In 1902, the University of Michigan defeated Stanford 49-0 in the first Rose Bowl. That matchup started what has grown into one of the most iconic sporting events in the world. Forty-five years after the contest, the ancestors of the Big-10 and the Pac-12 agreed to send their champions to play in “The Grand Daddy of Them All.”
2022 is the 75th anniversary of this historic marriage. It also marks their divorce.
USC and UCLA formally announced their decision to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big-10 in 2024. Essentially, the justification given by the universities in their official statement was that moving to the Big-10 allows them to stay at the highest level of relevance in college football.
The Big-10 and Pac-12 first started sending their champions to the Rose Bowl in 1947, with the Pac-12 owning a superior 36-31 record. The Big-10, not content to even things out on the field, swooped in and snagged USC and UCLA. When they switch leagues, the teams projected to make up the Big-10 will have a 53-50 all-time mark in the Rose Bowl while the Pac-12 will slide to 14-17.
The SEC, by raiding the Big XII of its marquee programs, set this move in motion. By adding the most popular football program on the West Coast, USC, and its geographic rival, UCLA, the Big-10 is trying to keep pace.
The question administrators in the ACC, Big XII, and the Pac-12 will be looking to answer is how to stay relevant while facing an uneven playing field. Ironically, these institutions will be facing the same restrictions it helped impose on those outside the autonomous five.
There are already rumblings of additional moves with the Big XII coming after Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah. The Big-10’s continued expansion beyond USC and UCLA is also rumored. Where all of this settles is anyone’s guess, but there is one clear choice for the Pac-12, cower and be content as a second-class conference or fight to keep its place at the table.
Beating the SEC and the Big-10 on the field and for television ratings is the only path the remaining conferences have to stay on top. The place to make their stand is in Southern California.
USC and UCLA have not been great on the field recently. They already have every competitive advantage money can buy. The extra money from the Big-10 is to allow them to stay competitive down the road. In the near future, if their mediocrity continues, it will leave an opening.
Nicknamed the Conference of Champions, the Pac-12 needs to make a counter move. San Diego State is the lone school that can make the Big-10’s choice to raid Los Angeles look suspect long-term because they are the only institution that can compete in Southern California.
Already SDSU is showing signs of relevance beyond the G5 moniker. The university flexed its muscle to secure a new home that is set to open in a few months. CBS chose to broadcast the first game at Snapdragon Stadium over Utah’s visit to the Swamp to take on the SEC’s University of Florida. The national relevance of both of the Aztecs’ major sports look to get a boast no matter where the realignment dominos fall.
The SEC and Big-10 remaining as the two dominant conferences is not set in stone. It is an uphill battle for any other conference to match up with the war chests these institutions are gathering, but at the end of the day, this is a conversation about sports.
At the root of all athletics is competition. It is time for the Pac-12 to show that USC and UCLA did not make them great. They made those schools great. Elevating another university in their backyard is the only way to send that message.
It is time for the Pac-12 to compete: Invite SDSU.