Why the Pac-12’s Survival is in Everyone’s Interest

David Marsh Editorials

We are firmly back in the off-season, and conference realignment talk is back in full force. There has been talk of Oregon and Washington getting a chance to make the jump to the B1G after April 17th (basically when a new commissioner is in place).

Most Oregon fans seem to have mixed emotions about a potential switch to the B1G. On the one hand it does feel like the best way to remain relevant, as the funding coming from the B1G will be more than any deal the Pac-12 lands. However, that would mean Oregon helps contribute to the death of a conference that it helped form, and it would mean the slow decline of some program-defining rivalries.

Many in the media are already calling the Pac-12 a dying conference, saying it is only a matter of time until it goes under. In many ways it seems that many in the media are gleefully awaiting the demise of the conference, as it would be great for clicks and eyeballs when it creates huge headlines. But that is short-sighted and would actually hurt them in the long run.

What makes college football so exciting is the large number of teams and the diversity of the conferences. Pac-12 Football has historically been different than B1G Football, which is different than Big-12 and SEC Football. It is that diversity in play styles that make this sport so interesting. The type of football the NFL plays is very different than the product at the college level, and the style of defenses and offenses played at the NFL require the best players in order to function. The vast majority of college teams cannot play this optimal type of football, as there are simply not enough of those top-tier NFL archetype players available. So instead, the vast majority of college teams make do with what they have and they get creative.

When Mike Leach was at Washington State he built the Cougs into an absolute nightmare for our Ducks. Washington State’s air raid under Leach was designed to be weird and take advantages of mismatches in space. Furthermore, due to the Cougs’ weirdness in the regular season, it was difficult to prepare for them because they did something that was so different from the rest of the conference.

Even without Leach, Washington State still proves to be a difficult game as Oregon barely escaped Pullman in 2022 with a win.

Even Oregon got creative to win; back in the Kelly-Helfrich era the Ducks were very much the same way, where the Oregon blur was so fast and so different from what every other team ran that in order to prepare for it was really impossible. Granted, weirdness does not equal success, as we all know those Oregon teams would get out-muscled by the blue bloods with the bigger-bodied players. As for Leach’s Washington State program, it never won a Conference Championship, let alone a major bowl game.

But what those programs did provide was flavor in the world of college football. There is a reason the Oregon brand still holds sway today — it is because of just how unique and fun Oregon played in the Kelly-Helfrich era. This branding has allowed Dan Lanning, and Mario Cristobal before him, to recruit across the entire country.

Oregon may not run the blur offense anymore, but Lanning knows that offense is a part of Oregon’s DNA and he is more than happy to put up 40+ points per game.

If the Pac-12 were to fold, it would mean that all these west coast teams would have to find and join new conference, or the Pac is remade by compiling a bunch of Mountain West teams. Either way, it wouldn’t be the same conference but they would all still be playing football — so what’s the problem?

If  you think the Pac-12 has it bad right now when it comes to late-night starts and games relegated to back-up channels, just wait for a time when all the west coast teams that aren’t in the B1G are used as time fillers. And even those B1G west coast teams are going to be set up for later kickoffs because it makes filling time slots easier for the networks. This isn’t the fan experience anyone on the west coast wants.

If the Pac-12 falls then it is only a matter of time until we are down to a Power Two. The ACC would fall apart not long after the Pac-12 as Clemson, Miami and Florida State would all be prime targets to join the SEC. The Big-12 would absorb a bunch of schools, but without any major blue blood programs they would be a clear step down from the B1G and SEC. There would be three tiers of major college football at this point: the primer teams of the B1G and SEC, the Power-Five Leftovers with the Group of Five, and the FCS.

In the 2012 and 2020 Rose Bowls Oregon and Wisconsin matched up in two close games where Oregon won by one score in both meetings.

And with the rise of the Power Two, the style of football will change as what is optimal changes as well. What made the Rose Bowl so much fun to watch between the Pac and B1G was the conflicting styles of play. For one game, those different styles can clash and anyone can win. However, when teams have to play each other every week the style of football will change to what works best against the competition faced on a weekly basis.

The death of the Pac-12 would signal yet another end to what makes College Football so great. It would become a league dominated by two conferences, and the style of play will change as well. In the end it would be a net loss for the sport and for fans. So unless you like B1G and SEC football, start rooting for the Pac-12 and new media deal that keeps the conference afloat for now.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Mike Snow


Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the medical technology industry in SLC, Utah.

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