Collapse of the Pac-12 Forces Stanford Into Uncertain Future in the ACC

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The Pac-12, a collegiate athletics conference based on the West Coast, recently became the first Power Five conference to collapse as ten of its former members announced their departures this past year. Its dissolution began with the withdrawal of USC and UCLA from the conference, who were dissatisfied with the lack of competitiveness and profitability of Pac-12 football. As of now, the conference enters the 2024-2025 season with only two universities—Oregon State and Washington State. Stanford University was among the last schools to leave the Pac-12, which they announced September 1st. Their delayed departure put the school under pressure as they struggled to find a new conference to play in. Stanford ultimately landed in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) which will signify the end of their 105 year relationship with the Pac-12. 

Among universities across the nation, football is the most lucrative and therefore important athletic program. While Stanford is renowned both academically and athletically—having the most NCAA titles of any university—their football program has been in decline since 2015, which has deteriorated the security of their entire athletic department.

According to an anonymous source familiar with the conference negotiations, Stanford first reached out to an alternative power five conference, the Big Ten, but was ultimately declined entrance due to the lack of competitiveness in their football program so, they then turned to the ACC.

Map of universities in the ACC for the 2024-25 season.

The source explained that ACC had majority control in the negotiations, which enabled the conference to pocket an extra $70 million through ESPN media deals. Stanford, on the other hand, is set to enter the conference receiving a reduced portion of the total revenue and will be making less going into the ACC than they currently are at the collapsing Pac-12.

Aside from the financial implications, this move will significantly impact Stanford’s student athletes. The ACC is mainly composed of schools located on the East Coast, forcing athletes to travel across the country each week for conference games. 

Stanford sophomore and volleyball player Elia Rubin said, “If we have to leave on Wednesdays to accommodate the time change, then we’re missing even more school. It’s a bit concerning when you’re missing three days out of the week instead of just one or two.”

Former Stanford water polo player and M-A graduate Chris Dorst echoed many of Rubin’s concerns. “I think it’s a failure of leadership by the [Pac-12] commissioners Mr. Scott and Mr. Kliavkoff…It’s all about money which ends up, I think, hurting the athletes,” he said.

Leading up to Stanford’s move, the Pac-12 had been struggling for years due to poor authority and bad media deals. Throughout the past decade, the conference has been constantly misguided by its commissioners, Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff, who struggled to support the conference with adequate media deals. Scott, who acted as commissioner until July of 2022, signed a record-breaking, $3B television deal with Fox and ESPN networks for men’s football and basketball. However, the collegiate football marketplace boomed in the interim years of the contract, enabling other conferences to sign even larger deals. The unusual length of their contract left the Pac-12 stuck in that deal for another twelve years while other conferences surpassed them financially.

As an alumnus, Dorst is disappointed to be losing decades of traditions and rivalries tied to the conference, which he believes to be a major pull factor for fans. “Competitive activity among Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, USC, plus the Oregon schools and the Washington schools going against each other–that really is what makes collegiate athletics tick,” Dorst said. “That’s why people come to the games.”

For goalkeeper and Stanford senior Eliot Jones, the decision to leave the Pac-12 has been bittersweet. Jones explained that Stanford’s soccer program has been very successful in the Pac-12 in recent decades. Like Dorst, he is disappointed to be leaving behind important legacies and rivalries. “The level of college soccer [in the Pac-12] was among the best in the nation, and that’s what made you want to be there,” he said.

However, Jones is excited about the program’s future in the ACC, which, like the Pac-12, is renowned for its competitiveness in men’s soccer. “It seems like it’ll be a good decision but there’s no way of knowing that until you are in the thick of it,” Jones explained.

Rubin in action in a volleyball game against the University of Louisville. Photo courtesy of Elia Rubin.

Rubin is similarly optimistic about moving to the ACC because of the appreciation for volleyball throughout the East Coast. “We love traveling to schools in the Midwest and on the East Coast, where their fan bases are huge, specifically for volleyball.” Rubin said.

Despite the uncertainty, Dorst believes that Stanford made the right decision given the circumstances they were in. He explained that though the culture and rivalries of the Pac-12 will be missed, the university and its athletes will persevere. “Sports are always going to be changing and shifting,” Dorst said. “If you’re used to doing things one way then you’re never going to see the good that could happen from all of this.”

Gaby is a sophomore at M-A and is in her second year of journalism. This year, she is looking forward to writing about local and on campus issues. In her free time she likes to listen to music, run, and spend time with friends.

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