We all want answers right now. The Pac-12 Conference appears to be splitting at the seams, and we have no clear picture of how the landscape will look when everything settles.
Or whether things ever will settle.
The overriding question for Cal fans, of course, is where and against whom will the Bears be playing in the fall of 2024, when USC and UCLA execute their move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten.
Jon Wilner of the Mercury News, who was first to break the news of the L.A. schools defecting, talked with a source who said Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is moving aggressively and creatively to find a solution.
The Pac-12 announced Tuesday that it will immediately begin negotiating a new TV rights deal, and Kliavkoff no doubt will be going outside the box to anything that can save the Pac-12. “George is bold,” the source told Wilner. “I’m curious what he’s working on right now.”
Aren’t we all.
Here is an exhaustive but hardly definitive list of possibilities of how things could shake out by 2024, along with our best guess (and that’s all it is) as to the chances of each becoming reality:
— THE PAC-12 IS A 10-TEAM FEATURING CURRENT MEMBERS: This scenario hinges on whether the Big Ten opts to recruit Oregon or Washington (or both), which certainly isn’t a sure thing. If Notre Dame, which can pretty much write its own script, says no to the Big Ten, my sense is that the conference will be satisfied with adding the two L.A. schools. At least for now. The Ducks and Huskies have lots to offer, but likely won’t dramatically improve the Big Ten’s TV rights deal. This is perhaps the only one of my scenarios that guarantees Cal and Stanford remain conference partners. We assume the two schools want to maintain that association — and they certainly should — but seemingly everything is on the table these days. Chances: 50 percent
— THE PAC-12 MERGES WITH MULTIPLE MEMBERS OF THE BIG 12: Beyond the status quo, I think this is the most likely scenario. But will it be the Pac-12 raiding the Big 12 or vice verse? There is a power dynamic in every merger, so who ends up with the upper hand here? Each league may be positioning itself as we speak. ESPN will have much to say about this. Even without Texas and Oklahoma, who started this mess a year ago with their plans to move to the SEC, the Big 12 has a lot to offer. First of all, the Big 12 will have four Texas schools by 2024, which adds an attractive recruiting connection. BYU is joining the Big 12, which would create a BYU-Utah conference rivalry. How many Big 12 schools would the Pac-12 desire? How many from the Pac-12 might the Big 12 covet? And would that list include Cal? The Salt Lake Tribune quoted a source who called “blatantly false” the reported Big 12’s negotiations with the so-called Four Corners schools — Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State. The source added that the Pac-12 remains “tethered together.” We’ll see. Chances: 25 percent
— THE PAC-12 ADDS TWO NEW MEMBERS TO REACH 12: This was the initial knee-jerk response when USC and UCLA announced their plans. Lose two schools, add two schools. But as much as San Diego State and Boise State would be competitive on Saturdays, they wouldn’t create much leverage in negotiations for TV rights. Would that version of the Pac-12 really be better than a 10-school Pac-12 without the L.A. schools? Chances: 14 percent
— THE PAC-12 JOINS UP WITH THE ACC: This would have seemed ridiculous two weeks ago, but the ACC doesn’t want to be dwarfed by the SEC, Big Ten and a merged Pac-12/Big 12 so it’s hard to rule out any arrangement. While a Duke visit to Memorial Stadium doesn’t sound special, the notion of the Blue Devils playing at Haas Pavilion is tantalizing. Chances: 5 percent
— CAL RELUCTANTLY JOINS THE MOUNTAIN WEST: This is just short of a doomsday scenario for Cal, and could be the move that severs its historic relationship with rival Stanford. Would possibly become a final option if Oregon, Washington and Stanford wind up in the Big Ten, and Utah, Colorado, Arizona and ASU bolt to the Big 12, leaving the Pac-12 in ruins. The MWC is a solid league but a clear step down from the Pac-12, as much on the academic side as on the football field. Cal would seemingly only make the move if it had no other place to go to remain an FBS school. (Same applies to Oregon State and Washington State). Would the Mountain West even want Cal? Oh, absolutely. Chances: 5 percent
— CAL JOINS THE IVY LEAGUE: Sounds very 1950s-ish, with Cal (and Stanford?) playing Saturday afternoon games against Harvard and Yale. Where’s Norman Rockwell when you need him? Reality check: TV money dries up substantially with this scenario and Cal, at least, would have to slash many of its 30 sports. That broad-based offering has been a source of pride for the Bears — cannot imagine Cal sabotaging its successful Olympic sports programs while also departing big-time college football. Chances: 0.5 percent
— CAL DROPS TO FCS (DIVISION I-A) LEVEL: The same arguments as above apply here. Cal in the Big Sky? More like Pie in the Sky. Chances: 0.5 percent
— CAL GIVES UP FOOTBALL ALTOGETHER: Remember the outcry a decade ago when Cal tried to kill baseball (and rugby, among other sports)? The response to this would be 100 times more forceful. First of all, it’s not financially feasible to drop the football while the university is still on the hooks for improvements and retrofitting done to Memorial Stadium. The Bears haven’t been to a Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, a drought which seems like forever. Make this drastic move, and it literally is forever. Chances: Zero
Cover photo of Cal coach Justin Wilcox by Stanford Szeto, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo