The array of lifeboats available for the Pac-12 seemingly has been reduced by one.
The conference is no longer discussing a merger or alliance with the Big 12, according to an ESPN report Monday night.
In the realignment game, nothing is official until it’s official — and sometimes not even then.
But if we presume the leagues don’t reconsider a partnership, the Pac-12 seemingly is left with three paths to survival:
— Join forces with the ACC under an ESPN media rights umbrella.
— Stick together (without the ACC) as a 10-school conference.
— Stick together (without the ACC) and expand.
If expansion is the preferred outcome, one school stands as the obvious addition: San Diego State.
The Aztecs have been preparing for this opportunity for a decade and borrowed from the expansion blueprint used by Utah, which spent years readying itself for the moment the Pac-12 called.
Here are five reasons the Aztecs make so much sense for the conference:
1. The competitive factor
Admittedly, we don’t have a good handle on San Diego State’s Olympic sports, but it doesn’t matter. Realignment is about football, men’s basketball, and football.
On the field, the Aztecs are 6-1 against the Pac-12 since 2017, with wins over Utah, ASU, UCLA, Stanford and Arizona.
They have won at least 10 games in five of the past six seasons (excluding 2020) and were ranked in the end-of-year AP poll in 2016 and 2021.
While SDSU hasn’t reached the same level of success as Cincinnati — or Boise State under Chris Petersen — the program is on the next tier.
Add the resources and cache that would come with Pac-12 membership, and the Aztecs would more than hold their own on a weekly basis.
Meanwhile, the men’s basketball program is plenty worthy of an invitation, having qualified for the NCAAs in nine of the past 12 years. (Had COVID not intervened, the Aztecs would have been a No. 1 or 2 seed in the 2020 tournament.)
Also, have you seen the state of Pac-12 basketball lately? SDSU would enhance the overall product.
2. The exposure factor
The Pac-12 desperately needs SDSU in order to maintain a presence in the greater Southern California region, both for media exposure and a recruiting foothold.
Put another way: Without the Aztecs, the conference won’t have a campus within 300 miles of the talent pool that fuels its roster building — all while the Big Ten will have greater access once USC and UCLA begin play in 2024.
In that case, the Pac-12 might as well be the Big 12.
But there’s a second piece to consider: Home to 3.3 million people, San Diego County itself is a vital recruiting zone for the conference.
The area has produced some of the greatest players in Pac-12 history, including Marcus Allen, Reggie Bush, Junior Seau and Lincoln Kennedy, plus John Lynch and Eric Allen.
The list of San Diego prospects who didn’t play in the Pac-12 includes Terrell Davis, Alex Smith, Ricky Williams and Rashaan Salaam.
Not only would membership boost SDSU’s local recruiting efforts, it would strengthen the Pac-12’s connection to the area.
3. The valuation factor
The process by which ESPN, Fox and other media companies value football programs has changed since the Pac-12 expanded in 2011.
Back then, the number of cable homes in a given school’s region (Salt Lake City and Denver, for example) was the prime driver of revenue.
Now, brand value — the ability to generate big ratings, especially on broadcast networks — is critical.
But market size still matters.
Without the Los Angeles schools, the Pac-12 is down 5.7 million homes in its footprint.
Adding SDSU mitigates the loss. The Aztecs wouldn’t substantially increase revenue for the 10 existing schools, but they would provide enough media valuation to justify membership.
San. Diego has 1.1 million TV homes and is the No. 27 market in the country, larger than the likes of Kansas City, Cincinnati and Oklahoma City, according to Nielsen DMA data for 2021.
In fact, San Diego has more TV homes than all but three markets in the Big 12’s future footprint (Dallas, Houston and Orlando).
4. The resource factor
This fall, the Aztecs will open Snapdragon Stadium, a $310 million facility in the Mission Valley district, which is a few trolly stops from the main campus.
The stadium seats 35,000 but was built to accommodate an NFL team and can expand to 55,000.
It’s the only large outdoor stadium in San Diego County and will host a slew of entertainment and sporting events.
Those events will generate a seven-figure annual revenue stream for the athletic department — revenue which can be reinvested in football infrastructure to allow the Aztecs to quickly close ground with Pac-12 schools.
The stadium is part of SDSU’s Mission Valley development, a 1.6 million-square-foot complex featuring residential and retail space that’s modeled on Arizona State’s stadium district.
5. The academic factor
SDSU is not a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, but neither are Arizona State, Oregon State or Washington State.
It’s not an R1 research institution but believes that status could come in the next year based on research funding.
(The chief obstacle to SDSU raising its academic profile is a 60-year-old state law that prevents California State University campuses from awarding doctorates. The Aztecs are hoping to get that changed.)
Bottom line: College football is transforming at warp speed. Are the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors smart enough to accept the new reality and reconsider longstanding biases?
They have never deemed schools in the CSU system worthy of membership.
To that line of thinking, we say: Evolve, or die.
Run the numbers and sketch the future however you want. In the aftermath of the L.A. thunderbolt, the Pac-12 needs San Diego State.