When news broke that UCLA and USC were departing the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, leaving the former without two of its big-time programs and the latter with far more schools than its name would indicate, we all started wondering what would happen to Arizona.
Would the Wildcats remain in the Pac-whatever, perhaps reimagined with different schools or “alliances,” or might there be an opportunity to jump ship, perhaps to the Big 12?
It turns out time didn’t reveal much of anything.
With more than three weeks of speculation in the books, nothing appears to be settled. Perhaps something will happen in the coming days or weeks, with TV rights negotiations and other formalities needing to take place before any final decisions are made. The Pac-12 is having its annual football Media Day event on Friday in Los Angeles, so perhaps something will come out then.
But however everything shakes out, one thing we’ll learn is how the University of Arizona and its athletics are viewed on a national scale.
We know Arizona isn’t seen in the same light as UCLA or USC, otherwise the Big Ten would have come calling for them, too. And it’s possible that the school from Tucson is being held back by its rival to the north, as it’s unlikely Arizona and ASU are anything but a package deal.
Focusing on just Arizona, however, and focusing solely on athletics, you’d think the school has plenty to offer whatever conference it is a part of.
And with thanks to Jeffrey Fuller on Twitter we can easily see how Arizona stacked up to other programs, at least in terms of home attendance across 2021-22.
And you know what? According to Jeffrey’s calculations when you add up the attendance from all attendance-earning sports, Arizona is 32nd in the nation and tops in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats drew well in the sports you’d expect, such as men’s and women’s basketball, softball and baseball, while putting up solid numbers in women’s soccer and volleyball.
That’s the good news.
Basketball, both men’s and women’s, are set up to be perennial contenders with a national—or international—recruiting footprint. They will not only continue bringing in fans, but they will be regulars in big, national games as well as their respective postseason tournaments.
Any conference would be lucky to have those two programs, as well as Arizona softball and baseball, another two sports where the school excels.
Then there’s football.
The biggest money maker in college athletics, it will not come as a shock to anyone that the attendance was, shall we say, lacking.
Arizona drew better than only Washington State and Oregon State, so it’s safe to assume no matter the quality of football, people who live in Pullman or Corvallis simply do not want to leave their houses.
Score one for Tucson.
But in all seriousness, Arizona Football being one of the worst programs in the country does the school no favors when it flirts with other conferences or makes any kind of requests (demands?) of the current one.
Hopefully that is in the process of changing. Jedd Fisch’s program has momentum, and while expectations remain low for 2022 the belief is better days are most certainly ahead. Interest is there, and if wins come the fans will follow.
Is that promise, or really that hope, enough to warrant a harder push from the Big 12 or even what’s left of the Pac-12? Are the other, more successful programs enough to make up for any concerns over football?
Is a combination of Arizona and ASU, with its … umm …softball, golf, wrestling or swim and dive teams worth bringing on board?
Maybe, and the Phoenix TV market is one any conference should want to have in the fold.
Of course, it may not be that simple. Even if another conference wants the Arizona schools, the Arizona schools have to want the other conference. While on the outside a move to the Big 12 may seem like a great idea (hello big-time basketball and fresh faces in football), there is more to consider than just what we see on the court or field.
No doubt Arizona’s leadership either has considered or is still considering all aspects of a possible move, just as the head honchos in the Pac-12 and other conferences are looking into the best way to move forward.
Whatever happens, though, we should have a better idea of how the University of Arizona and its athletic programs are viewed. Not just in the standings, but in its value to whatever conference it calls home.