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Cal Issues Noncommital Statement on Loss of USC, UCLA; Pac-12 Looks to Add Schools

The future of all Golden Bears sports may depend on whether the Golden Bears and the conference find a satisfactory solution

Cal and the Pac-12 both issued statements on Friday regarding their response to the departure of USC and UCLA from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten in 2024.

The Cal statement did not indicate what path the Golden Bears might take, while the Pac-12 statement suggested the conference will seek to add schools to take the place of USC and UCLA. The Pac-12 mentioned no candidates, but Boise State and San Diego State seem like logical options.

It is becoming clear that the future of nearly all of Cal's sports depend on what Cal and the Pac-12 do regarding reshaping the conference.  If Cal ends up in a conference that is further depleted or winds up in a lesser conference, it will mean a severe loss of revenue, probably forcing the Golden Bears to cut some sports.

The Cal statement read as follows:

"This is a significant development for our University and the Pac-12, and we are engaging in constant communication with the leadership of our conference partners. Regardless of what the future holds, we maintain our steadfast commitment to the athletic and academic success of our student-athletes. With three national championships during the past year, excellent APR scores and an unwavering commitment to out DEIBJ efforts, Cal Athletics is well-positioned for a strong and successful future."

It is signed by chancellor Carol Christ and athletic director Jim Knowlton.

That statement suggests Cal will sit tight while the Pac-12 maneuvers to add schools to the Pac-12.  There is no indication in that statement that Cal plans to leave the Pac-12, although there is no statement of loyalty to the Pac-12 either.  It appears Cal will wait to see what the Pac-12's expansion efforts bring.

The key phrase in the Cal statement seems to be this: "Regardless of what the future holds . . ."  That suggests Cal is still weighing its options, with departure from the Pac-12 and remaining with the Pac-12 being options. 

One thing should be at the forefront of Cal's thinking: It doesn't want to be left behind if several other Pac-12 schools -- say, Oregon, Washington and Stanford -- leave for the Big Ten while Cal has no place to go.

However, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News tweeted Friday that Oregon and Washington won't be heading to the Big Ten immediately:

CBS Sports reported Oregon and Washington inquired about joining the Big Ten, but the Big Ten is not interested in expanding further.

Expansion may suddenly be on the radar for the Pac-12, but keeping its remaining membership intact is also a priority. Oregon and Washington, two other Pac-12 brands that ould potentially bail, reached out to the Big Ten to gauge its interest, according to CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd, but were told that the conference is standing pat for now. 

Nearly everyone in the Pac-12 was caught off guard by the departure of USC and UCLA, so there is likely to be a period of reflection by Cal administrators while they wait to see whether the Pac-12 can add schools that Cal can abide.

The Pac-12's statement issued on Friday indicates the conference will actively pursue schools to add to the conference. It reads as follows:

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"The Pac-12 Board of Directors met this morning and 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."

Presumably, the Pac-12 will seek to add two schools, and the two schools most often mentioned in the past 24 hours as possible replacements are San Diego State and Boise State, both of which are members of the Mountain West Conference. Boise State has had a strong football program for many years, while San Diego State would give the Pac-12 a path to the vital southern California market.

A Thursday column in the San Diego Union Tribune carried the headline "Column: San Diego State cannot afford to be left behind during college sports scramble," with the subhead: "USC, UCLA departures to Big Ten offer shot for Aztecs’ long-needed leap to power conference."  The story includes this excerpt:

The university should be attractive to the Pac-12, as it picks up the pieces. The Aztecs would deliver, though not fully replace, Southern California eyeballs while offering a shiny new stadium. The Aztecs, in turn, could recruit far more effectively in Los Angeles, even as the Big Ten plucks away talent in droves.

Fresno State, where former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford is now the head football coach, has been named as another option, and the Bulldogs would provide an added rivalry for Cal, although not in the same class as a Cal-USC or Cal-UCLA.  SMU, TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma State, BYU and Houston also could be candidates.  A month ago, BYU and Houston agreed to join the Big 12 in 2023, although the current climate of rapid conference change does not preclude any moves. The name of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State has also been mentioned as a possible Pac-12 target.

The possibility of the Pac-12 and Big 12 joining forces to become one large conference is something the two conferences must at least discuss.

For now, adding schools seems like the only reasonable path for the Pac-12, which apparently does not want to remain a 10-team conference after 2024.

No matter which schools are added to the Pac-12, they won't carry the regional or national impact of  USC or UCLA.

In any case the Pac-12 -- or whatever it will become --  will carry less prestige in football and basketball when USC and UCLA are gone.  The Big Ten and SEC now seem to have a stranglehold on college football, with the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 struggling to stay relevant.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question at the moment is this: What will happen to the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 partnership with the Big Ten in that major bowl?

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Photo of Boise State vs. San Diego State is by Kirby ee, USA TODAY Sports

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