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SALT LAKE CITY — With the new configurations of the Pac-12 and Big 12 set to begin before the 2024 football season, both conferences could engage in an expansion tussle.
For slightly different reasons, the two conferences are each interested in having a presence in the lucrative and fruitful Southern California area. Long the overlooked football program, San Diego State fits the bill as the most attractive available candidate.
Last summer's stunning announcement that USC and UCLA would bolt for the riches of the Big Ten in the summer of 2024 will leave the Pac-12 with only 10 teams, which might be a sustainable number and yet still problematic. The fact is, losing the stronghold in Los Angeles and southward creates a gaping hole.
But like in real estate, when it comes to expansion, you know what they say: location, location, location. Two hours away from the nation's second biggest market sits some of the most expensive property in the world.
San Diego State, obviously, provides the Pac-12 a path back into the coveted Southern California market. Although not on par with the powerful USC and UCLA brands, expanding south seems like a no-brainer on multiple levels.
And now with Texas and Oklahoma set to join the Southeastern Conference also midway through 2024, the Big 12 can focus on expanding west into the Pacific time zone. The conference could lure San Diego State or go after Pac-12 big dogs Oregon and Washington plus the four corner schools (Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado).
In the end, as it always does, money has the loudest voice. Various reports indicate the Big 12, which has already negotiated television deals, could offer a bigger payout than the Pac-12 ultimately nets.
San Diego State will never match the interest the Los Angeles schools get, but a smaller piece is better than conceding the entire plate to the Big Ten. All the variables that define athletic success — primarily money and recruiting — demand the Pac-12's reach in the nation's most populous state extend beyond the Stanford campus, which is 35 miles south of San Francisco.
The Big 12, which is officially adding four programs this summer, could deal the Pac-12 a serious blow through expansion. First-year commissioner Brett Yormark, who also may want basketball power Gonzaga, said last summer his conference is "open for business, prompting many to speculate it may poach multiple Pac-12 programs.
His declaration — or threat, if you prefer — ignited a war of words with his Pac-12 counterpart. At the subsequent Pac-12 football media, commissioner George Kliavkoff quipped: "I appreciate that. We haven't decided if we're going shopping there yet or not."
By George, that's a funny line, but the Pac-12's situation might not be a laughing matter if Yormark can entice legitimate interest. And don't be surprised if the Big Ten looks west down the line to offset the brutal travel schedules facing UCLA and USC.
For sure, no program not on par with the likes of Ohio State and Alabama can garner enough money from television contracts to offset the Pac-12 losing the two defectors. Last August, the Big Ten signed a seven-year deal that will reportedly pay the conference between $7 billion and $8 billion running through the 2029-30 athletic calendar.
The Pac-12 won't come close to reaping the same financial benefits as the nation's two premiere football conferences. Accepting the disparity as fact, there is an argument to stay at 10 rather than divvy up the financial pie with more mouths to feed.
But San Diego State's inclusion could bump up the Pac-12's television payout. Adding Dallas-based Southern Methodist, which hosted Kliavkoff for a tour this week, also could help the conference get close to the approximately $31 million annually per school from television the new Big 12 will draw.
Another pressing reason to bring in SDSU centers on recruiting. The massive Southern California area can produce upwards of 250 FBS players every year.
The Big Ten and SEC already raid the nation's second biggest market for talent, often luring the area's best players. The starting quarterbacks from Ohio State and Alabama the last two years both came from high schools in the Los Angeles area.
SDSU is attractive from the football perspective, having raised $310 million for a 35,000-seat stadium that opened last season. The program, which beat eventual Pac-12 champion Utah in 2021, has played in 12 consecutive bowl games (not counting the shortened 2020 season) and won Mountain West championships in 2015-16.