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What's Next for Cal and the Pac-12 After News That USC and UCLA Are Leaving?

Bears and rival Stanford will be hit particularly hard without their Southern California rivals.

Well, so much for the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 Alliance.

You remember the Alliance, formed last August in response to Texas and Oklahoma announcing plans to exit the Big 12 in favor of the SEC. Forty-one schools in the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 announced creating “a collaborative approach surrounding the future evolution of college athletics and scheduling.”

It was all very high and mighty. A demonstration of how things should be done. They talked about diversity, equity, inclusion. They felt elevated by their academic reputations. Money would not be the driver. Instead, the three conferences would distinguish themselves from the football factories of the South.

Everyone involved was feeling good about themselves, even if the announcement included no formal structure to it. That might have been a mistake. Or maybe by design.

Heck, as recently as June 22, the three conferences announced plans for a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Turns out that Alliance had all the credibility of most modern political promises.

Ten months later, USC and UCLA executed a stealth plan to bolt the Pac-12 in favor of the Big Ten and its substantially richer media rights payday.

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke said the Trojans and Bruins are doing the right thing. "Face it, USC and UCLA belong in the Big Ten after outgrowing the decaying Pac-12," read the headline over his story.

As if the Bay Area needed one more reason to despise L.A.

The official response from the Pac-12 — how much longer can we call it that? — was that the Conference of Champions will be just fine.

Truth is, no one can be sure what the future of the league will bring.

Larry Stone, columnist for the Seattle Times, agreed with that premise. "But I can tell you this with complete and utter confidence: It will be chaotic. It will be disruptive. And it will be cataclysmic."

Will the conference feature just 10 schools beginning in the fall of 2024? Will it expand? Or explode altogether?

No two schools will be hit harder than Cal and Stanford. They lose their historic California rivals — and the gate receipts that come with their annual matchups.

What are the options? How should Cal and Stanford respond to this? Surely this is a moment in time when the the Bears and Cardinal will lock arms and make sure they forge a path forward together.

Cal and Stanford are perhaps the most elite academic public and private universities on the big-time college sports landscape. And they reside in one of the biggest TV markets in the country.

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Given that, why wouldn’t the Big Ten be interested in adopting all four California schools?

The problem is neither brings football or basketball programs that currently earn anyone’s attention. And both operate in what is clearly a pro sports market. So while there are a lot of TVs here, not enough of them are dialed to the Bears or Cardinal.

The Pac-12’s first order of business should be to stabilize, assuming that is even possible.

In particular, the conference cannot afford to see Washington and Oregon leave the nest. Each offers an attractive asset — UW has Seattle, the Ducks have Nike. Administrations on both campuses are no doubt rifling through their options, perhaps wondering if together they can create an exit plan of their own.

In an era where two super conferences are emerging — the Big Ten and SEC will each have a minimum of 16 schools in two years — the Pac-12 likely will explore its own expansion.

But where do they look?

San Diego State, Fresno State and Boise State of the Mountain West Conference would be competitive in football and basketball.

But would the Pac-12 school presidents deem them worthy?

And do they add any bargaining leverage as the Pac-12 prepares to negotiate a new TV contract a year from now?

Let's be clear: None of those schools approach the value and status USC and UCLA bring to the Pac-12.

Without the Trojans and Bruins, what happens to the Pac-10’s traditional affiliation with the Rose Bowl? Cynical Old Blues no doubt already have envisioned someday winning a Pac-12 title only to be denied that long-awaited New Year’s Day trip to Pasadena.

No, there aren’t a lot of great answers at this point.

Maybe one way to rescue a bit of history would be for Cal and Stanford to schedule non-conference football games in alternating years against USC and UCLA. Of course, that could only happen if turnstiles are valued over pride.

Swallow hard and call them the Alliance Games.

Cover photo of former Cal receiver Nikko Remigio trying to escape USC tackler by John Hefti, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo