By Sam Finley

When Oregon lost the 2023 Pac-12 Football Championship to Washington, there were two reasons for a fan to be frustrated. Sure, there’s the fact that the Ducks came up a little short for the right to play in the College Football Playoffs. But it was also the last time the Pac-12 would likely host a football game. And by the end of the spring, after an epic battle, all the UO sports will be leaving the only conference they have ever known. That’s right, after more than 108 years, the Ducks are moving to the Big Ten.

The one question that has been asked constantly by Oregon fans (and others) is: why? From this writer’s desk, the answer is one you may not like but will likely understand. Modern college athletics is essentially a business, much like a small coffee shop or a major corporation. It’s not enough to simply have a good team that can sell tickets. There’s the matter of merchandising items with the school logo, as well as licensing the rights for people to watch your game on television, etc.

Watching games on TV had been the sticking point with the UO (and other conference members) since 2011, when the Pac-12 Network first started airing games on an independent basis. It was supposed to be a major endeavor that would allow sports fanatics across the country to watch just about any Pac-12 game. There was just one problem: Only so many broadcast providers agreed to carry the network on their services. Thus, while certain cable outlets might have had it, DirectTV (as well as many streaming services) refused to do the same. The result was that fewer people were able to watch selected Oregon games. It also meant the Pac-12 schools were collecting less advertising revenue compared to the other conferences.

This trend went on for years, and yet the conference could have been saved in the fall of 2022 when ESPN came calling. They offered $30 million per school for Pac-12 broadcasting rights. The Pac-12 countered with $50 million per school. ESPN responded by walking away from the deal. While the Pac-12 did try to negotiate other deals (with Apple and Amazon Prime) in the past year, the failure to come to terms with ESPN was what caused Oregon and Washington (and others) to — pardon the pun — change the channel by switching conferences. In this case, the chance to share in the Big Ten’s $80 million-per-school media deal was just too good to pass up.

So, what does this all mean? Aside from the financial benefits to the UO athletic department, there are other changes on the horizon. Sure, there will be familiar foes in UW, USC, and UCLA. But there are also new rivals in longtime traditional powerhouses like Ohio State, Nebraska, and Michigan. That’ll also mean Duck fans will have to travel to the Midwest for certain road games instead of closer states like Arizona.

It is a bit sad to see a once-proud conference hanging by a thread. Oregon State and Washington State will be the two remaining members at the end of the sports calendar, but for how long is anyone’s guess. Those two schools recently agreed to pair with the Mountain West Conference as affiliate members for scheduling while they see if they can save the Pac-12.

All those basketball games at Mac Court and Matt Knight Arena, the football games at Autzen Stadium, and the track meets at Hayward Field? Those were all under the banner of the Pac-8, Pac-10, and Pac-12. It will be a trifle strange to see the Big Ten banner hanging from the rafters at Oregon events.

Nonetheless, no UO fan will have to wonder if they can watch the games going forward. That’s why Oregon will eventually benefit from this move and the Ducks will be flying higher than ever.