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Pac-12 will 'not pursue expansion' in light of recent realignment

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff fields questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — The college football world was turned upside down over the summer when Texas and Oklahoma decided to part ways with the Big 12 to pursue a new home in the Southeastern Conference.

The move, which is not expected to take effect until 2025, rocked the college football landscape and reopened the possibility of conference realignment. But a recent non-contractual alliance between the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 shut the door, at least temporarily, on the idea of Power Five teams cannibalizing one another to form super conferences.

The Pac-12 took it a step further Thursday when it announced that it would not be pursuing expansion at this time following reports that Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby met with Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff to discuss the possibility. But Kliavkoff has maintained the conference is in a position of strength to stay at 12 with its current members.

"Following consultation with our presidents, chancellors and athletic directors, the Pac-12 Conference has made the decision to not pursue expansion of our membership at this time," a conference statement reads. "This decision was made following extensive internal discussion and analysis, and is based on the current competitive strength and cohesiveness of our 12 universities.

"It is also grounded in our confidence in our ability as a conference to best support our student-athletes and to grow and thrive both academically and athletically."

At Pac-12 media days in July, Kliavkoff said the conference had received "inbound interest" from several programs and that everything was on the table, but it was clear there was no imminent desire to expand or act quickly in light of the Big 12's plight.

"Given our investments in football and men's basketball, our historic domination of other sports, we do not think expansion is required to continue to compete and thrive," Kliavkoff said at the time. "That said, the fallout from Texas and Oklahoma gives us an opportunity to once again consider expansion. We had already had significant inbound interest from many schools."

Kliavkoff emphasized that further Tuesday in a press conference with the commissioners from the ACC and Big Ten when he said the alliance between the three conferences allows the leaders of the sport to "hit the reset button and come together to make a positive difference in the future evolution of college sports."

The three conferences preached stability and a desire to not make the landscape more chaotic. While it's not a guarantee that further expansion is off the table, it's an opportunity to stop what has been considered the beginning to college football going to a more Premier League style of play with the top 30 or so teams competing.

It also allows the Big 12 to navigate its future without having to worry about being poached by the three other Power Five conferences — at least in principle.

"I feel very strongly about — hopefully — this will bring some much-needed stability in college athletics, and I also think what it will do is it will allow people to understand where everyone stands, because some of the events over the last couple months have kind of shaken the foundation of the beliefs of college athletics," Big Ten Commission Kevin Warren said. "So hopefully this will allow other conferences to be able to work through their various issues and figure out what's best for them in the future."

ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips added that all three conferences "want and need the Big 12 to do well."

"The Big 12 matters in college athletics. The Big 12 matters in Power Five athletics and our FBS group," he said. "I can just tell you that we'll be watching what occurs here — and obviously this transition isn't supposed to be taking place for another four years — but this group in particular will be very interested to see what happens and to do everything that we can to try to make sure that college athletics looks similar to what it is today."

Whether the Big 12 stays at eight teams, dissolves or poaches teams from Group of Five conferences to expand remains to be seen. But the conference now has a clear path to pursue its own future without the alliance conferences hovering over it.

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