A Failed Fan Experience: Pac-12 Expansion Diminishes Rivalries

David Marsh Editorials 26 Comments

Take a moment and think of this year’s conference schedule and pick out the top three games you want to see. As Oregon fans, Washington is going to be at the top of that list and Oregon State will always make the cut as these are both core rivalries. This year, that third spot is going to be held by USC, and arguably, most years that third spot is held by a California school.

From a financial standpoint, conference expansion makes a lot of sense. More teams in the conference means more markets to tap into, more advertising dollars and more money for all the teams involved. Four power five conferences have seen an expansion in the past decade, the Pac-12, Big-10, ACC and SEC. The only conference that hasn’t expanded over the past decade is the Big-12, which has lost members to the other conferences.

For Oregon fans, more has not meant better.

Eugene Johnson

Juwan Johnson makes a catch against USC.

There is a reason for inner-conference rivalry. Going back to the Pacific Coast Conference, the first version of the PAC, which was established in 1915 and consisted of Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and California. Washington State would join in 1917, Stanford in 1918, USC in 1922 and then UCLA finally joined in 1928. Idaho and Montana were also members, but they would leave by the 1950s (and let’s be honest, no one misses them).

The Pac-8 would come into being in 1968 but would have the same core teams as the Pacific Coast Conference and those eight teams still make up the core of the Pac-12 today.

Football is a strange sport because of how few games are actually played in a given year. A typical regular season of college football is only twelve games, which means every single game has value, not just from a win-loss perspective but also from a fan experience. Inner-conference rivalries matter and in the case of the Pac-12, those rivalries stem from having a conference with some of the oldest core members in the country.

With the expansion into the Pac-12, the conference was split into north and south, which on the face of it, doesn’t sound too bad of an idea. Plus, there was special compensation made to ensure that all universities in California play each other yearly (Cal, Stanford, USC, and UCLA), which again, doesn’t sound bad on a surface level.

Kevin Cline

It won’t be until the 2021 season when Oregon gets to play against UCLA.

However, this has created some interesting scheduling for the rest of the conference as USC and UCLA have rigid scheduling requirements, meaning both schools miss out on two teams from the north every year.

In 1978, the Pac-8 would become the Pac-10 with the addition of the Arizona schools, who have worked their way into the PAC tapestry. Oregon fans all know how the desert brings sadness towards the end of the season and you have to look no further than this last year at Oregon’s loss at Arizona State.

However, even the inner-conference rivalries with the Arizona schools have taken a hit, though not as big of a hit as with the L.A. schools. Though a northern division team may play both Arizona teams in a season, there is also a possibility that a northern team plays neither!

Irina Filenko

Ducks fans know too well the dangers of the desert.

The addition of Utah and Colorado to the conference was something that us fans were told we wanted. More teams, more money, new rivalries, a new exciting conference championship game.. but in reality, we didn’t want these two teams.

Oregon has a history with both Utah (33 games played) and Colorado (22 games played). However, there is no rivalry between these teams.

Furthermore, the conference has tried to mush Utah and Colorado into their own rivalry, considering that as newcomers, they don’t have natural rivals in the conference. In joining the Pac-12, Utah and Colorado have had to schedule their traditional rivalries as out-of-conference games. This is not a unique circumstance as many teams have their in-state rivals in different conferences, just look at Florida and Florida State. Though, it does diminish the value of those rivalry games as a non-conference loss tends to have a smaller impact on a team’s season.

Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has become a respectable addition to the conference. They had a rocky start in their first three seasons in the Pac-12, which resulted in one winning season. However, after two back-to-back 5-7 seasons from 2012-2013, Utah has become respectable by the Pac-12’s currently low standards.

Eugene Johnson

Oregon’s defense was too much for Colorado in a 45 to 3 victory.

Colorado, on the other hand, has been in a continuous fight to keep themselves out of the Pac-12 basement, having only made a bowl game once since joining the conference. Additionally, Colorado has only had one winning season of conference play. Both of these events were in 2016 when Colorado won the Pac-12 South and was the year Colorado beat Oregon for the first time since 1998.

As a fan, I cannot say that I get excited to play Utah or Colorado. Whereas, I circle the dates on my calendar for those games where Oregon matches up against a southern California foe.

I would rather Oregon play UCLA than Utah, even if Utah is the better team. In time, Utah and Colorado might become teams we love to hate. Until then, the loss of playing USC and UCLA yearly is something we will lament, as watching their respective fans filter out of the stadium early in the fourth quarter is truly one of the most precious sights in college football as an Oregon fan.

David Marsh
Portland, OR
Top Photo By: Kevin Cline

 

Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.

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Charles Fischer

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The next group are new as well, and really helping the conversation flow; they have been killing it with all the comments and we all so appreciate it!

30Duck
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I ask all Ducks to join the discussion because this is the only site where the owner truly has your back; no matter what you write as an opinion–we welcome it all. When we disagree, we do so peacefully and thus have had some amazing discussions. (Yesterday’s was tremendous!)

A New Tweak:

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Last edited 1 month ago by Charles Fischer
Jon Joseph

I’m down with this.

Jon Sousa

Which is another way of saying you are up with it…..

joeevan

Thank you, Charles. Your work on FishDuck is unparalleled in the media for at least one notable reason:

You give readers opportunities to consider and comment on featured articles, and you do so in a forum that is free of the kinds of ad hominem attacks that are so common in most sites.

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My sincere thanks!

DumpsterFire

I don’t know, David, I’m kind of having a hard time with this one. I mean on one hand I understand what you’re saying, but on the other, what are we really missing? So we don’t play USC every season, but in reality if they’re that good, which we do want to play good teams, and we’re that good, then we’ll play them in the championship game, right?

Another thing, what rivalries have we really had in the last decade? Yeah, for a while it was mainly the Fuskies and Beavs, but they just haven’t been good…up until Washington the last few years. For that matter neither has USC, or Stanford and especially not UCLA or Cal. Is it really a rivalry if you just go in and smack the other team around for a couple hours and go home?

It used to be a good feeling to beat Washington, now, even after they managed to get a couple wins, it’s just not the same, because we still expect it…or at least I do. I mean “The Pick” wouldn’t be what it is if it had happened last year…it’d just be another play in yet another win.

No, rivalries stem from competition mostly, so in that way we’re lacking the recipe for a true rivalry, aside from the traditional inner state ones. For the old flames to be fanned, I think that the rest of the conference just needs to be consistently better, not just have a good year or two. Until then, well we get the predictions like the article Darren Perkins wrote the other day…10-0…which is just an expectation.

DumpsterFire

I’m not going to call myself a “grey beard,” although I’ve got a couple nice streaks making a case for the title, but I certainly remember when it was much more competitive between the top-tier (at the time) schools, UW and USC, and honestly there was a pretty good run by OSU (I remember a good several years where the home team won, so we traded barbs with the Beavs quite a bit at that time) and yes, I remember the passion both the fans and players had, and it made for a lot of fun for us all.

Fast forward to today and what do we have? Yes, there are those of us who remember the good ol’ days of a “Husky Free Northwest” and the “Fright Night” games we’d have against USC, but they’re gone now. The players have to be told they shouldn’t like our “rivals” more often than not. It’s hard for the fans to get fired up for a game if the players don’t understand what those of us who experienced the down, struggling, mediocre, it could go either way years (and worse) years.

To me, a rivalry goes deep and it’s known, and fought for/over by not just the fans, but the players as well, and right now it just doesn’t seem to be there.

You want a rivalry? Get the players involved. What do you think is going to happen if on 05 December we walk in to Rice-Eccles Stadium and after trouncing the Utes Thomas Graham Jr., Brady Breeze, JJIII, Tyler Shough and a bunch of other players standing in the middle of the field on the Utes logo and they jump up and down flashing the “U” (not O, but their U)…do you think the fans, and players are going to forget that? That’s how rivalries are born…and I’m pretty sure a lot of the grey beards remember Nueweasel doing just that, and let me tell you, or those who don’t remember it, if there wasn’t hate before, we definitely had reason to afterward.

Last edited 1 month ago by DumpsterFire
Jon Joseph

Ah, USC. Cratered the B1G/Pac-12 OOC scheduling agreement because it wants to play Notre Dame every year. (And then also schedules Bama?)

Insists on the CA teams playing one another every season so its fans don’t miss out on their San Francisco weekender.

And when the next media deal falls flat, as Jon Wilner of the Mercury News reported yesterday, Apple is not coming to the rescue, USC will be the first conference member to bolt.

Protecting rivalry games, SC vs UCLA, I get. But having the CA schools play every year, as David pointed out, skews the schedule for the other 8 conference members.

As I noted in my comment to David’s excellent take, the Pac-12 should play 10 conference games every season and flush divisions down the toilet.

Charles Fischer

My hatred of Washington is irrational, and so much so that I wrote an article with that title. Perhaps it is because I am probably much more of a Greybeard age than you, but my feelings about the Huskies are still pretty strong. If they weaken? All the better so we can be assured of catching up in the rivalry numbers.

Yet when they are strong as now–it makes for epic games, as the last two were.

There is nothing worse than being in Parker/Reser Stadium and having the crowd around you go crazy as they beat the Ducks. Just awful, and that will always be very, very important to me.

Nope…the rivalries are strong with me, but I agree with David in that we want Cali schools over the newbies.

DumpsterFire

See, that’s maybe where I could have spent a little more time explaining it, but you did touch on what I was trying to say…when it’s competitive, the games are worth while, but when it isn’t, like the 12 year run, it just becomes old hat. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed ever minute of every win, but even when we lost to USC it wasn’t the end of the world.

Now, as for the new schools, sure, it’s hard to hate them, but tell me that feelings didn’t get stirred when Utah just rolled us a couple of times. The truth is that they have mostly played us pretty well and have given us some competitive games. No, the “tradition” isn’t there, but it wasn’t there for any team at first. No non-PAC-8 team is going to have that with us, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be created…and time will inevitably accomplish that.

There’s an old saying in the fire service, “150 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” It sounds neat, but the reality is it’s way behind the times. If we want to take that next step as a program, we can’t be stuck in the past. Yes, carry some of it with us, it’s part of our identity, but don’t be scared to take on new and different challenges…traditional or not.

Last edited 1 month ago by DumpsterFire
30Duck

Who knows if time will create a rivalry. The Ducks and Cougars have played a long time, and the Cougs irritate me no end, but I can’t call them Rivals, certainly not in the same breath as the Huskies & Beavers.

I could call the Trojans a Rival. But, for a rivalry to exist, it must be seen as one from both sides, and the Trojans do not see Oregon as Rivals, (Husky fans say they don’t see the Ducks as Rivals either, but that’s different).

The major component of a rivalry is the emotion it carries. It’s why each of the 12 consecutive beatings of the Huskies, for me, grew incrementally sweeter as it went on. The “hammer & nail”
metaphor can come in to play though, so a Husky win, once in a while is not without value.

30Duck

You nailed it, David. There has never been, and I don’t think ever will be, a time when I go through a schedule looking for the Colorado or Utah games! They are the antitheses of excitement. Sure, there have been some highlights; Joe Walker’s return of Kaelin Clay’s drop is one of the most singularly impactful plays in Oregon history. But, Utah? “The Pick” was against Washington, and it will resonate forever.

Annie

Another issue in not playing USC and UCLA every year is that there is not always a trip to LA each year, which a big recruiting area for the Ducks. While I think Cristobal and company have somewhat overcome that problem, I think it is still an issue.

DumpsterFire

OK, that I can agree with, although it doesn’t have anything to do with rivalries. It is a good point though.

Charles Fischer

Huge, huge, huge point-we need to be in LA every year.

Jon Joseph

Thanks David.

More teams = more $ if the teams are in a major media market. CU is definitely in a major media market and Utah is in a decent market, but what have these 2 schools added to the bottom line of the Pac-10 schools? These 2 were added as a face saving measure for Larry, after he was stiff armed by Texas.

If the Pac-10 had remained as was, the $, even considering Larry’s joke of a network, distributed to 10 member teams would be on par or greater than the $ being distributed to the 10 schools in the B 12.

And why 2 divisions? Another follow-the-leader knee jerk move by Larry.

Unfortunately, IMO, this so-called playoff is not going away. Come 2026 when the field expands to 8 with all P5 champs being in, I say dump the divisions and play 2 OOC games, 1 at least vs a P5 opponent and 10 conference games. The top 2 teams as however may be determined, play the champ game on the home field of the top ranked team; thereby, awarding the top team and its fans. The champ game being played at a neutral site was another follow the leader bad move by Larry.

The only financially logical move today is for the Pac-12, or at least the Pac-12 big boys, to combine in some manner with Oklahoma, OK ST, TX Tech and Texas.

A pipe dream would be for Oregon, UW, Stanford, USC, ASU and CU to join the B1G. All but CU would form the Pacific Division of the B1G West, CU joins Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin to round out the B1G West, in what would be a coast to coast, truly big 20 team B1G conference.

No expansion or merger of any kind makes the least bit of sense if it does not immediately contribute to the bottom line. I have to LOL when I see folks suggest that the conference add teams like Boise, Fresno, SDS and CO ST.

Jon Sousa

I always thought it was dumb to put Stanford and Cal in the North and Colorado and Utah in the South for two reasons: 1) the Colorado and Utah campuses are both north geographically, and 2) Stanford and Cal along with USC and UCLA all insisted that these schools play each other every year, as if they were all together in the South – something that throws off all the other out of division scheduling.

I am assuming that the only reasons they divided the North and South divisions in this way were because 1) they thought the South would be much stronger then the North if Stanford and Cal were in it, and thus lack parity between the divisions (How has that worked out for everyone?), and 2) USC lobbied for it because they wanted a clearer path to the PAC-12 Championship Game.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jon Sousa
Jon Joseph

David, as I so noted above, I think there was a desire to do what USC wanted to do.

IMO, if we needed divisions and we don’t, the conference should have been zippered with rivalry games protected.

1 Division – UW, OR, CAL, USC, CU, AZ

The other, – WSU, OR ST, STANFORD, UCLA, UTAH, ASU

But and again as noted above, why not play 10 conference games, a ‘cupcake’ OOC game and a P5 opponent OOC game.

This would allow rivalries that are not yet rivalries today, to develop. This, if we have an 8 team playoff field, assures that the 2 best teams in a given season, compete in the championship game.

This, rewards the number 1 seed and its fan base with a ‘home’ game.

Will fans flock to Vegas for a champ game? Remains to be seen. But a ‘home field’ champ game as was the case before Larry again, followed the leader, would be sold out.

The empty seats in Santa Clara have been a rank embarrassment for a conference that needs no further embarrassment.

duckcardinal

Boulder and Salt Lake City are both great destinations for a road trip for football, so those are real pluses to consider. Winter weather makes it a bit more challenging to say that for hoops, or other winter sports, unless you’re a skier with a flexible work schedule, in which case: ditto!

Another factor to consider in the Cali-playing-all-Calis arrangement is that when the restructuring was being formulated, most games were still played in the afternoon, so a fixed/predictable kickoff time was a given, hence road trips were much easier to plan and execute. The unexpected consequences in scheduling for our NEW media deals is a big factor in making those arrangements more of a liability than a boon for most of the conference going forward.