac-12 counteract that? Would adding schools like Boise State or San Diego State from the Mountain West be of any benefit? Could the league look to form some sort of merger with the Big 12? When Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12, the Big 12 reportedly looked toward the Pac-12 with that idea before it pivoted and added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Now the tables have turned with the Big 12 seemingly in a stronger position than the Pac-12.

There’s also the looming issue of the College Football Playoff. The contract for the current four-team model ends after the 2026 season. Something new will replace it after the proposed 12-team expanded model fell through.

The ACC and Pac-12 voted against that model, which would have given six automatic bids to the champions of the six highest-ranked leagues. With that in place, the Pac-12 and ACC champions would almost certainly have clinched playoff berths on a yearly basis. Instead, having less access to the playoff field — with the goal of a national championship — is another big reason for the remaining Pac-12 members to pursue other options.

Buckle up. The rest of the summer could get very interesting.