Fresno State again showed it can hang with a Pac-12 football team, defeating Washington State 29-6 at the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.
School officials say 27,000 of the 32,000 fans at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood were Fresno State supporters.
Now the question that has been pontificated about all season looms another time: Is a permanent move from the Mountain West to the Pacific-12 Conference a possibility for the Bulldogs?
I asked Bulldogs head coach Jeff Tedford that question before Saturday’s game.
“We do our best to put a successful team on the field, graduate our kids, do things the right way. That’s really all we can do. And so those decisions are made by people a lot higher up than we are as coaches,” Tedford said. “I hope that happens one day because I think our program deserves to be at that level.”
Washington State coach Jake Dickert gave a similar answer, saying it was “way over my pay grade”
President, AD Consider Move
I put the question to people above Tedford’s pay grade.
“I think it more than proves that we can hang with the Pac-12. I think it proves that the Fresno region has an incredible culture of football, an incredible culture of athletics. And we are the future of California. And in terms of sports, we are the future,” university president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said on the field after the game, holding the championship trophy belt.
Athletics director Terry Tumey thinks Fresno State can hang with any of the Power 5 schools.
“We need to be able to position Fresno State where it needs to be, and for us is at the top or the pinnacle of the West Coast programs,” athletics director Terry Tumey said. “Quite honestly, I don’t see any difference in our league versus any other league. But I do feel as though the respect and the credit of what we do need to come to Fresno State.”
“I think it more than proves that we can hang with the Pac-12,” Fresno State president Saul Jimenez-Sandoval said. (GV Wire/David Taub)
The Pac-12 Paradox
Any move is really about potential success for the football team. That sport is the revenue generator in college athletics, with men’s basketball the only competition.
The landscape changes in 2024. Pac-12 stalwarts USC and UCLA are leaving the conference for the Big Ten — a TV- and money-driven decision. Also, the College Football Playoff triples in size, expanding from four teams to 12.
As part of the expansion, at least one “Group of 5” champion — of which the Mountain West is a part — automatically qualifies for a shot at the national title. The top-six ranked conference champions, plus the next ranked six teams will play for the title.
The ultimate question is this: Do the Bulldogs have a better shot at the playoffs by not only winning the Mountain West, as they did this year, but beating out four other Group of 5 champions in the playoff rankings? This season, Tulane of the American Athletic Conference took the honors as the top-ranked “Group of 5” team.
Or, does Fresno State hop to the Pac-12, with a longer shot of winning the conference? As long as Oregon and Washington remain, the path remains fraught with roadblocks.
Regardless of how it would impact Fresno State on the field, joining the Pac-12 would reap the Bulldogs tens of million of dollars more every year in conference revenue.
“I would say that we are very grateful to the Mountain West and at the same time we are always looking for what is the best for the Fresno region. If that means to move on to another conference, then that means that we will pursue that,” Jiménez-Sandoval said.
Tumey said the pathway is a consideration.
“Whatever puts us in the best situation for that, that’s what we need to be thinking,” he said.
Does Pac-12 Even Want to Replace USC, UCLA?
Plus, there is no guarantee the Pac-12 is even looking to replace the two Los Angeles schools. The conference may very well be content to split millions of its TV revenue 10 ways instead of 12 or 14.
The conference will only bring in a team that can be additive to its revenues, not take away. Fresno State would be hampered by its small media market.
Fresno ranks as the 55th largest TV market. While technically that is larger than Eugene (home of Oregon and Oregon State, ranked 113th), Tucson (Arizona, 64) and Spokane (Washington State, 66), it is a bit deceiving. Both the Oregon teams are more part of the 21st-ranked Portland market. Arizona and WSU are also adjacent to the larger Phoenix and Seattle markets respectively.
And, not to mention any possible qualms about the quality of the university. While we may know the value of Fresno State as an educational institution, can it hang with major state-sponsored universities (and Stanford) in the west?
The answer to the question is the most obvious — money. If Fresno State can bring to the table (and they certainly bring the fans), a move is possible.
Will the Pac-12 listen?