100+ Years of History, Vanished in 36 hours due to Football Conference Leadership Missteps
I’ve been sitting on the near sidelines trying to make sense of both the issues of our beloved collegiate football business and how women take another hit in history because of it. As the CEO of Obsesh, I’m in the sports marketing and technology business working at the D1 college level in the Name, Image, Likeness new era.
In a shockwave move that has rippled through collegiate sports, Oregon and Washington’s transition from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten has left many in awe – me included. Among the most affected are Athletes, particularly women in sports that the Pac-12 has historically excelled in like softball, swimming, and volleyball.
The Pac-12, now the Pac-2, Is A Historical Dominance Interrupted
Many “Pac-12” softball athletes, like Paige Sinicki, University of Oregon, are in an emotional turmoil over the sudden change. For Paige, the Pac-12 has been much more than a conference; it’s a dream and a legacy. For every one of these women in the Pac-12, the news came as an emotional jolt.
Softball – like swimming – is a sport where the Pac-12 has carved out a dominant niche for itself over decades and produced some of the best athletes in our nation including a few of my favorites:
1. Rachel Garcia (#UCLA) – An extraordinary pitcher and hitter, Garcia has been one of the most celebrated players in recent college softball history. She was named the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year twice and played a pivotal role in UCLA’s 2019 National Championship win.
2. Dejah Mulipola (#Arizona) – A star catcher for the Wildcats, Mulipola has been recognized for her outstanding play both behind the plate and with her bat. Her leadership and skills have made her one of the top players in the conference.
3. Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza (#Arizona) – Outfielder for the Wildcats has shown incredible resilience, coming back from two ACL injuries to be a power hitter and key player for Arizona.
4. Maddi Hackbarth (#Arizona State) – As a catcher and power hitter, Hackbarth has been one of the top offensive threats in the Pac-12 during her tenure with the Sun Devils.
5. Bubba Nickles (#UCLA) – An incredibly versatile player, Nickles has been essential for the Bruins both offensively and defensively. Whether playing shortstop or in the outfield, she’s been a consistent force for UCLA.
As the nation’s top softball conference, its teams have crafted a unique angle across women’s college sports. Young athletes have grown up idolizing legends and strive to become the next legacy when their turn arrives. With UCLA bagging the most national championships and Arizona closely following, the Pac-12 has shaped the narrative of collegiate softball for women.
A Shift in Landscape
The dissolution means that the Big Ten, which has mostly been led by the Michigan Wolverines, will witness a shift in its balance with the introduction of Oregon and Washington, both highly competitive teams in softball.
However, it’s not just the game dynamics that will undergo a transformation. For any Athlete, so many practical concerns arise, particularly for all those who have to juggle both sports and academics. Now they have to add further stress over the strenuous travel schedules and selection of classes. The shift means more time in transit, more days away from their campus and classes, less days in academic learning, and even more challenges attempting to major in demanding courses that take place in the middle of the week.
The Personal Tolls
Beyond the field and classroom, there’s a personal toll. For me, my family could drive 5 hours and watch me play. Now, families who supported their kid by attending games might find it challenging to keep up with the new travel demands and costs of time, money, and work schedules. The fan base will change. The sacrifices from families will be tough to handle. The cost will be higher and impact the NCAA overall because its those families that are on the ticket holder list, the merch sales, and supporting their kids without scholarships.
The Silver Lining
While the seismic shift poses challenges, I have hope for what the future brings. We’ve all faced changes in conferences like moving chairs, but typically a football athlete only plays 1 game per week. Games are on Saturday, life is more planned. For women’s sports, its different.
We’ll all be watching how this transition might open up recruiting possibilities and perhaps exposes Athletes to different parts of the country. I’m optimistic about the potential benefits the Big Ten might offer, but they should consider increasing the money in women’s spots, alleviating the travel conditions, and find a way for women to continue seeking their academic dreams while on the road too.
The dissolution of the Pac-12 into the Big Ten or even the ACC is undeniably monumental. It’s a blend of nostalgia for what was and excitement for what lies ahead. As the dust settles, it will be crucial to ensure that the female athletes, who stand at the heart of these games too, are given the best support and opportunities to shine, no matter which conference banner they play under.