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Sports >  UW football

How UW football coach Jimmy Lake feels about realignment and the Pac-12’s possible expansion

UPDATED: Wed., July 28, 2021

Washington head coach Jimmy Lake conducts an interview during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Washington head coach Jimmy Lake conducts an interview during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — At 7:37 a.m. Tuesday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement confirming that Big 12 stalwarts Texas and Oklahoma have officially requested invitations to join the most dominant conference in college football.

Twenty-three minutes later, and 2,000 miles away, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff stepped to the podium in a loaded conference room on the second floor of the W Hollywood Hotel.

In his first football media day address as Larry Scott’s successor, Kliavkoff did not dump a gallon of lighter fluid on the already burning realignment fire — repackaging the Pac-12 as the Pac-14 or Pac-16 or Pac-32. He didn’t state specific interest in any of the eight spurned Big 12 programs, or tie himself to a potential scheduling alliance with the Big Ten or ACC.

The Pac-12 doesn’t need to expand to compete for championships in football or men’s basketball, Kliavkoff said.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t.

“If the media reports turn out to be true, we believe the move by Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC strengthens our unique position as the only Power Five conference with teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones,” Kliavkoff said. “We have a stable, highly successful and well-positioned membership with a high bar to entry. Given our investments in football and men’s basketball, and our historic domination of other sports, we do not think expansion is required to continue to compete and thrive.

“That said, the fallout from Texas and Oklahoma gives us an opportunity to once again consider expansion. We have already had significant inbound interest from many schools. We will work with our presidents and chancellors to evaluate these opportunities.”

Considering that nine Pac-12 schools belong to the academically prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), speculation has centered on whether the conference might require such a membership in considering any prospective entrants. (Kansas and Iowa State are the only remaining Big 12 universities who have earned AAU accreditation.)

But Wednesday, Kliavkoff said “there is no preset requisite about a specific accreditation. We are very proud of the schools that have that accreditation within our (conference). You may remember when Utah joined us, they did not have that, and they received that accreditation after they joined us. But there’s no prerequisites.”

Still, it’s also possible the Pac-12 could be poached, rather than playing the poacher. Given the soon-to-be 16-team SEC’s position of strength, it’s conceivable the Big Ten might try to raid its longtime West Coast partner of its most valuable programs.

But according to Kliavkoff, that’s not a concern.

“All of the press reports where someone writes an article completely unfounded about schools going here, schools going there, everyone picks it up, and that becomes a news cycle,” he said. “It’s interesting, curious, fun for the fans, fun for the media. It’s not based in reality if you’re sitting in the rooms that I’m sitting in. We feel very comfortable with our current membership.”

Added Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens: “(The Pac-12 has had) a rich tradition for many, many years. There’s strong collaboration. We’re all committed to working together to strengthen the league, again, to be prepared as the industry evolves.”

As for Washington, second-year Husky coach Jimmy Lake is optimistic about the Pac-12’s position in a constantly evolving college football climate.

“People want to join our conference,” Lake said Tuesday. “From what I understand, the phone has been ringing off the hook from people that want to join us. And I’ve had conversations at some events that I’ve been at where coaches have reached out to me and have put out, ‘Hey, we would love to join your conference.’ So I think we’re in a good position.

“The strength of the Pac-12 will be shown this year. There’s a lot of returners on offense and defense and really good players across the board in the North and the South, including at the University of Washington. We’re going to have an opportunity on a national stage to show what Pac-12 football is all about.”

And going forward, Lake would love to place his program on even more national stages. Even if the Pac-12 doesn’t choose to expand, a nonconference scheduling alliance could eventually arise with the Big Ten or ACC. On that topic, Kliavkoff said such an alliance is “an interesting opportunity,” though he had nothing to specifically announce on the subject.

Lake, too, is open to a prospective nonconference scheduling alliance.

Though he’d rather Washington be free to schedule Power Five — or Power Four? — opponents from coast to coast.

“I would like to play a bunch of teams from a bunch of different conferences, not just one conference like the Big Ten,” Lake said. “I think it would be great for us to open it up and have a home-and-home with someone from the south. I know our fans would be energized to watch it, not just at Husky Stadium but also to make the trip to some of these venues down in the south that they maybe have never been to before. And vice versa, I’m sure their fans would also want to see us. So I’m very excited about that.

“I think when they hopefully open up the College Football Playoff to 12 teams, or whatever it may be, that’s going to help everybody schedule these guys. We’ll have an easier time with people coming to Seattle, where they’ll know if they do take a loss in Seattle that’s not going to derail their season. They can still go win their championship and have a chance to get into the final 12.”

While the SEC continues to grow, and its few legitimate competitors scramble to keep up, it’s becoming less difficult to imagine a super league forming in college football — similar to the one that instantaneously imploded in European soccer last spring.

And while that currently qualifies as premature speculation, the past week has proved that anything is possible — whether Lake and UW offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland like it or not.

“I don’t really believe solely in super conferences,” Kirkland said Tuesday. “I just think in all these conferences, there’s so much history. I think it’s cool that teams play for them and then you represent that conference as a whole.”

Added Lake: “I love the depth of college football that we have, with more than 125 teams. I like the different nature of each team, the different nature of each conference. I think we would hurt college football if we decided, ‘Hey, let’s lump the 32 best teams together,’ and then the interest in the other teams wouldn’t be as high.

“That would be my immediate reaction. I’m not saying the University of Washington wouldn’t be excited or interested in something like that, if that came 10 years from now or whatever. But my immediate reaction is, that would hurt college football.”

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