Conference realignment conversations have died down a bit over the final few weeks of July, with USC and UCLA’s decision to join the Big Ten starting in 2024 not yet resulting in cataclysmic changes across the NCAA and the Power-5 programs.
Notre Dame remains independent, Oregon and Washington didn’t get an invite to join the LA schools in the Big Ten (yet) and Gonzaga remains in the WCC.
The Pac-12 is still trying to figure out their next steps, hoping to keep the remaining 10 programs intact while looking to merge with another P5 conference to boost their TV revenue – an area they have lacked severely behind the rest of the Power-5 conferences.
The latest update comes from Pete Thamel of ESPN, who basically confirmed the reported merger between the Pac-12 and Big-12 is dead in the water after the Big-12 felt the move wouldn’t be lucrative enough to be worth the hassle.
This leaves the Pac-12 with a few options. They could stay put with the ten schools they have and proceed with a new TV deal (likely with ESPN) and hope that is enough to get by. They could also look to expand, potentially adding San Diego State and/or another Mountain West program, like UNLV, Fresno State, or Colorado State, or even trying to pull someone from the Big-12 like Kansas, Baylor, TCU or even an incoming member like BYU or Houston, or they could continue searching for a merger of some sort.
John Canzano, a prominent sports reporter in Oregon who covers the entire Pac-12, still believes a “soft merger” between the Pac-12 and the ACC makes sense. This partnership could include a shared media rights deal with ESPN, and crossover games between the two conferences in both football and basketball.
So what does this mean for Gonzaga? Nothing immediately, but it’s hard not to imagine the Zags wanting to try to get involved in a merger that could involve programs like Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Florida State and Louisville coming out west. Heck, we just saw a report that Arizona and Duke are going to play a home-and-home series, and matchups like that are exactly why Gonzaga would want to get involved if possible.
The Pac-12 has staunchly maintained their policy regarding big research institutions – and while “must have football” is not explicitly stated it is at worst heavily, heavily implied. Would they be willing to bend on those requirements in order to add Gonzaga into the conference and boost their men’s basketball power? Perhaps the biggest factor here is the impending media deal with ESPN.
ESPN loves Gonzaga. They get them on TV very regularly, even in conference, and they have broadcasters practically dedicated to the Zags. Shoot, one of them has a sandwich named after him at the Davenport in Spokane.
If ESPN wants to get more involved in the Pacific Time Zone, and the Pac-12 wants to merge with the traditionally basketball-dominant ACC, then adding Gonzaga is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Of course, Gonzaga has to want to make this move – and the looming possibility of an invitation to the Big East would be a significant sticking point. If the Zags felt that wasn’t a realistic possibility – either because they would need to find another conference to house their non-basketball sports, or the Big East isn’t interested, or any other reason, a jump to a Pac-12/ACC soft merger conference is a very worthwhile endeavor.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.