| 6-30-2022 09:10 PM PT
Photo by Jordan Zietz
My brother spent an inordinate portion of his childhood summers with eyes glued to The Weather Channel (he’s okay now, don’t worry). One day, after hours of viewing storm maps and hurricane destruction and Jim Cantore standing waist deep in water with wind jetting where his hair used to be, my brother asked my parents why people make hurricanes. “They destroy things for no reason,” he said.
Today, after news of UCLA and USC departing the Pac-12 for the Big 10, I find myself asking the same questions.
Look, I’m not stupid - I know there’s a reason. They may try to tell you it’s football, but if that were the case the Big 10 would have laughed the moment the Bruins showed up on their Caller ID. UCLA’s last conference title came in 1998, a few years before any of the current players were born. Back then all Chip Kelly had to worry about was getting his tongue stuck to his headset on November nights in New Hampshire.
No, amazingly U$C made a decision about money. The “school” that brought us legendary rower Olivia Jade? That had the impermissible benefits scandals of Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo? That hired the father of Evan and Isaiah Mobley right before the two five star players finished high school? I know, it’s hard to believe. But this is really all about the Benjamins, and the Ulysses, and the Andrews.
And it’s that way for the Big 10, too. The two LA schools have combined to win just one Pac-12 football title since the conference expanded. They’re being added for their market, not for their on-the-field prowess. Think of all the eyeballs!
Larry Scott’s shrewd ability to always do the wrong thing set the conference and its members back financially. I get it. But with a fresh deal only two years away and a shiny new commissioner in George Kliavkoff, fleeing for corn-lined pastures wasn’t the only option.
This move puts them in the same conference as Rutgers and Maryland. The nearest foe is in Lincoln, NE. They pitch it as being good for their athletes, but we all know that these athletic directors couldn’t care less about the rowers or the softball players or any athlete that doesn’t nudge the bottom line. Six hour flights are going to be the norm - where direct routes are available. And there aren’t too many of those to State College, PA, or West Lafayette, IN. Being a student-athlete just got a lot more difficult.
Perhaps most importantly, let’s all think of Bill Walton on this most shocking day. The UCLA and Stanford alumnus has been the ultimate ambassador for the Pac-12 Conference and the West Coast way of life. No doubt he’s in his teepee right this moment, trying to come to grips with his impending visits to the truckstops of the midwest. All the peyote in the world can’t prepare him for that.
I know we make a lot of jokes at Bill’s expense. He makes plenty of his own, too. But one thing I’ve always admired about him was how much he wanted to be a student at UCLA. To get a world class education. To grow as a man. To soak up every piece of the college experience. And you can say what you want about money and fair wages and commercials for local pizza joints, but this move in no way advances the ideal of the student-athlete. Most of the recent decisions don’t.
And think of what else is at stake. Over 100 years of tradition. Historic rivalries. Connections to our local alumni networks, and the tangential links we all share with our rival schools. Road trips to games up and down the coast. The two Pac-12 basketball tournaments in Las Vegas. And most importantly, The Rose Bowl Game (which any Cal alum not collecting social security has merely heard about).
We don’t yet know how this will all shake out. The remaining members of the Pac-10 could come together and remain steadfast. We may add more members. Or, as I fear, we may huddle into some combination of lifeboats from the Big 10, Big 12, and Mountain West conferences. All of that remains to be seen.
But we do know that things won’t ever be the same, because UCLA and USC felt the need, as my brother so indignantly said, to “destroy things for no reason.” And that’s unforgivable.
--Stanford Men's Hoops National Champs '42 '91 '12 '15
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