Summer in Salt Lake City in 2022 – beside the record setting heat – was pretty uneventful. No pervasive wet campfire smell, little of the smoke that dominated the 2021 summer season. No earthquakes, tornadoes, no crazy windstorms. Not too many local wildfires, for that matter. Pretty boring, if hot.
That all changed when Jon Wilner broke the story that UCLA and USC were going to announce they’ll be moving to the B1G conference after the 2024 season. Then all hell broke loose. Rumors began flying about Oregon & Washington going next, possibly including Cal and Stanford, and there was no shortage of rumors coming out of the Big-12 that the PAC was near collapse and that they intended to pick off the rest of the PAC schools.
A few weeks later PAC commissioner George Kliavkoff called the Big-12 on their destabilization attempts, and the PAC went into negotiations with their major media partners on getting better revenue than the previous contract provided, etc.
By the time the football season started this year, all the rumors of the PAC’s impending demise within days, perhaps weeks, amounted to doodley squat.
While the final results of the realignment starting with the LA schools moving to the B1G are yet to be fully manifested, one event emerged that changed the entire situation dramatically – the College Football Playoff will be expanded to 12 teams.
In my opinion, the expanded CFP changes the entire landscape. Instead of a rush to two superconferences spanning 4 times zones, access to the playoffs appears to be within reach for many schools and conferences.
College football just might survive, after all.
How does this affect Utah? For the immediate future, the ball is now in the court of the PAC to see how much of the media money gap can be closed, and to possibly entice those schools who may still wish to go the B1G to stick around and see what can be done. The primary media players of ESPN, FOX and the major networks will get the PAC part of the way there, but it appears a major wildcard could be alternate media partners, like Apple, Amazon and perhaps others.
Amazon began streaming NFL Thursday Night Football this season, and in Week 1 they pulled in 13 million viewers, and – crucially important to them – added over 3 million Amazon Prime subscribers. Will Apple seek to match that? How much will high end non-NFL football in the western timezones factor into those decisions? It’s impossible to know, at this point, but the potential seems pretty significant.
One very wise PAC head coach made an observation I think may prove prophetic – David Shaw of Stanford said he wouldn’t be surprised if after 5 or 10 years, one or both of the LA schools may come back to the PAC. Kliavkoff certainly kept the door open with his remarks on PAC media day, taking the high road in answering questions about what could have been seen as deceptive interactions with USC and UCLA before their announcement.
NFL people and Major League Baseball have known for a long time that eastbound travel is disproportionately difficult when trying to maintain a high level of athletic performance. This topic has been studied in depth, it’s not a mystery. The huge irony is that much of the research on the effects of jet lag have been done at USC.
If the PAC can stay intact, and possibly grow by a school or two, the supposed emergence of a “west wing” of the B1G may never materialize, which would put UCLA and USC on an island, with the closest conference school being Nebraska, 1500 miles east of Los Angeles.
David Shaw could be proven correct in his hunch that after 5 years or more of struggling futilely in a conference that is highly competitive, with 4 or 5 or more eastbound trips of 2 or 3 timezones of travel, the LA schools may seek to come back out west, especially if they never sniff the playoffs while former PAC foes get in regularly.
Nobody knows with certainty what’s going to happen, but that elation Ute fans felt when they were invited to the PAC in 2010 may be extended, indefinitely. Road trips to the Bay Area, the Northwest, to Arizona and possibly San Diego would still be on, with Stillwater, Ames, Manhattan (Kansas), Lubbock, Waco, Morgantown and Cincinnati being the travel schedule of BYU fans.