The conferences of college athletics as fans know them are changing after five schools announced their departure from the Pac-12 last week.
Oregon and Washington will head to the Big Ten in 2024, and Arizona, Arizona State and Utah will leave the Pac-12 after the 2023-2024 seasons. The five schools follow USC, UCLA and Colorado in leaving the “Conference of Champions.”
It leaves the Pac-12 on the brink of extinction as only four schools remain: Washington State, Oregon State, California and Stanford.
The SEC kicked off conference realignment in 2021 when Oklahoma and Texas announced their intention to leave the Big 12. The two schools will join the SEC in 2024.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey joined “The Paul Finebaum Show” on Tuesday and discussed the events of the last week.
“It just wasn’t one of those great feelings to work in college sports, in my experience,” Sankey said when discussing the conference realignment that occurred last week. “I take responsibility where we’ve made moves. But there was something different last week about the questions around the existence of the Pac-12 conference, given its long and storied history.”
Sankey expressed sadness for the Pac-12 conference, which now faces a very uncertain future.
“I spoke to a Pac-12 alum today who works in college athletics and heard them hurt,” Sankey said. “I called Pat Chun on Saturday. Pat is the athletic director at Washington State. And I said, ‘I don’t have any solutions for you.’ And I want to be clear. I said the same thing to Bernard Muir (Stanford director of athletics) because I have Bernard’s cellphone. ‘I don’t have any solutions, but I have great empathy’ because there’s a reality that things move on.”
“I’ve never thought things are inevitable. I think certain things are predictable, and the longer the media rights effort went on out West, the more there was a low simmer bubble. Then it obviously boiled over last week. But for those of us who’ve been around it a long time and studied the history of college athletics, … there’s a tinge of sadness,” Sankey added. “And probably more than just a little tinge.”
With conference realignment taking over college athletics, Sankey said the SEC is not actively recruiting schools to add to their 16-team league once Texas and Oklahoma join.
“We have this continuous group that has a national platform,” Sankey said. “We don’t need to be in four time zones to generate interest on the West Coast or really across the globe. And so that’s been a hallmark.”
“Who knows what will happen, and that’s where I go back to one of my original statements that we’re always going to be attentive to what’s happening around us. And perhaps there’ll be some opportunity, but it needs to be one of philosophical alignment. And it’s not something where we’re actively out recruiting institutions right now.”