In August, Washington became one of 10 schools to flee the Pac-12. The university then spearheaded the legal defense for departing programs in a lawsuit over control of the soon-to-be-defunct conference.
But now, UW is being universally celebrated as the title game representative for the conference it helped destroy.
The Pac-12 has not been represented in the national championship since Oregon lost to Ohio State following the 2014 season, and the conference has not produced a champion since USC in 2004. If the Huskies upset Michigan, they could very likely be the conference’s last College Football Playoff national champion.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff has barely said a word since the conference broke up this summer, and he did not even attend the in-person hearings over the Pac-12’s future this fall. But he finally spoke up after Washington beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl on Monday, telling Yahoo Sports: “Happy for the kids. They don’t deserve all the nonsense going on around them.” He added: “If some of our schools would have been a little more patient, it would have paid off.”
That’s rich coming from Kliavkoff, who was widely criticized for being too patient in selling the conference’s latest media rights, the glue that would have held the Pac-12 together. It took him an entire year to present a final offer—during which time the Big 12 leapfrogged him and the economy collapsed.
This summer, Kliavkoff presented conference members a media rights deal with Apple that would pay teams roughly $20 million per year with subscription-based incentives. Washington, along with several other schools, appeared willing to stay in the Pac-12—that is, until they compared Kliavkoff’s offer to the Big Ten’s $30 million-plus offer, with annual increases, courtesy of Fox.
Next season, the Huskies will join the Big Ten, along with Oregon, UCLA, and USC. (If Monday’s championship game were played one year in the future, it would be an all-Big Ten matchup.) Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah will join the Big 12. Stanford and Cal will become members of the ACC.
When the dust settled, the two Pac-12 leftovers, Oregon State and Washington State, sued the conference to gain clarity over who had control of its assets. They wanted to kick all other schools off the Pac-12 board to avoid being outvoted in a decision to dissolve the conference. Washington led the departing schools’ defense.
Ultimately, the leftovers won jurisdiction over the conference’s future, and the schools agreed to settle. However, they have not solidified details or signed an actual settlement agreement, a source told Front Office Sports in December.
Next year, the CFP will expand to 12 teams. While Oregon State and Washington State will continue as FBS members, their long-term conference fate is unclear. There may never be a Pac-12 team in the CFP again.