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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pac-12 expansion: San Diego State reaches the Final Four and stamps its credentials for membership

Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

San Diego State edged Creighton on Sunday to qualify for the first Final Four in school history and, in the process, did the Pac-12 a gigantic favor.

The Aztecs removed any lingering doubt about their credentials for Pac-12 membership. The university presidents who run the conference have no choice – none, zero, zip – but to invite the Aztecs.

That’s probably a good thing for the Pac-12 considering the barrage of bad decisions at the presidential level over the past 10 or 12 years.

Remember the time they approved a television network with six regional feeds and declared the commissioner a media executive?

Or the time they passed on ESPN’s offer to take over the Pac-12 Networks in exchange for a long-term media rights partnership?

In a formal sense, any decision on San Diego State remains in the presidents’ hands – eight of the 10 remaining schools must approve membership additions. (And to be fair, many of the presidents responsible for past blunders are no longer around.)

But in reality, the Aztecs should be a foregone conclusion after they toppled No. 1 seed Alabama in the Sweet 16 and escaped Creighton’s clutches in the Elite Eight.

After they advanced deeper in the NCAAs than all but two Pac-12 teams have in the past 15 years (Oregon in 2017 and UCLA in 2021).

After they secured a 30-win season for the fourth time since 2010.

Sure, football drives athletic revenue and conference realignment, but basketball isn’t irrelevant in the calculation, especially when the Pac-12 is about to lose its top basketball brand (UCLA).

The Aztecs would join the conference as one of its two or three best programs, a tick below Arizona, perhaps, but alongside Oregon. And it’s not like they would lower the caliber of he Pac-12 football product, either.

But there’s more to the calculation than competitive success, financial impact and institutional alignment – the three pieces so often cited in the expansion decision.

The Pac-12 desperately needs a win, folks. Not a win on the court or on the field. A win where it matters most: in the realm of public opinion.

It needs to hand constituents and stakeholders something they can feel good about, something that can change the narrative and brighten the optics.

Adding SDSU in the immediate afterglow of its run to the Final Four would be perceived as a victory. As a move that makes sense in the short term and over the long haul. That shows everyone the conference’s leadership team knows what it’s doing.

Just imagine the optics if the Pac-12 were to pass on the Aztecs.

The Big 12 would gobble them up in a nanosecond, gain a vital recruiting foothold in the greater Southern California region and deal the Pac-12 a crushing strategic blow the conference would regret for decades.

And it would add more evidence to the notion, developed and refined after years of blunders, that the Pac-12 presidents don’t understand college athletics. That they cannot see the future from their ivory towers.

Pac-12 fans from Tucson to Pullman should be thankful the presidents no longer have a choice when it comes to San Diego State.

And if they don’t invite the Aztecs after all this, well, beware of Montezuma’s revenge.