College sports just got a lot less fun

Money just kicked tradition's butt with USC, UCLA leaving the Pac 12

Cliff Pfenning
September 2, 2022

Wow, college football sure has made a mess of college athletics.

Or, better, college football viewers have made a mess of college athletics as we in the Northwest learned Thursday night.

That’s when USC and UCLA were outed as having been accepted into the Big 10 Conference, ending a century in USC’s case, of belonging to the different versions of the Pac 12 Conference. UCLA had been a member for nearly as long.

So much for any allegiance to the West Coast. USC and UCLA showed off their allegiance to money Thursday.

Who else cannot wait for the Saturday afternoon pairing of USC at Missouri or UCLA at Iowa? Network execs cannot.

Now then, who else cannot wait for the basketball pairings of UCLA at Wisconsin or USC at Rutgers? Think those athletes are excited about that travel?

Well who cares as long as football brings in the dinero.

Of course, that brings us to Oregon and Oregon State, and what their future plans are. How do they keep up with all the money issues?

Here’s a vote for the two schools to remain in the Pac 10 - just bump it down to the Pac 10. Maybe a super conference isn’t the way to go, especially if you think of it from the athlete’s point of view in sports other than football.

Oregon and OSU staying in the Pac 10 might actually be a recruiting bonanza if it gets presented the correct way - “we’re in it for the student/athletes not the money.” And in the new era of the Name and Image License that turns into how to pay athletes, that presentation can go a long way to securing elite athletes in every sport.

NIL free agency has come to fruition, and one of the key elements is playing time. And, there’s only so much playing time available in every sport - athletes know this. Every time a 5-star recruit commits to a program, the 5-star athletes who are already there have to be thinking “where’s my next school?” Maybe that’s Oregon and OSU, over and over again.

OSU has long been involved in the college version of “Moneyball.” Oregon got more connected with the legend of Brad Pitt Thursday as well, regardless of Phil Knight’s support.

So, go with it. Be the underdog, along with Washington and Washington State. Oregon has some of the best facilities in the nation in most of its sports. OSU is upgrading its football stadium as it must, and now needs to turn its attention to basketball.

Being the underdog never stopped any school from winning a national title in any sport.

And, at some point, athletics cannot be all about money. Football brings in the majority of funding for basically every sport across the land, so getting a fair share of revenue from a television contract is imperative - especially at OSU, which is not in a hot television market. USC and UCLA probably used that as a strong reason to leave: that every media contract the Pac 12 signed ultimately led to them supporting OSU in terms of how the revenue of the contract got split up between the members. Los Angeles is a huge market, while Corvallis, and ultimately WSU in Pullman, aren’t.

Money talks.

The Northwest schools would probably have a strong sales pitch to join the Big 10 themselves: thus creating another division for what is becoming a Super Conference. For television. But what of the tradition of being on the West Coast? Tradition doesn’t have much weight when it comes to media contracts and all that money that goes along with football, it’s all about market size. But, it does with athletes: student/athletes, especially the ones who do not play football.

This is a perfect time for the Northwest schools to promote an allegiance to tradition and the value of the life experiences available that can impact an athlete’s life during their academic career and beyond.

There’s that well-known axiom: “money isn’t everything.”

There’s another well-known axiom: “money isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Hollywood is a strong recruiting element for USC and UCLA, but it also has a very big downside in that you actually have to live in LA.

Stay the course Oregon and OSU, along with Washington and WSU, and make the best of the new Pac 10. There’s going to be less money with new media contracts, but surviving on less isn’t a new thing in the college athletics world especially in the Northwest.

Cliff Pfenning

Cliff is the publisher of, and has decades of experience in writing, photography, videography and graphic design. He's been a sportswriter in Oregon for more than three decades and has even taught sports broadcasting in Portland. He lives in North Portland in a house built in 1912 that has a backyard deck easily turned into a 'Top Golf' set-up for wiffle golf balls ... and cornhole.