Pac-12 expansion candidates: Without USC and UCLA, where to look first?

The Pac-12 initially chose to be patient with expansion. It figured it could wait and find the perfect fit or stay stable. After USC and UCLA dropped into the Big Ten, the conference lost that luxury.

Pac-12’s board of directors met Friday morning and approved the conference to explore expansion. The future of the conference is at stake. Said a former conference leader the athlete“I don’t know if they’re recovering from it.”

The obvious hurdle: The Pac-12’s expandability isn’t great. Despite the lack of football success and subpar media payouts, the conference always offered a degree of stability. That is no longer the case. USC and UCLA resignations have cracked the foundation.

Commissioner George Kliavkoff’s first job is to keep Washington and Oregon in place. Without the Trojans and Bruins, the Pacific Northwest schools are holding the conference together. That will not be easy. The second is finding the right schools that not only fit the Pac-12’s profile, but also help the conference in its upcoming media rights negotiations. Let’s take a look.

The first calls

State of San Diego: the athlete asked a few industry sources about Pac-12 expansion candidates, and everyone started here. The Pac-12 never seemed to take San Diego State seriously, largely because it operates in California State University’s system, but it’s time to give Mountain West School a strong look. San Diego has the 28th largest television market, which isn’t ideal, but adding the Aztec would give the Pac-12 a presence in some parts of Southern California. This cannot be ignored. Athletically, San Diego State has been outperforming many Pac-12 schools in soccer and men’s basketball recently, so that’s not a problem. The football program has recorded five seasons with more than 10 wins in the last seven years. The men’s basketball team has competed in the NCAA tournament nine times since the 2009-10 season. Most importantly, the Aztecs showed their commitment to taking the next step. They are slated to open $310 million Snapdragon Stadium this fall as their next football home. There is a certain dynamic here.

State of Boise: Another Mountain West program, Boise State has always been a popular candidate for expansion simply because of its football success. It’s a nice starting point. The Broncos would compete in the Pac-12. In addition, the men’s basketball team just won the Mountain West title and played in the NCAA tournament. Geographically, Boise also fits the Pac-12 footprint. (Not that geography matters anymore.) Biggest downside: The Boise market doesn’t bring much media value.

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Houston and TCU: Nine months ago, with the sport still in shock after Texas and Oklahoma announced their SEC intentions, the Pac-12 considered expansion. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Houston and TCU were the main goals of the conference. Ultimately, the Pac-12 stayed at 12, Houston ended up in the Big 12, and things were looking good. Until Thursday. In terms of location, it works. Dallas-Fort Worth is the fifth largest media market in the country. Houston is eighth. This would also bring the Pac-12 into the heart of talent-rich Texas, which would help with recruitment.

Houston makes sense. The TCU brings with it a problem as the Pac-12 typically had little interest in schools with religious affiliations. But in recent years, TCU has distanced itself from those ties. The Pac-12 is also incapable of being picky.

Texas Technology: When it comes to the Big 12 schools — and you can add Baylor and Oklahoma State here too — it ultimately boils down to this: Since the Big 12 are pretty stable, how much interest do they have in saving a staggered Pac-12? Texas Tech has long envisioned moving west, according to industry sources, but that may have changed recently. Like Houston and TCU, this would bring the Pac-12 to Texas, but that’s probably its biggest benefit.

It’s worth trying

SMU: If the Big 12 schools aren’t an option, SMU is worth a look. The American Athletic Conference school lacks the football punch that San Diego State and Boise State could offer, but SMU brings media value to Dallas. Like Houston and TCU, adding the Mustangs would also help with recruitment.

UNLV: Another Mountain West school, UNLV, would offer little to improve on the Pac-12 in terms of competitive balance, but the Las Vegas market is attractive. Additionally, the conference already has a presence in Sin City, hosting its post-season soccer championship and basketball tournaments.

– Max Olson, Christian Caple and Chris Vannini contributed coverage.

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)