Pac-12 Expansion: What Schools Should The Conference Target?

·13 min read

With George Kliavkoff hired as the new Pac-12 commissioner, conference expansion is about to be a topic … maybe. What schools should be targeted?

Pac-12 Conference Expansion: 10 Ideas For Schools To (potentially) Target

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So that’s how you make an entrance.

The Pac-12 announced it was going to introduce its new commissioner, and then … hello MGM executive George Kliavkoff to the college athletic landscape.

What did we learn from his first remarks?

1. He’s planning on moving to San Francisco, but his hiring all but certainly means Las Vegas will eventually be to the Pac-12 what Atlanta is to the SEC. That’s very cool.

2. He pretty much let it slip that College Football Playoff expansion is probably coming very, very soon. That’s very cool.

3. The idea of being a player in the legalized sports betting world isn’t taboo like it’s been from the dawn of time in the college world. That’s very cool.

And then there’s the part that might end up being the biggest shakeup of all.

4. Expansion. The topic has been shockingly dormant for way too long. Yeah, the Pac-12 might look into being bigger, better, and stronger as a conference and a business.

That’s very, very cool.

So let’s do this. Let’s figure out what ten schools would make the most expansion sense so the conference can finally move away from pretending to be excited about playing its football games after dark.

It really is okay to showcase your product while half of the country is still awake.

Which schools make sense to go after to become a bigger national thing? Who should the Pac-12 be talking about pitching?

Start with the geographic concerns. Of course it would be nice to have a bigger footprint, but there’s a bit of a limit. There was a time when Louisiana Tech and TCU were in the WAC – sky point – but the Pac-12 isn’t going to want to get too crazy.

There’s also a bit of a reality check. Going after Notre Dame would make sense – geography, schmeography – but the school is way too tied to the ACC.

Going after Missouri would be an idea, and there was a time back in the early 2010s when Texas A&M was on the table, but those two aren’t leaving the SEC.

Going after Nebraska might seem like a home run cut, but for all the complaining during the 2020 Covid year, no, no one’s willingly leaving the cash machine that is the Big Ten.

When, not if, I become the advisor to Commissioner Kliavkoff on the topic, here are the ten schools that have to be in the discussion for a possible Pac-12 expansion move.

Remember, this isn’t as much of a sports story as it is a business one.

Enrollment matters – there won’t be any pitches to smallish private schools here – and the media and TV markets are a huge deal.

The school has to be big academically, too. Even if it’s not on the level of Stanford or UCLA, if it’s a giant university, that works.

And there’s also an assumption as we say the quiet part out loud – the Big 12 is potentially ripe for the picking.

So with that, here are the ten schools the Pac-12 should have on the table if it really does want to expand.

10. BYU

US News & World Report University Ranking: 80
Enrollment: 34,395
Media Market: 30

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: Business-wise, it’s perfect.

It’s a huge school with an international following – quick tip: never use the word passionate when it comes to sports business; fans are brand loyal customers – that’s going to watch every single second of every single big football and basketball game.

The greater Salt Lake City TV market is fine, the natural rivalry with Utah is outstanding, and the teams are good enough to make the sports side of the league stronger.

But there’s a gigantic, however

The Church-owned and operated aspect to BYU is a concern for a whole slew of reasons – not a public school, no sports on Sundays, ideological differences on several levels – and the University of Utah already gives the league a big footprint in the state.

The Pac-12 should think about it just because BYU would make the conference bigger and bring in a ton of money and energy, but it won’t happen. The two will end up having a Notre Dame/ACC relationship.

9. Boise State

US News & World Report University Ranking: 300+
Enrollment: 26,272
Media Market: 101

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: This isn’t as obvious as it might seem to be sports-wise.

The football program is outstanding, but the school, the media market, and the overall base would be part of a debate. However …

Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington. Bring on Boise State and it becomes part of that whole group and turns into an instant rival for that Wazzu team 300 miles up the road.

It’s not quite as big a school as the Pac-12 might like, and the Boise State national brand name isn’t quite enough to move the needle, but for what it’s worth, the addition takes over a giant geographic section of the country, and Idaho is a big vacation spot for Californians – it would be a destination road trip.

For this to happen, though, Boise State would have to be part of a Mountain West package including …

8 Fresno State

US News & World Report University Ranking: 196
Enrollment: 24,139
Media Market: 55

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: Fresno State helps geographically as it brings in a whole different part of the California base that might expand things a different way.

There just isn’t any national interest in Stanford or Cal, and people in Delaware aren’t going to stay up to watch Fresno State, but it ties in geographically to the Bay Area schools, the Sacramento TV market, and would charge up a decent-sized media area that – in a good way – doesn’t quite fit the normal Pac-12 style.

It would depend on the other Mountain West schools the Pac-12 would go after. Along with several Pac-12 schools, Fresno State fits in perfectly as a geographic rival with …

7. Nevada

US News & World Report University Ranking: 227
Enrollment: 21,000
Media Market: 104

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: This is a tough one.

Nevada and Fresno State make as much sense as any other possible pairing, and it depends on just how much the Pac-12 wants to take over the state of Nevada.

Obviously UNLV will be on the table – more on that in a moment – so this can be seen in two ways. Either the Pac-12 would take UNLV and assume it has the state of Nevada – even if Reno is a whole separate area and base – or it jumps on the Rebel-Wolf Pack, Fremont Cannon rivalry and makes it more of a thing.

The big issue would be that Nevada just isn’t quite big enough. The media market is okay-not-great, and there’s no national fan base to up the overall profile.

6. Texas Tech

US News & World Report University Ranking: 217
Enrollment: 38,742
Media Market: 145

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: Who else from the Big 12 are you getting?

Texas Tech actually wouldn’t be that awful a steal if it’s by itself. It was supposedly part of the idea ten years ago to be a part of a Big 12 group that would join in the mix, but it brings its own decent TV market, there’s a big enrollment, and the fan base has its own style and world that would add something unique to the California-centric league.

In the college sports geographic world, being 700 miles away from Arizona State and Arizona isn’t all that bad, and it would tie-in easily with Colorado just 550 miles away.

However, Texas Tech won’t go rogue. It’ll take others from the Big 12 to get the ball rolling, and then it would want to take the ride with the cool kids.

NEXT: Pac-12 Expansion School Idea, Top 5

5. UNLV

US News & World Report University Ranking: 258
Enrollment: 31,175
Media Market: 40

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: This would be strictly a home base play.

It’s almost a lock that the Pac-12 will someday be mostly operating out of Las Vegas – especially if the big sport conference championships will be there.

UNLV doesn’t quite fit when it comes to the school or the national academic profile, but the TV market is great and the fan bases of the other Pac-12 institutions would make the road game a thing.

Call this a trophy get as the league expands geographically a bit.

NEXT: Pac-12 Expansion School Idea, No. 4

4. Oklahoma State

US News & World Report University Ranking: 187
Enrollment: 24,000
Media Market: 44

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: If the Pac-12 really does get into the expansion discussion, it’ll be fascinating to see just how it sees Oklahoma State as a stand-alone possibility.

Whether or not the Pac-12 could get Oklahoma, too, that’s not a bad media and time zone area to make a footprint if it just took the school in Stillwater.

The teams in the major sports are more than good enough to raise the conference’s competitive profile, and as much as the school might like the rivalry with Oklahoma and Texas, the idea of breaking free might not be as unappealing as it seems.

But like Texas Tech, Oklahoma State almost certainly listens if the other big schools are getting pitched.

NEXT: Pac-12 Expansion School Idea, No. 3

3. San Diego State

US News & World Report University Ranking: 143
Enrollment: 35,000
Media Market: 27

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: It didn’t make sense a few years ago, but it certainly does now.

The school itself is getting stronger and better, geographically it’s an obvious fit with the LA schools, Arizona State and Arizona, and then there’s the hidden gem that makes it crazy that the Pac-12 hasn’t made this happen yet.

The place doesn’t have a pro football team anymore.

It’s not that San Diego isn’t into sports, and it certainly has the population, but obviously there are other things to do in one of the most beautiful-weather places on the planet. However, there’s a marketing play here after the Chargers bolted up to Los Angeles.

The Aztec basketball program instantly ups the the conference profile, and even better, the Pac-12 would own football in a good-sized media market.

That’s it. That’s the dream.

Of course people in San Diego still care about the NFL and like the Chargers and Raiders, but along with Sacramento, Orlando, and Portland, it would be one of the biggest media markets without a direct tie to the NFL.

NEXT: Pac-12 Expansion School Idea, No. 2

2. Kansas

US News & World Report University Ranking: 124
Enrollment: 27,552
Media Market: 34

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: This would be a good place to start. There are a whole bunch of positives, including the Kansas City media market and a good national base.

If you remember when all the expansion stuff was happening back around 2010ish, Kansas absolutely freaked the freak out that it was going to be without a chair when the music stopped.

There was talk of Oklahoma and a slew of other Big 12 schools going off to the then-Pac-10, Texas and the Big Ten were playing footsie, and Colorado was about to make the move to join Utah as a part of the new Pac-12.

For whatever reason, Kansas didn’t appear to be in any discussions for expansion. Oh sure, it probably would’ve found a home somewhere – I always thought the Big Ten would’ve made the call with Nebraska about to come aboard in 2011 – but those were worrying times for the school that didn’t want to be relegated to Group of Five status.

But things have changed a bit over the last decade, starting with that move of Colorado to the Pac-12. Now, Kansas and the Buffs would be a relative geographic fit, and while the football program might be lacking, don’t dismiss how much of a positive that might be.

Pac-12 schools – especially the coaches – aren’t going to be too fired up to add a slew of superpower football teams to the mix.

Basketball isn’t the big deal you’d think it is when it comes to expansion – the Big Ten wants North Carolina for its big enrollment and big school status, but not the smallish, private Duke – but it wouldn’t hurt.

Kansas would make even more sense geographically if the Pac-12 could somehow get …

NEXT: Pac-12 Expansion School Idea, No. 1

1. Oklahoma

US News & World Report University Ranking: 133
Enrollment: 28,000
Media Market: 44

Pac-12 Expansion Fit: You might notice that Texas isn’t on this list. There are a few reasons for that.

Texas makes gobs and gobs and gobs of money, and it might be just fine hanging as a Big 12 school even if the league loses some of its teams to the Pac-12.

Texas would be just fine being the richest athletic department while the Big 12 raids other leagues for schools like Houston, UCF and Cincinnati. The other prevailing thought is that it’s a better fit for the Big Ten fit if it wants to leave – it was on the table a ten years ago – more than it is for the Pac-12.

But Oklahoma is different.

Remember, historically, beyond the great football rivalry, Texas and OU aren’t tied at the hip. Oklahoma was Big 8 and Texas was Southwest Conference before the Big 12 was formed in 1996. That lack of true partnership showed back in 2011 when OU was really, really, really close to bolting for the Pac-12.

This is the first very quiet call the Pac-12 needs to make. If the desire is there to open up the talks again, welcome to the rock of a program that would cause an avalanche.

As great at Oklahoma has been sports-wise in the Big 12, the league is still owned by Texas. That’s the anchor tenant.

It might be USC’s Pac-12, but Oklahoma would be something different thanks to the geography and style. All of a sudden, the school would take on a new profile, that region would would have a different sports look, and the Pac-12 would love, love, LOVE to have a football program this big in the central time zone.

It would take something crazy, cool, and lucrative to get Oklahoma to think about this, but that’s what George Kliavkoff appears to be all about.