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RIP PAC-12, 1959-2023

Has anyone checked on Bill Walton?

Washington State v UCLA
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 05: A Pac-12 Conference logo is shown on the court before the Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball tournament championship game between the Washington State Cougars and the UCLA Bruins at Michelob ULTRA Arena on March 05, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Cougars defeated the Bruins 65-61.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The PAC-12 is essentially done as the Arizonas appear to be headed to the Big 12 and the Big Ten is reportedly moving on Washington and Oregon. That would leave Cal, Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State and Utah in a rump conference.

Well at least for now.

Either the PAC-5 has to raid some other conferences or disband. And that’s just kind of unbelievable, frankly, not least of all because of the speed with which it happened.

It’s almost like Atlantis, which Plato said disappeared in a single day and night of misfortune.

It took a little longer, but the Conference of Champions is cooked, well and proper. And before people start pointing fingers, let’s just start with the former commissioner Larry Scott, who put a lot of focus on fancy offices and the like, but couldn’t manage to work out a deal with DirectTV. That was not in and of itself fatal, but it points to the stupidity and arrogance of the man.

More recently, his replacement, George Klavikoff, has been scrambling to get a media deal in place. The current deal expires after this season, and that was a big deal, obviously. He apparently had a chance at being the first conference, as far as we’re aware, to strike a deal with a streaming service (Apple), and while that may have been out of desperation, it could have also been a smart long-term move.

When Apple’s Vision Pro is released, they are going to want to have sports to play on that thing. It’s going to take a while for the price to come down and sales to go up, but at some point, it’s probably inevitable and having football and basketball in your face, as if you were in the stands, is going to be a major draw, not to mention the coming technical innovations.

And the PAC-12 would have been the logical conference to start that revolution. There’s a lot to said for being first.

You can’t really blame Klavikoff. He inherited a mess from his obtuse predecessor and tried to make it work, but he ran out of time.

So on to the consequences.

Assuming the northwest schools end up in the Big Ten, that means that Maryland and Rutgers will have to make road trips to Seattle and Eugene, in addition to trips to Nebraska and LA and of course all that in reverse. It’s not a big deal for football and basketball. Football games are limited to one per week, mostly on Saturdays, and both sports will fly charter. But that’s only the primary sport(s).

Is the conference going to charter soccer and track and field? Baseball is not a major sport but it carries 35 players. Charter? First class all the way? You can easily imagine lawsuits and Title IX complaints about unequal accommodations.

And that leaves out the issue that generally gets overlooked, which is this: the athletes, who are theoretically still students, at some point have to get to class. This has been finessed for decades - see the 1953 movie Trouble Along The Way - but it’s getting harder to pull off the fiction when you’re traveling so much and so far.

The NCAA is under pressure on another front: are athletes students or employees? Senator Ted Cruz’s NIL bill would classify them as students, but if you don’t think the various senators and representatives from the PAC-12 states don’t have a score to settle, think again. The unfortunate reality is that all of these schools have massive fan bases and an easy way to appease them is to advocate for those programs. Former Utah senator Orrin Hatch was particularly fond of this maneuver. He never got much done, but it was in his go bag.

If any NIL legislation comes out of our dysfunctional Congress, there may well be some payback included.