By The Numbers: San Diego State is the best fit for Pac-12 and Big12 expansion

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First off, I stand by everything in this article published last year.

“Future SDSU” was and should have always been one of the expansion candidates into the Big 12 and I suspect that if Snapdragon Stadium were online last year SDSU would be making the move in 2023. SDSU may have won by losing, though – but only if they eventually get into the Pac 12.

Chaos is a Ladder

Something happened this past week – chaos. USC and UCLA jumped ship from the Pac 12 to the Big 10 for what some people estimate may be $100 million per year in TV revenue. While this is great for their football teams, the toll it may take on their non-revenue sports may be a bit much. They made their choice, and that choice has created the chaos SDSU needs. The Pac 12 immediately issued a statement saying they are looking into all expansion options.

But It’s All About the TV Revenue, Isn’t It?

No, it shouldn’t be. It should be about finding the most compelling games possible in a conference that doesn’t overload student athletes in all sports with too much travel. That said, everybody talks about additional TV revenue so that’s what we’re going to look at in this article. How many potential eyeballs does the San Diego market bring to the table, and is it enough to get into either the Pac-12 or the Big 12? To do that we need to look at metro area population and perhaps state population. We could throw in some other facts and intangibles to boost SDSU, but let’s leave them out for now.

Round 1: SDSU vs Mountain West Conference

The table below shows the metro area population for each the Mountain West Conference school. By highlighting all of the entries below the San Diego metro area population in green, it’s very clear SDSU is head and shoulders above everybody else – even if you account for the state population for many of the schools. One could argue that the metro areas of Utah State and Colorado State are Salt Lake City and Denver, respectively, but the metro population of those two cities is also less than San Diego.

Round 2: SDSU vs Big 12

There’s not much discussion here either. San Diego’s population would be the third highest in the Big 12, and again there are several states with less people than the San Diego metro area. What is also clear is that the Big 12 specifically went after successful G5 programs with large’ish population centers in Houston, UCF, and Cincinnati to bring in as many eyeballs as possible. It should be noted that SDSU out scores both Cincinnati and UCF by quite a bit and it’s unfortunate that Snapdragon Stadium didn’t come online a couple years earlier.  Note that IF the Pac 12 were looking to expand by raiding the Big 12, SDSU would be a better choice than all Big 12 teams except two. Also, if the Big 12 were raided, you can bet they would try to backfill with SDSU.

Round 3: SDSU vs Pac 12

Now we’re on to the final round and the place where SDSU really wants to be—if the conference holds together. The key here is if the San Diego metro area is large enough to add enough incremental population to make it worthwhile for the Pac 12 to add them. The answer is a definite “Yes” as San Diego’s population is larger than the average of the Pac 12 metro area population by over 13% if we use a straight average and 41% if we account for the fact that Stanford/Cal and Oregon/OSU are defined as part of the same metro area.

What this table also shows is that overall the Pac-12 has better population numbers than the Big 12. If things stand as they are (i.e. no more Pac-12 defections to the Big 10), then it is the Pac 12 that will be doing the raiding, not the other way around.

That said, there are rumors that the four corner universities of Utah, ASU, Arizona and Colorado are in talks with the Big 12. If we’re looking at just metro area populations, then it’s clear SDSU should be preferred over three of the four. At worst, SDSU is clearly a better candidate than Utah, and there is a very strong argument to be made that an ASU/SDSU pairing would create more eyeballs for the Big 12 than an ASU/Arizona pairing.

Bonus Round: Blowing up the Mountain West Conference: 

One interesting scenario is a combined conference involving the remaining members of the Pac 12 and most of the MWC West schools. This conference would lock down the late night TV slots with more than enough content and allow many of their games to be played at earlier times that fans would enjoy more. It would also force USC and UCLA to play all of their home games in the dreaded late night 7 pm slot to fulfill their obligations to the Big 12, and also crush the dreams of several MWC Mountain Time Zone schools of getting to bed before 2 am.  

In return for a drop in average eyeballs from the nominal Pac 12 value, this new conference would have a negotiating advantage with all TV networks for late night content. Likewise, even the adjusted average removing double booking is on par with the new Big 12. Also, by shedding the Mountain Division the average number of eyeballs increases which means more TV money for SDSU than it is currently receiving.

Just something to think about. There are 11 slots in this mashed up conference. Feel free to add another potential school that you want to advocate for while remembering that adding any other MWC school drops the average.

For even more conversation about SDSU’s position in all of this Conference expansion, watch our latest Sons of Montezuma Podcast episode where the guys discuss it all. Subscribe on YouTube today or wherever audio podcasts are available.

Let’s Talk About Those Intangibles
It’s pretty clear that based on eyeballs potential alone, SDSU is in a position to take the next step up. So, what about other factors? There are so many of them it’s hard to count, including rising TV viewership for SDSU football (this is bad news for Boise State’s carve out TV deal).

Here are a few more reasons.

  • SDSU Mission Valley will add 15k students bringing the total to 50k.
  • SDSU is poised to become an R1 research institute – improving academic ranking
  • Acceptance rate to SDSU is lower than all but the best Pac 12 schools
  • Great athletic facilities
  • Strong athletic programs across the board 
  • Already a member of Pac 12 in two sports 
  • Closest school to LA market not in Big 10
  • Untapped market of additional 2.2 million people within 10 miles south of the border
  • No competition from professional football
  • Etc.. etc.. etc.. 

So don’t let others tell you SDSU isn’t a good candidate for expansion. Not only does San Diego have the eyeballs to make it into the Pac 12, it has all of the intangibles as well. Let’s pack the stadium this year, make sure you and your friends watch all of the away games on TV, and let the chips fall where they may.

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