The Pac-12, the earliest version of which formed 108 years ago, has brought us classic California college rivalries, including the annual Big Game between the Stanford and Cal football teams, a Bay Area tradition, and the crosstown rivalry between U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. Billed as the Conference of Champions, the Pac-12 has seen its members win more collegiate titles than any other conference. Not to mention the long list of the country’s greatest athletes who got their starts in the conference, including Jackie Robinson, Tiger Woods, John McEnroe, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and many more.
To make sense of all of this, I chatted with Billy about the Pac-12 implosion, what it means for the West Coast, and what might come next. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
How did this happen?
A year ago, U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. announced that they were moving to the Big Ten. That was a huge jolt — not just within the Pac-12, but across college football, because the California schools would be playing in the same conference as Rutgers and Maryland and Penn State. It really sort of changed the parameters of what was possible with the realignment of these conferences.
For a lot of Californians, the fracturing of the Pac-12 feels personal, doesn’t it?
If you’re an Oregon fan, you remember what it was like 20 years ago to go to Arizona State and have a big win against the Sun Devils. Or being at Cal and going up to Washington and playing there. There’s all these familiar outposts for sports fans, and they’ve just been really shattered in the past week.
And for parents and fans — say you’re in the East Bay — it’s one thing to go down to L.A. and go to U.S.C. or U.C.L.A., or go to Arizona. Pretty much anywhere in the Pac-12 footprint, you can hop on a flight and be there in an hour. But what’s that going to be like when the closest game is Nebraska?
Stanford and Cal have been left stranded, but they’re hardly slouches when it comes to sports. What should we make of that?