What would an invite to the PAC-12 do for SDSU

San Diego State to the PAC-12: The Time is Now

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By Ken Ables, contributing writer.

Each day it seems like we are getting closer to the realization that San Diego State will be getting an invite to join the PAC-12. Yet with each passing day, there’s never any announcement.

But there is plenty of news.

SDSU President Adela de la Torre has sent a letter to the Mountain West announcing SDSU’s intention to leave. But with a week to go before the exit fees double, no word from the PAC-12.

Despite the negative spin from local print and some broadcast media, I believe that letter would not have been sent without a very firm—though not announced or finalized—commitment from the PAC-12.

Is the PAC-12 the best choice?

An invitation to the PAC-12 would be huge for Aztec sports, as well as San Diego State and the CSU system. It would be a landmark moment for a Cal State University to join conference mates of Stanford, Cal-Berkley and other prestigious universities.

There seems to be some concern that the PAC-12 will be imploding soon, with Oregon, Washington and the four corner schools supposedly looking to move to different conferences.

I just don’t see that happening.

Where would they go? The Big “Ten”? USC and UCLA will be their 15th and 16th teams. Getting a foothold with two teams in the #2 market is one thing. Adding two more west coast schools is another.

No other schools in the west come close to matching the rich history of USC football or UCLA basketball. Or most important, the Los Angeles TV market. If the Big Ten looks to expand again in the future, look for new members to come from the ACC or independent ranks.

I still think the PAC-12 is the best place for all Aztec sports. In fact, two of our programs – men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse – are already members. And if the schools mentioned above did manage to leave, I would take a league with Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington State and a few select Mountain West teams to our current conference situation.

But what about other options?

There is also talk about the Aztecs being a candidate to join the Big XII. The Big XII is adding four teams in 2023 to bring them 14 members. Marquee teams Texas and Oklahoma are moving to the SEC in 2024, giving the Big XII 12 members for the first time since 2010.

But how much of an attraction would a Big XII without Texas and Oklahoma be? Of course, BYU would draw big crowds, but how much interest is there in San Diego for games against West Virginia or Iowa State or Kansas State? Not much.

Compare that to the PAC-12. Stanford, Cal and the Arizona schools have a strong alumni presence in San Diego and Southern California. Road trips to the Bay Area and Arizona are a one-day drive, and a lot more attractive than Morgantown, West Virginia, or Ames, Iowa, or Manhattan, Kansas.

Conference realignments are primarily about media market size and football—men’s basketball to a lesser extent. San Diego State men’s basketball however would also be a great addition to the PAC-12, as we all saw in April. The tournament championship finalist Aztecs would raise the level of play immediately.

Sure, UCLA has a basketball history second to none, but all but one of those NCAA championships were in the ‘60s and ‘70s—the last one nearly a half-century ago. Their most recent championship? 1995. 

In the 100th Sons of Montezuma podcast, strategic consultant and PAC-12 insider TJ Altimore explains why Stanford, Cal, Washington and other schools will be staying right where they are, and he makes a compelling case for San Diego State joining the PAC-12.

SDSU and the PAC-12 History

San Diego State has been playing current and former PAC-12 members since the earliest days of Aztec football: 118 times in the first 100 seasons. While our overall record isn’t great, the Aztecs are 7-4 since 2016.

I was at many of those most recent games with my Dad Tom Ables and we watched some great Aztec wins. Two of those stand out, and both are from the 2017 season (and they’re the last two SDSU-PAC-12 games we saw together): Arizona State in Tempe, and Stanford at home.

The Arizona State game was the last road trip we took together. By that time we had notched several wins vs. PAC-12 teams, but hadn’t won on the road since beating Oregon State 25-0 in Portland back in 1975.

Rashaad Penny on his way towards one of his three touchdowns against ASU. Photo by Ernie Anderson.

As we were walking to Sun Devil Stadium, we passed a group of tailgating ASU fans. One of them said to Tom that he looks like he’d been to a few games. “I’m here for my 785th Aztec football game!” he proudly told them. “I’ll bet you a beer we beat you,” their guy replied. “You’re on! See you after the game.”

Now, neither one of us is a drinker, but we weren’t about to back down from a challenge by some big-mouth Zonies. Of course, those guys and the rest of the ASU fans got to see Rashaad Penny in all his glory, scoring TDs three ways – 95-yard run, 99-yard kickoff return, 33-yard reception – and make the Sun Devils look like a high school JV team.

Final score: Aztecs 30, Sun Devils 20. As we headed back to the car we looked all around, but our new “friends” had already left. We weren’t surprised.

Stanford came to San Diego the next week, ranked #19 and looking for their second win. The lead changed hands five times. With the Cardinal up 17-13 late in the fourth quarter, QB Christian Chapman was leading the Aztecs down the field looking for the go-head score.

From left to right: Tim Wilson, David Wells, Parker Houston, Nick Bawden. Photo by Ernie Anderson.

Suddenly, the lights went out. And stayed out for 20+ minutes. Once the lights went back on, the drive continued and Christian hit TE David Wells with an 8-yard TD pass to put the Aztecs ahead 20-17 with 54 seconds remaining. Kameron Kelly intercepted the first Cardinal pass of the ensuing drive and the Aztecs ran out the clock.

Fans rushed the field for the first and only time in 53 seasons at the Q. With a 7:30 kickoff and delay, the game didn’t end until after 11:00. I don’t think we got home before midnight, but that didn’t stop Dad from Tweeting when he got home.

In fact, he was trending in San Diego that night. We only went to two more Aztec games after that. He passed away that season just two days after his final home game against Boise State.

My father and I went to every UCLA game between 1984 and 2009 (Brady Hoke’s first game as Aztec coach). And as you probably know, we went 0-15 in those games.

I really wish Dad had been with us for the 2019 game at the Rose Bowl to witness the 23-14 Aztec victory over the Bruins. I went to the game with my friend Bob. Bob’s brother Scott is former Aztec AD Fred Miller’s son-in-law (small world!).

On the way back from Pasadena, Scott sent us a text that said “Tom and Fred are looking down and smiling right now.” Yes they were. Very big smiles.

Aztecs players celebrate in the Rose Bowl after their first win over UCLA. Photo by Ernie Anderson.

Going from the Mountain West to the PAC-12 would be a program and university-changing move. I probably spend too much time following this subject. What I find most amusing are fans of some of the mediocre PAC-12 programs, such as Arizona State.

Some state that they would stop being fans if San Diego State is admitted to their Conference of Champions. That’s pretty rich considering just a few decades ago their previous conference was the WAC. They probably don’t pay off their bets either.

Regardless, fans like that have zero input into the final decision. I excitedly & nervously wait the PAC-12’s final decision. Until that day, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

For more Aztec football history purchase your own copy of the book, GO AZTECS by Tom Ables, with exclusive photography by Ernie Anderson. It is a must have for every true SDSU alumni, fan and supporter of Aztecs athletics.

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