When you lose arguably the largest market in college sports to the Big Ten, what do you do? Do you find another football school to fill the void? Do you commit to a merger/partnership with a similar conference? That's the dilemma the beleaguered conference faces now, with the threat of extinction moving closer.
With the possibility of merging with the Big 12 gone, the Pac-12 has limited options. They must move fast to avoid being poached by other conferences and they need a strong football school like Boise State and San Diego State. The only problem is that while these schools are athletically competitive, they don't fill the market void that Los Angeles left.
So why not do what the Big East did in 2013 and ditch football as a sport? The Big East was in the same position as the Pac-12 was before, losing prestigious schools like Louisville and Miami to the ACC. While the ACC has become a legitimate basketball conference with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia, it's seen schools like Miami and Louisville fall into relative obscurity. Meanwhile, schools like Seton Hall, Providence, and Xavier have risen to the occasion.
The Big East has seen incredible success in men's basketball as a result, with the Jay Wright-led Villanova Wildcats winning the national title twice. In fact, they're back in the swing of things on the women's side, with the Geno Auriemma-led UConn Huskies back in the conference.
So how does the Pac-12 do this? Well, it all starts with Gonzaga. The Spokane-based school is the 19th-biggest brand in college basketball, producing wild success. They've made the national championship twice in the past decade and have had strong recruiting from Mark Few. Reinventing yourself as a basketball conference starts and ends with the Zags getting on board.
Of course, you can't just surround Gonzaga with a bunch of cupcakes. They already have this in the WCC. Therefore, you need tougher competition. Why not throw St. Marys, Wichita State, and Creighton in the mix? Let's add Boise State and San Diego State while we're at it, making this an actual basketball conference.
Let's say that all the charter Pac-12 football schools have defected for better conferences. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah all bolt for the Big 12. Cal, Oregon, Stanford, and Washington make a western division in the Big Ten with UCLA and USC. Oregon State and Washington State get thrown into the pit of misery. Here's what the new conference would look like with a reinvented look.
Cal State Fullerton
San Diego State
Behold, the Pac-14! Renowned for their basketball history, the former "college of champions" is now the hip conference for western basketball! Led by Gonzaga, the new-look conference will have a presence in the sport, perhaps for years to come.
Now, I know what you're thinking: why Cal State Fullerton, Grand Canyon, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount? Because they fill voids in big markets with Los Angeles and Phoenix. While all three schools don't carry the name recognition that Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, and USC do, they are competitive in college basketball and even college baseball.
Pepperdine won the 1992 College World Series and has produced big league stars like Dan Haren and Eric Thames. Loyola Marymount has also had success in college baseball, making the College World Series in 1986 and producing major league stars like C.J. Wilson and Trevor Megill.
But the biggest name of the four baseball-wise is Cal State Fullerton. The Titans have won four national championships in baseball, with their most recent title coming in 2004. Cal State Fullerton has made 18 College World Series appearances, making them a respectable name in the sport.
While you will lose the Denver, Salt Lake City, and Portland markets, you're also gaining the San Diego and Las Vegas markets. UNLV has a storied history of its own, winning the national championship in 1990 under Jerry Tarkanian. While the program has been down in recent years, the Runnin' Rebels will be a nice addition with Sin City growing. Plus, T-Mobile Arena will still serve as the main venue for conference tournaments.
Falling into obscurity is never a good thing for a conference; just ask the Big East when its football teams all went south (literally). However, there's a path forward for the conference, starting with men's basketball. Who knows? Maybe UCLA and USC fall straight into obscurity while Gonzaga kicks all sorts of ass in college basketball.