Cal is in the worst predicament almost any college has been in during realignment. For most Pac-12 (now Pac-10) fans the writing has seemed to be on the wall the last decade that unless something changes the Pac-10 could see themselves falling behind. The Big 10 and SEC have made important and strategic moves to increase their revenue by almost 3 times as much as it was in 2010. Getting schools in big markets (Maryland, Rutgers) and getting schools that boost the athletic portfolio as they bring sports success and money (Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma). When the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 by bringing in Utah and Colorado it was seen as a great move at the time as Utah football was red hot and Colorado brings in history and the Denver market.
Since the realignment, we have witnessed the SEC and Big 10 do not plan on stopping till they get the brands they are wanting. Cal brings a lot of desirable traits to the table being in California and having the bay market, continuously recognized as not only one of the most prestigious schools in the country but also in the world and bringing in $1 billion of research funding last year. But one aspect driving TV contracts as well as realignment is what you bring to the table sports-wise.
And well... Cal has picked the wrong time to not be competitive in the two money-making sports Football and Basketball.
Don't get me wrong I love Cal and I will root for them till I leave this earth but lets be real. Since 2012 (the last time the dominos really fell in realignment) Cal football has posted a 48-67 record and 3 bowl games (none of them were major bowl games). Cal Basketball has gone 155-170 record with 2 tournament appearances. In the rich city of San Francisco and Oakland, as well as the whole state of California there should be no reason football and basketball aren’t ranked every year. There is so much talent recruiting-wise within those sports that there should almost be no excuse for it. But today is not the day for me to go on a rant about that. At the moment there seem to be three paths for Cal in my opinion and this will determine the fate of their football/basketball programs going forward.
Staying in the PAC-10
The first choice is the choice they are sticking with at the moment. While I believe this choice is a mistake it is not the worst choice as they could have panicked and made a worse one. Based on reports we all know Oregon and Washington will jump at any invite outside of the Big 12. They have shown the country that they will ditch the conference immediately if given a Big 10 or SEC invite. Personally, this round I do not believe they get one, but I did not believe USC and UCLA would get an invite ever so things change. Recent reports have linked Stanford to being picked to go with Notre Dame but those fell through when Notre Dame passed on the Big 10 flyer for now. My concern is Cal was nowhere in that conversation. The Big 10 has shown little interest in Cal (at least that has been reported) so Cal is in big trouble if Notre Dame ever comes back around. Arizona, Arizona St, Colorado, and Utah (kind of) have expressed interest and are taking information in about the Big 12. Again, there has been little reported about the Big 12 interest in Cal so I’m sure the Big 12 would be happy to offer Cal if the interest is mutual but if Cal gives them the cold shoulder there’s no reason for them to beg for us. So, with all that information do we still believe the Pac 12 is the answer? Cal, Oregon St, Washington St, and somewhat Stanford are left with a question mark on their heads.
For the Pac 10 to stay alive they need to go on the attack to get teams to help them remain strong. San Diego State, Fresno St, and Boise State bring solid football programs that continue to impress. Bringing in Gonzaga for basketball only should not be off the table either. Then you have programs such as Air Force and Colorado St that need to be considered as well. With these schools, the Pac 10s presence in California remains strong with Fresno and San Diego State bringing some (key emphasis on the word some) of the media market that was lost with the USC and UCLA departure. Air Force and Colorado St help solidify the ever-growing Denver market, and Gonzaga, as well as Boise State, brings well-known programs into the mix and bolster football and basketball in the conference. Pac 10 will have to get creative and stop using the academic excuse if they want to survive. You will also need to come up with a binding agreement to ensure mainly Oregon and Washington do not jump ship within the next 5-10 years. This is tricky but it may help the survival of the Pac 10. All eyes unfortunately are on the Pac 10 to see how they are going to respond to this gut punch. If they get serious about basketball and football by adding the teams, I mentioned above there’s still a puncher’s chance the Pac 10 can survive. I do not believe Pac 10 has leverage over Big 12, Big 10, SEC, or ACC so there is no chance outside of a partnership that they will be able to poach teams. The best move you can make is to gamble on the handful of programs from the Mountain West and West Coast Conference and hope with the increase of resources (money, brand recognition, increase competition) they start to thrive.
Joining the Big 12
A personal favorite is joining the conference which is becoming more stable by the day. The Big 12 has major immediate media markets (I define as schools in or right around) in play such as Dallas, Houston, Orlando, and Cincinnati. The secondary markets (schools being 45 minutes to 90 minutes from a city that they have a huge presence of fans in) are Pittsburgh (WVU), Oklahoma City (Ok St), Kansas City (KU), Tampa (UCF), and Salt Lake City (BYU). In 2021 according to Nielson DMA Ratings that gives you 6 Top 30 markets in the US (#5, #8, #13, #17, #26, and #30). Not just that but areas such as Dallas, Houston, Orlando, and Tampa are growing at a rapid pace they will continue to climb the latter. Enter Cal into the picture you just brought in #6 in the US. The media number will keep growing for the Big 12 as the new schools (Houston, UCF, BYU, and Cincinnati) will start drawing bigger games resulting in more revenue and eyeballs on the TV. Besides BYU these schools are not immediate reward picks. I consider them long-term investments. This is no disrespect to Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati as they all bring good markets and solid athletics history but trust me when I say this there is another level all 3 of those schools can hit and it will happen before our very eyes after 5-10 years in the Big 12. Give them money, resources, and strong competition and they will flourish.
The Big 12 is on an aggressive attack to get 4 schools that bring solid markets to the table as well with Arizona/Arizona St bringing in Phoenix (#11 in the ranking), Colorado bringing Denver (#16 in the ranking), and Utah bringing more reinforcement in the state of Utah as well as a major school in Salt Lake City directly (remember I talked about major and secondary schools above). With no “sources” and entirely my opinion I believe that Cal would receive an offer from the Big 12 if they expressed interest but the Big 12 will not beg or chase them. This is the route I believe Cal needs to take to establish themselves at the “Big Boy Table” until the time being. I believe Cal is a desirable school for the Big 10 one day but at the moment I do not think they make the cut immediately. In the meantime, Cal needs to focus on bolstering athletics mainly football and basketball. Being in a conference that bolsters so much competition and competitiveness in each sport, it may make Cal take a look at start prioritizing sports more. Cal is in an amazing location and has so much talent within a 50-mile radius of the school there should be no excuse. To me, this seems like the best option as it keeps them in a power conference, it opens the door wide open to more hotbed states with recruiting, and Cal can become a bigger/better brand in a new conference where it won’t be a comfortable fit at the moment, but we will adapt and can improve ourselves to become more respected in the sports world.
Be Independent, Join the Mountain West Conference, or Other Wild Ideas
I will be honest I am not going to spend much time or thoughts on this one. The rest of the ideas shouldn’t even come across anyone’s mind. Going Independent. We are not a huge brand, especially in sports. If you talk to anyone east of Colorado most know us as Cal but if I say UC Berkeley or Berkeley or the Golden Bears, I will need to say Cal likely to make them know who I am talking about. The branding and recognition isn’t there. Not like Notre Dame or even BYU. Everyone knows those universities immediately if you’re talking sports. If you say Brigham Young or the Fighting Irish or even the Fighting Mormons (I know that’s not their name, but people know) people are going to know who you’re talking about. Cal has $100 million in loan debt to improve their stadium. It would be impossible to go independent with that much in loans.
Mountain West Conference? Hahahahahahahhahahahahhahahahahhahahahha……… No. No booster, Alumni, Faculty, Student, Athlete, or anyone that cares about Cal would allow that to happen. You can make fun of us/me that we’re being too picky, but it would never work. Even with our only option, I cannot imagine the leaders of the school would accept it.
Other wild ideas like joining the ACC or Ivy League seem unlikely. They would have to pick up schools in the Midwest or closer west for Cal to consider. No way a team can record a profit when their athletes have to fly to Miami, Raleigh, Boston, Pittsburgh, etc. Financially it would be a nightmare unless you drop 70-80% of your sports or drop sports completely. Again with $100 million+ still on that Memorial Stadium Improvement loan it’s unlikely.