Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

Palo Alto High School's sports news magazine

Viking Magazine

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Reckless Realignment

Conference Realignment is making major changes to college football. Are they for better or worse?

Photo courtesy of Tyler Wong (Tyler Wong)

As the college football season closes, conference realignment has officially ended an era of the sport. But what caused all of these teams to change conferences? Following the announcement of Texas and Oklahoma’s departure from the Big 12, numerous schools began looking to join larger, more successful athletic conferences in an effort to maximize profit in TV money. Conference realignment shifts started coming rapidly, with four Pac-12 schools – USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington – jumping ship to join the Big 10 in 2024. The remaining eight Pac-12 schools scattered to join other conferences. Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State joined the Big 12, while Stanford and Cal joined the ACC. Colorado’s return to the Big 12 seems fitting – they were previously in the conference for fourteen years until 2010 – and their program is on the upswing. However, it makes absolutely no sense that two pacific coast schools, Cal and Stanford, are joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.
All of these moves have whittled down the Pac-12 to two remaining teams for the 2024 season: Oregon State and Washington State. No other conference saw their premiere teams leave, at least not without being able to replace them like the Big 12 did with the six teams they added.
Conference realignment, while controversial, will surely create some very interesting matchups, watching schools like Oregon and USC compete with Michigan and Ohio State on a yearly basis. However, despite these new matchups, the changes create far more negatives than positives.
While College football is played at an extremely high level, the quality of play isn’t the top priority for most viewers when watching college sports – they can (and do) tune into the NFL for that. The historic rivalries, yearly school traditions, and spirited students and alumni are what make college sports as popular as they are. Local Stanford fan and Paly father John Kessler, agrees that realignment will kill centuries of history. “As it relates to the various fan bases of the colleges that are changing conferences, the traditional rivalries that these schools have developed and maintained over the past hundred years will end and that could have a negative impact on those fan bases,” Kessler said. “For Stanford to not play USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington annually, it will lose the excitement of playing the best competition in the region.”
Many Paly students have fond memories of watching next door neighbor Stanford play Pac-12 rivals like USC or UCLA on Saturday nights. For many students, going to Stanford football games was a representation and a core memory of their childhood – especially because we grew up in the golden age of Stanford football.
I spent every weekend in the fall watching college football, but going to Stanford games was always the highpoint of each Saturday. Watching Andrew Luck, Christian McCaffrey or Bryce Love dominate opposing defenses every Saturday , as Stanford looked to take down the best talent on the West Coast was a privilege that gave me a love for college football from a young age, and was an unforgettable part of my experience growing up in Palo Alto. I’m not alone in this experience. Paly senior and lifelong Stanford fan Chase Kacher agrees that going to Stanford games was a highlight of growing up.
“Playing the best competition in the Pac-12 was always entertaining,” Kacher said. “Playing USC, UCLA, Oregon and even Notre Dame was something to look forward to.”
These high stakes rivalry games with decades of history will no longer occur after this season. This is one of the many faults of realignment. Despite the possible matchups in their new conferences, I think we’d all rather watch Stanford play USC annually (a rivalry that has seen over 100 total matchups) than Boston College, or Syracuse.
The realignment also causes major travel issues for athletes on a week to week basis. A half an hour flight down to the Rose Bowl is quite different from a cross-country trek to Syracuse. Apart from the excessive traveling, players living and practicing in California, where December weather is in the 50’s and cloudy, to playing in freezing temperatures or snowstorms.
One of the arguments for realignment is that the Pac-12 isn’t competitive in the current college football landscape. However, in its final season, the conference has shown that this narrative simply isn’t true.
In the first week of play, the Pac-12 was the only conference to start undefeated, with each team winning in their opener. As the season has progressed, the Pac-12’s two best teams – Washington and Oregon – have played as well as possible this season, with Washington just edging Oregon out in the Pac-12 Championship game, earning them the number two overall ranking in the country, and a spot in the coveted College Football Playoff. Seeing how competitive the Pac-12 is this year, with multiple teams besides the top two, such as Arizona, and Oregon State, the notion that the Pac-12 isn’t competitive on a larger scale clearly isn’t true. This is further reasoning why I believe it’s pointless to dissolve the conference.
Outside of team success, the Pac 12 has unmatched star power, with the conference being home to reigning Heisman trophy winner Caleb Williams, and both Washington and Oregon’s starting quarterbacks, Micheal Penix Jr and Bo Nix, who are in the mix for the Heisman this season.
Critics of the Pac-12 also like to say that they “cannibalize” their best teams from making the playoffs, as there are frequent upsets that prevent potential playoff contenders from making it. While this is a fair critique, the Pac-12 has made the playoff prior to this season as well, with Oregon nearly winning the first ever four team playoff in 2014, and Washington making it in 2017. I personally believe that this makes the conference more entertaining, as every year there seems to be a string of upsets that completely shake-up the college football landscape. While it may prevent the Pac-12 from appearing in the Playoff as much as the SEC does, it’s much more exciting to have a conference where the teams are competitive with each other. It makes the viewing experience as a fan much more interesting and entertaining, because anything can happen on gameday. As a fan, I prefer this to watching Alabama and Georgia cruise through conference play each year on their way to the Playoff.
I attended the final conference game for Stanford against the Cal Bears, and despite the rainy weather, the stadium was packed. The game day experience was unlike any other this season, with more fans, tailgates, and students from both schools than any prior game this season. Neither Cal nor Stanford had exceptionally high stakes going into this game, but the passion from the fans and players alike was still present. Seeing this engagement from both fanbases was encouraging, and while Stanford and Cal will still play on a yearly basis, this type of atmosphere likely won’t ever happen against other ACC competitors.
In my opinion, college football was the perfect sport. It was entertaining and exciting; and while these changes won’t stop me from tuning in to watch every Saturday in the fall, it has taken something that millions of people were passionate about and changed it for the worse to maximize profits.
Will Conference Realignment be a complete disaster? Only time will tell… but there is no doubt that there are major negative effects for players, students, and fans in all aspects, and the shift will change the sport forever.

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About the Contributors
Tyler Harrison, Staff Writer
Hi, I'm Tyler Harrison, I am a senior staff writer on Viking Magazine. This is my second year on viking, and I play Lacrosse and Football for Paly. My favorite sports memories are all the championships the Warriors and Giants won from 2010-2022.
Tyler Wong, Staff Writer

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