Is SDSU the right school for the PAC-12?

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

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Credit: Garrison/EVT Sports

On June 30, USC and UCLA turned the college athletic world upside down by announcing a move from the PAC-12 to the BIG 10. The decision will have ramifications across college sports, as many schools, including San Diego State, may be looking for a new conference home. The PAC-12’s best remaining universities, Oregon and Washington, for example, have reportedly begun talks with other conferences as they search for the most lucrative landing spot.

Over the past ten years, San Diego State has consistently had some of the best football and basketball teams in the nation outside the elite conferences.  They’ve put themselves in the conversation to join Power Five conferences in the past, certainly having a better case than most.

Just under a year ago, on July 21, 2021, the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners left the Big 12 for the SEC. From there, it quickly became clear that four “Group of 5” schools would join the exclusive ranks of being a Power 5 institution. 

However, due to a variety of factors, especially geographical location, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston were chosen above SDSU. BYU is one of the leading independent universities, while the other three colleges are all in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). The AAC is arguably the best Group of 5 conference. They boasted the first non-Power 5 school to qualify for the College Football Playoff when Cincinnati made the field last season.  

It looked as if San Diego State’s moment had passed, having missed yet another opportunity to join one of the top conferences in college football. 

Credit: Paul Garrison/EVT

This past week, when USC and UCLA bolted from the PAC-12, SDSU found themselves with another shot. For a variety of reasons, SDSU is set up much better to join the PAC-12 today than they were the Big 12 a year ago.

First of all, USC and UCLA play in Los Angeles, so SDSU would fill the Southern California geographic niche perfectly. One of the largest issues with the Aztecs joining the Big 12 was that they were over 1000 miles from the nearest university that was already in the Big 12 (Texas Tech). SDSU is nearly 2500 miles from Morgantown, West Virginia, which would also have been a conference opponent. While USC and UCLA may have turned that logic on its head by moving to a conference based in the eastern part of the country, the furthest PAC-12 school, Washington, is just 1259 miles from SDSU.

SDSU has also demonstrated that they have the caliber to play with PAC-12 opponents. Since 2015, their football team is 7-3 against their PAC-12 rivals, including a defeat of Pac-12 champion, Utah, a season ago. Over the same time frame, the Aztec basketball team has posted a respectable 7-9 record against the PAC-12. While it is unlikely that SDSU would immediately be able to contend for a PAC-12 title, they certainly have the talent to hold their own.

San Diego State also will debut the new Snapdragon Stadium in 2022, which would certainly be able to meet the PAC-12’s standards, even with its smaller seating capacity. This could be the push that SDSU needs to make its way into the conference.

USC and UCLA’s departure weakens the PAC-12 in the other money-making sport, Men’s Basketball. USC and UCLA finished second and third in the conference in the 2021-22 season and received two of the conference’s three bids to the NCAA Tournament.  The Mountain West, in contrast, sent four teams to the dance. 

Without the postseason barriers erected in football, SDSU has built a nationally respected basketball program. Barring unforeseen injuries, the Aztecs are expected to be ranked in the preseason top 25. Their addition to the Pac-12 would mitigate the loss of USC and UCLA more than in football. 

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Since the PAC-12 is likely to expand in pairs, fellow Mountain West member Boise State, Fresno State, or UNLV could also find themselves headed to the Power 5. 

As compelling as the question of if SDSU is invited to the Pac-12 is if they want to join a conference that is a shell of its historical self.

Top PAC-12 schools Oregon and Washington are reportedly discussing moving away from the conference, which would heavily weaken it. The PAC-12 could also seek to add schools from the Big 12, as a merger of sorts between the two conferences could occur.

If Oregon and Washington move away from the PAC-12, it could be catastrophic for the conference. Those losses would arguably drop the PAC-12 from the ranks of the Power 5 altogether, so it will be crucial for the PAC-12 to act quickly in adding new teams. If they do not, Oregon and Washington could feel the need to bolt from the conference.

Reports vary on whether Oregon and Washington are attractive enough candidates to the Big 10 for the conference to split the expected billion-dollar pie Fox is giving the conference to broadcast their games. If the Big-10 passes on the Ducks and Huskies, all eyes will turn to the Big XII, but that lateral move might not be attractive to the Pacific Time Zone powerhouses.

This entire might be moot.  Lawmakers in both states are pressuring Oregon and Washington to stay connected to their lower-profile in-state rivals.

Both Oregon State and Washington State have a much lower athletic prestige, which would make a move for Oregon and Washington more difficult.

It is not a guarantee that SDSU will be the next member of the PAC-12, but it is certainly the best chance for the Aztecs to make it into the Power 5 echelon. 

Now, all Aztec fans can do is wait.

3 thoughts on “Is SDSU the right school for the PAC-12?

  1. Though you allude to it briefly, this isn’t just about football. This is about basketball, baseball, volleyball, and all the so-called “Olympic” sports. More importantly, however, membership in the Pac-8/10/12 has always required universities to be significant research institutions, and awarding doctoral degrees. San Diego State only has doctoral programs that are offered in conjunction with University of California and a couple of other institutions. The same is true with Fresno State. Boise State just started awarding doctoral degrees and moving up on the categories of research indications in 2016, so they could possibly meet the standard. Of course, the Pac-12 could lower its standards, but that would be a shame.

    1. I don’t think that the PAC 12 is in a position to get picky. There’s not a lot of options for them (as a conference). If they want to survive as a power 5 conference, first and foremost they will have to convince Oregon & Washington to stay and then possibly expand to 14 or 16 teams (similar to what the Big 12 did when they lost OU & TX) SDSU, Boise & SMU make the most sense to me. Other teams to consider would be & Utah State, Fresno State, UNLV, UTSA, and Colorado State.

    2. Nowhere in the Pac12 mission statement, nor in its history, is their a stated-requirement that Pac12 schools need to be research institutions that award doctoral programs. It is an organization formed to be a sports league (The same holds true for the Ivy League, but that is another topic). Inviting SDSU and Fresno State to the Pac12 should happen ASAP. Their sports teams are more than adequately competitive, and their academic programs are excellent!

      The quest for a football national championship has wrecked college football. The Pac12 should focus on creating a solid sports-league that include SDSU and Fresno State, and invite Colorado State and Utah State to join. It would be nice to get Air Force, but they might be headed elsewhere? Keep it Western. Keep it Real. The Power 5 be damned!! I

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