Pac-12 to explore expansion in wake of UCLA, USC leaving for Big Ten in 2024

Mountain West might be the most fertile ground for the conference

UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich (85) fails to catch a pass in the end zone, securing a Southern California win during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec 12, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

As the Pac-12 surveys the national landscape in the wake of UCLA and USC’s bombshell decision to leave for the Big Ten, the league has opted for trying to survive.

The Pac-12 Board of Directors met Friday morning, the league announced in a statement. In that meeting, the board authorized the conference to explore all expansion options.

“The 10 university presidents and chancellors remain committed to a shared mission of academic and athletic excellence on behalf of our student-athletes,” the statement read.

With the Pac-12 ready to make an attempt at survival, the natural question is, to whom, or where, might it look for help?

Geographically, trying to poach from the 11-team Mountain West, which spreads from the Northern California coast (San Jose State) out to Fort Collins, Colo. (Colorado State), makes sense.

The problem with the Mountain West and, quite frankly, any Pac-12 expansion option, is that the league lost two schools from Los Angeles, which is the second-largest television market in the United States. Within that, USC football and UCLA basketball are the Pac-12′s two biggest brands.

Rationality says no combination of schools from the Mountain West is going to make up for what the Pac-12 has lost, but if it continues to pursue survival, beggars can’t be choosers. For what it’s worth, the two Mountain West teams being bandied about the most at the moment, San Diego State and Boise State, are the 28th and 106th-largest TV markets in the country.

Boise State, specifically, has been one of the country’s most successful Group of Five programs, cracking the BCS twice under Chris Petersen and enjoying 11 seasons of at least 10 wins since 2002. The Broncos have previously been the subject of realignment fodder, most recently last summer when the AAC sought to replenish itself after UCF, Cincinnati and Houston left for the Big 12.

Potentially complicating matters for the Pac-12 is the status of Oregon and Washington. Those schools are viewed as potentially the next targets if the Big Ten looks west again.

CBS Sports on Friday afternoon reported that the Ducks and Huskies have been told by the Big Ten that the conference is standing pat for the time being as it awaits a decision by Notre Dame, long viewed as the Big Ten’s white whale in terms of potential future members.

With UCLA and USC on board beginning in 2024, the Big Ten is at 16 members.