Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Pac-12 plummets: Student athletes react to the collapse

Sophie Pan

Each fall, generations of local residents and Stanford alumni cheer for the Cardinals football team, excited to see their team face the tough competition of the Pacific-12 Conference.

“Stanford Football has become a gathering place on ‘ball Saturdays’ for friends,” said Ryan Craig, a Palo Alto resident and Stanford alumnus. “It’s a real ritual that involves the whole family.”

The Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) is a college sports league of 12 teams from six different states in the western United States. Since 1959, the Pac-12 has organized fierce matchups that developed over time into historic rivalries.

However, things changed dramatically on Aug. 4 — the day that five of the teams announced plans to depart the league. All but two Pac-12 teams have since left, Washington State and Oregon State remain.

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The Pac-12 is one of the Power Five conferences, along with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 10, the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference. The Power Five are the strongest and highest-earning college sports leagues in the United States, but among the Power Five, the Pac-12 pays the second-least per school, only ahead of the Big 12.

Travel was a big part of my decision, so traveling every week is not something I’m super excited about.”

— Lizzie Boamah, Stanford Women's Soccer Player

The Power Five conferences combined earned $3.3 billion in revenue in 2022, according to USA Today, making college football a huge business for broadcasters such as ESPN and Fox Sports.

In 2022, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, announced they would join the Big Ten conference for the 2024 season, becoming the first teams to leave the Pac-12. In the following months, all but four of the remaining Pac-12 teams left for other conferences.

A likely factor in their departure was that leaving the Pac-12 became more financially lucrative than staying. The Big Ten leads the Power Five conferences in earnings with $845.6 million in annual revenue, according to CBS Sports. Power Five schools also have the highest individual payouts at an average of $58.8 million, while the Pac-12 had the lowest at $37 million. With only four teams remaining, Stanford and Cal announced in September that they will join the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2024 season, leaving only Oregon State and Washington State in the Pac-12.

Stanford and Cal will now travel to more east coast schools and compete with universities they have never played before. They will be more exposed nationally, and can bring new deals and money to their athletic programs.
According to an announcement made by Stanford Athletics, the revenue from long-term media deals and conference affiliations will give key financial support to Stanford athletics in the coming years.

The collapse of the Pac-12 conference left Pac-12 players reflecting on their decision to join the conference. Amelia Vugrincic, a member of Cal women’s beach volleyball team and Palo Alto High School alum, said that the name of the Pac-12 impacted her decision to play at Cal.

“Growing up, I really wanted to play at a Pac-12 school, and the Pac-12 brand meant a lot to me,” Vugrincic said. “It is kind of sad to see something that was so iconic to me no longer exist.”

The move to the ACC will have a different effect on each sports program, since each sport has different gear, travel or facility time requirements and needs. However, as a beach volleyball player, Vungricic says the loss of funding and resources from moving to the ACC won’t be much of an issue for her.

It seemed ridiculous for Stanford and Cal to go to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but I understand why it’s probably the best option [Stanford and Cal] had.”

— Ryan Craig, Stanford University Alumnus

“We’re not super expensive because we don’t have a lot of gear and our roster is pretty small compared to some other sports,” Vungrincic said.

Additionally, the ACC does not host beach volleyball and so the team will likely be unaffected by the geographic reach of the ACC, unlike sports such as soccer.

Lizzie Boamah, a Stanford women’s soccer commit from San Diego who will play in the 2024 season, said she will miss playing against West Coast teams as a Californian.

“It’s just going to take away the homey aspects of playing in the Pac-12,” Boamah said. “Being on the West Coast, my parents aren’t going to be able to go to as many games, which will be a little sad for me.”

Along with having less time in California, athletes will have to travel as far as Boston to play a conference game.

“I feel like the amount of stress that it takes on your body to have to fly for like five hours and then play a game is obviously going to be different,” Boamah said.

Other future Stanford commits are excited to face the new competition of the ACC.
“I’m excited, honestly, I think it’s gonna be a really fun experience getting to play in the ACC,” said Charlie Bates, a Paly senior who is joining the Cardinal’s baseball team in the 2024 season. “There’s been great competition in the [ACC], and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

According to an announcement made by Stanford Athletics, Stanford is trying to make traveling easy for student athletes.

Twenty-two of Stanford’s 36 sports will see minimal or no scheduling impacts.

The ACC is also working to have many games scheduled during the weekend to minimize the impact of travel for student athletes.

In joining the ACC, there is an entirely new roster of competition, including Duke University, Wake Forest University, University of North Carolina and Boston College, all of which are east coast schools.

According to Boamah, the move to the ACC allows Stanford to play the best teams in the nation such as University of Carolina, which is ranked first for Division One NCAA women’s soccer.

“I definitely think ACC has one of the best schedules in the country, at least for women’s soccer,” she said.

Loyal Stanford fans like Craig said that the decision of Stanford going to the ACC was tough to face.
“When the ACC became the only spot [Stanford] was going to land, it was depression and anger,” Craig said. “I understand why it’s probably the best option we had, but I am a little sad about it. And slowly, I think I’ll get to the last stage of grief, which is acceptance, where it just kind of is what it is and I’ve moved on.”