How the USC & UCLA Pac-12 Exits Could Impact DU’s Conference Affiliation

The Pac-12’s USC and UCLA moving to the Big 10 was just one more move within the Power Five conferences that signaled the formation of another super conference and the continued stratification of Divison I athletics. These seismic changes will reach well beyond football and, eventually, engulf all levels of collegiate sport and usher in a new era of collegiate athletics. Denver must be nimble and well-positioned to take advantage of the rapidly changing landscape.

We have written before about the need for DU to either move to a conference that reflects the school’s educational values, value proposition, marketing optimization, constraints in the new era of NIL (Name, Image, Likeness), the advent and proliferation of the transfer portal, cost of attendance stipends, the potential elimination of conference automatic qualifiers for NCAA tournaments, and unlimited scholarships. All of these changes show that conference affiliation and reach are important to long-term viability.

Don’t think for one minute that these changes will not filter down to the mid-major conferences. The stratification will impact all Division I schools.

Should the University of Denver sit idly by waiting for the collegiate landscape to shake out? If so, DU will miss this window of opportunity to shape the future with peer schools that share these common values. Again, private schools offer an entirely different set of priorities and benefits to student-athletes. Why not leverage those benefits as other private institution conferences have done. The obvious solution which we have discussed extensively is to either join the West Coast Conference (WCC) or create a new midwestern private conference and merge the private schools in the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Conference to form a new private school conference in the midwest.

The WCC has always held the upper hand when considering the University of Denver for membership. That ‘confidence’ is no longer warranted as they watch the Pac-12 dissolve in their own backyard. Surely, they must now understand that an expanded conference with broader reach and major markets is essential to protect what is currently a regional private school conference. Plus, member school Gonzaga has fellow WCC members over the barrel, as always, as the Zags are likely considering exit options and wielding their sizeable influence – thanks solely to its men’s basketball program – over conference members. Seattle University and Denver, two non-members located in large metropolitan areas, are surely on their radar now. The 9-member WCC needs the University of  Denver now – maybe more than Denver even needs them.

Denver has another option that could be exercised by taking a page out of the NCHC’s playbook and creating a brand-new conference and putting together a midwest private school coalition. The schools, currently tied to their conferences, could set a future date to establish a new conference. By pulling all the private schools out of the Missouri Valley Conference and Summit League and forming their own conference to complement the Ivy League, BIG EAST, and WCC. This new conference could include Denver, Oral Roberts, and St. Thomas from the Summit and Belmont, Drake, Loyola, Bradley, Valparaiso, and Evansville from the MVC. While this option is not nearly as attractive as the WCC, it is surely a better fit for Denver than the Summit League, a collection of mostly public, northern tier schools amidst this era of instability.

All of this comes at a time when DU has a new athletic director, Josh Berlo. He must be nimble and ready to act, as do Chancellor Jeremy Haefner and the Board of Trustees. A view around collegiate athletics shows that the status quo is no longer an option for any schools. These changes are about more than Oklahoma and Texas or USC and UCLA. The ripple effects will impact DU along with every D1 program in America.

6 thoughts on “How the USC & UCLA Pac-12 Exits Could Impact DU’s Conference Affiliation”

  1. It all depends on if (and when) Gonzaga leaves the WCC.

    I don’t see the WCC adding schools unless it has to, and DU is no slam dunk to get in, even if they do add schools. DU certainly has the overall athletic budget, academics, new market and endowment to make the WCC comfortable. But men’s basketball is the biggest problem in terms of program stature, RPI (#296), men’s budget (low for the WCC) and attendance (also very low). The WCC has never shown much interest in adding DU, primarily for distance reasons.

    Seattle is the closest thing to a slam dunk The WCC has, as a former Catholic league member with a state-of-the-art new arena home in Seattle. Cal-Baptist is not highly endowed or an academic power, but it would give the WCC a new arena, a slightly better hoops program (#247), and a school in the current California/west coast footprint. Grand Canyon offers them a big-time hoops program, but only if the WCC can stomach the for profit/diploma mill factor.

    There also may be perhaps an opportunity for DU if the MWC gets raided hard and has to backfill with non-football schools. If DU could play larger schools in the MWC region, they would certainly be open to that…

    I don’t think DU has any great appetite to be playing private schools like Loyola, Drake, Valpo, Belmont or Evansville over Summit League. None of those schools are going to be a drawing cards in Denver. Murray State is not private, either.

    If Stanford decides it does not want to play the big time football money game anymore and go Big 10 or to a merged Big 12, could they perhaps form a “western Ivy” conference of former Pac 12/WCC/schools who put a high value on academics?

    UC Santa Barbara
    UC Davis
    UC Irvine
    UC San Diego

    We can all hope for a better outcome for DU, but right now, we’re still beggars rather than choosers…

  2. Dunker here. Puck, your new 12 team league is a wonderful dream. I’d take better care of my health for that one. I’d move to Denver. Truthfully, today’s college students would only find Stanford, Cal, and Washington to be a draw. All schools are a draw to me. I don’t think the WCC needs to worry about our low basketball budget. If we get into the WCC, money will increase mightily for hoops. We might have to put that in writing. Go Pios

  3. More from Dunker. I saw the utmost obnoxious tee shirt over the weekend in a supermarket. 40 year old was wearing a T with mid-sized blue M in the middle. It read “ IT’s GREAT TO BE A MICHIGAN FAN”. I was wearing our National Championship T. He slithered away and I couldn’t find him for a confrontation,but we did walk by each other.

  4. This column nails the current situation for DU perfectly. The WCC has to continually be made aware of the benefits of adding DU. Hopefully, Josh Berlo can put together a well-conceived positioning/branding campaign targeting the WCC.

  5. Hockey is my main D.U. passion. We now have the strongest college hockey conference well organized and operating. Regardless of how D.U. makes future conference moves in other sports leave the NCHC alone. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.

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