SwimmingConference Realignment Hitting College Athletics: Pac-12 in Flux

Conference Realignment Hitting College Athletics: Pac-12 in Flux

Conference Realignment Hitting College Athletics Again: Pac-12 in Flux, Arizona Heading to Big 12?

College athletics in 2024-25 was already set to look plenty different with four major universities switching conferences. In pursuit of big-dollar television contracts, the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma announced in 2021 that they would be moving from the Big 12 to the SEC in July 2025, and last year, the University of Southern California and University of California-Los Angeles announced their own moves from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten.

For the past year, the remaining Pac-12 institutions have considered their own futures, with the fate of the league uncertain until an agreement was reached with television partners. Now, four of the remaining 10 schools are either out of the league or in the final stages of their own departures.

The University of Colorado recently announced it was leaving the Pac-12 to return to the Big 12. Colorado was a charter member of the Big 12 in 1996 but left in 2011 for what will turn into a 13-year stint in the Pac-12. Now, the University of Oregon and University of Washington are close to joining the Big Ten, according to numerous reports, including ESPN.

None of Colorado, Oregon and Washington sponsor swimming and diving programs, but all seven schools that would be left in the league have at least a women’s team, and one of those universities in close to its own departure. The University of Arizona is likely moving to the Big 12, with the Wildcats’ addition already approved by Big 12 presidents and chancellors. Arizona sponsors women’s and men’s swim teams.

Now, ESPN’s Pete Thamel has reported that Arizona State and Utah have applied to join fellow “Four Corners” schools Arizona and Colorado in the Big 12. Their potential membership in the conference will be discussed in a call later Friday. The Sun Devils and Utes both have women’s and men’s swimming.

If Arizona, ASU and Utah departs alongside Colorado, Oregon and Washington, that would leave Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State in the Pac-12. All of those schools have swimming and diving programs, with the Bay Area schools sponsoring women and men while OSU and WSU are women’s-only programs.

Now, those universities will have to consider their own future plans with the possibility of a Pac-12 collapse. Cal and Stanford have been mentioned as possibilities to join USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington in the Big Ten.

The ACC has been relatively stable throughout the realignment run of recent years thanks to a long-term grant-of-rights agreement that grants ESPN near-exclusive broadcast rights of the conference’s events. However, officials from Florida State spoke this week about the possibility of leaving the ACC “unless there were a major change in the revenue distribution within the conference.” That prospect appears far-fetched with the ACC locked into its deal for another decade and exorbitant fees required to escape the agreement.

These conferences moves are certainly not motivated by swimming, track, tennis, soccer or even men’s basketball, the second-most-watched and second-most-profitable college sport. Instead, football is driving the movement. In recent years, the SEC and Big Ten have emerged as the premier, most desirable conferences for schools to align with because of the SEC’s television deal with ESPN and the Big Ten’s deals signed last year with FOX Sports, CBS Sports and NBC Sports. Thus, schools in other conferences pursuing of higher income have scrambled to find better landing spots.

The Big 12, seemingly in trouble three years ago when Texas and Oklahoma left, secured its position for the future with deals with ESPN and FOX. The Pac-12, however, had not come to an agreement, with Apple emerging as a potential streaming home for the league. But Friday, the nine remaining universities did not ratify a potential deal, leaving several schools scrambling for a way out. The Big Ten was open to further west-coast expansion, in part so that other universities would be closer in proximity to USC and UCLA, while the Big 12 had been considered a possible landing spot for disgruntled Pac-12 schools.

According to Thamel in his discussion of the Oregon and Washington defections, “The numbers from the Big Ten were being compared with the ambiguity of the numbers the Pac-12 received in its stream-heavy deal from Apple, which included subscription incentives that needed to be hit for the schools to make big money.”

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