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What the Departure of USC and UCLA Means for the Pac-12 and Oregon

The West Coast's beloved conference of champions is on life support.
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On Thursday the massive news broke that USC and UCLA would be joining the Big Ten, stripping the Pac-12 of two of its strongest brands and storied athletic programs. This news has been followed by a lot of questions for both the Pac-12 and more specifically Oregon, with some of the highest achieving athletics programs in the country and on the West Coast.

Let's start with the conference of champions.

The Pac-12

Well, the mighty conference of champions isn't looking so mighty any more. There's really no other way to put it, this move likely spells the end of the Pac-12. Not only was the conference hemorrhaging money on an annual basis due to mismanaged media rights deals, no team had made the playoffs since Washington in 2017 and the conference hasn't had a school win a bowl game in two years. 

Scary stuff.

Losing UCLA hurts more for the great basketball the Bruins play, but losing USC, especially after the Trojans hired Lincoln Riley to resurrect the program, definitely stings. No longer will you hear "It's good for the Pac-12 to have a good USC", because they'll be gone.

This makes the conference's path the playoff much more difficult as well because you lose two of the stronger teams, which weakens what was already a laughable image the conference had nationally. George Kliavkoff not only has to try and fix the mess Larry Scott left him, but now he has to try and add new schools to keep the conference going and make it look more attractive. Boise State and San Diego State are two teams a lot of people are mentioning, but neither program is in a major media market, and what the Pac-12 needs right now, among other things, is money.

How about Oregon?

As for the Ducks, they have a couple of options. First off, let's be clear that they are fortunate in many ways to be in the situation that they are. The play on the football field, the hardwood, and in track and field along with the Nike brand and other factors, make Oregon a very attractive school. That's not something a lot of other schools can say like Washington State, Oregon State, and Colorado.

I see four options, with one being more likely than the others. 

1. Join the SEC

It's no secret that the SEC is the strongest conference in college football, and also the richest, so why wouldn't Oregon want to join? Well, not only would the geography present a massive challenge to play opponents, but the conference already made a move of its own just about a year ago when it poached Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12. 

Would the SEC even want Oregon? And how competitive would Oregon be? Recent additions to the roster and trends in recruiting are more encouraging sure, but that is not a conference the Ducks have faired well against in the past.

2. Become an independent

This may seem a bit far fetched, but as I alluded to earlier, the Ducks find themselves in a unique situation with their Nike connection and their national reach. Oregon fans span across the country, travel well, and would likely support the Ducks wherever they end up. 

Finding a lucrative media rights deal is probably the biggest key to this equation, but having independence could help preserve rivalries like Washington, USC and Oregon State, while also providing additional flexibility to schedule blue bloods from coast to coast.

3. Join the Big Ten

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Right now, you can count me in the boat that this is the most likely scenario.

The Big Ten will likely want to bring more teams to join USC and UCLA so they aren't so geographically isolated, a move that would be mutually beneficial for all parties involved. The Big Ten expands its reach out west, and more West Coast teams like Oregon and probably Washington (rivalry and Seattle media market), get to maintain some form of consistency in a rapidly changing college football landscape. 

The Big Ten is absolutely the more winnable conference compared to the giant that is the SEC, but it'd still present a significant challenge with schools like Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and the new LA schools.

4. Join the Big 12

The Big 12 looked like it was scrambling for a bit after losing Texas and Oklahoma. But if I'm Oregon and I can't get into the Big Ten this isn't looking like all that bad of an option. 

You'll have good basketball, and you'll get to compete against some of the conference newcomers like BYU and Cincinatti, who's coming off their first playoff appearance. Geography might be a bit easier, but you're still covering a lot of the country going as far north as Iowa State and as far east as West Virginia. 

Final thoughts

This is a make or break moment for Oregon and the administration needs to move fast to find a home for the Ducks before they get left in the dust. The recent success and direction of the program are good ammo to bring into discussions and I think Oregon will find a good home (good is open to interpretation a bit here). 

It's also worth noting that the best-case scenario could depend on what the college football playoff looks like. It doesn't look like expansion is expected in the near future, but you're kidding yourself if you think that won't be a factor in what's most beneficial.

There's also this.

This move by USC and UCLA makes the 2022 and 2023 seasons that much more important for Oregon. You want that first national championship? 

It looks like your window might have just shrunk a bit, because the path to the playoff won't get any easier if you move to the Big Ten or the SEC, so you'd better win now while you're still in a weak conference. You can choose to read that as opportunistic or pessimistic.

The Ducks have been building for a while, and now it's time to capitalize. 

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