Michael Lev: 12 things for Arizona fans to look forward to when Wildcats join Big 12

This week has been ... a lot.
No one died — aside from the Pac-12 — so we don’t want to be overly dramatic here. But Arizona leaving the “Conference of Champions” for the Big 12, along with ASU, Colorado and Utah, is a seismic event that impacts a lot of people, positively and negatively.
We aren’t done mourning the demise of the Pac-12, which still has one more season with its full 12-school membership. And we don’t envy the choices that Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State now face. That’s a Final Four no one strove to join.
But as change is inevitable, and the only constant in life, we must look forward. Like it or not, the Wildcats are bound for the Big 12.
Here are 12 things to look forward to once the UA officially becomes a member next summer:
1. Better media exposure
The inability to more widely distribute the Pac-12 Networks — and the unwillingness to tether them to a more established media partner — contributed to the league’s undoing. Although they have provided an outlet for underserved sports such as women’s basketball, the Pac-12 Networks aren’t available to everyone, whether inside or outside the conference footprint. That’s all about to change. The Big 12’s media deal is with ESPN and FOX. Critically, for non-revenue sports, that includes ESPN+ and a subsection of the streaming service called “Big 12 Now.” The current menu of live and upcoming events features a bevy of football coach news conferences and women’s soccer matches. If you want to consume that programming, all you have to do is pay for it.
2. Earlier kickoff/tipoff times
Diehard fans live for #Pac12AfterDark and will miss it dearly. For those of us in the media business, 7:30 p.m. kickoffs and 9 p.m. tipoffs present a plethora of challenges. They aren’t going away completely — five members of the new Big 12 reside in the Mountain Time Zone, and you know how we roll here in Arizona — but Big-12 affiliation offers numerous possibilities for earlier kickoff and tipoff times. Eight schools are in the Central Time Zone, while three are in the Eastern Time Zone. West Virginia is one of the latter. Its latest kickoff for a conference game last season was 4:35 p.m. MST. The Big 12 also serves as the back half of ESPN’s “Big Monday” men’s basketball doubleheader. Tipoff time: 7 MST.
3. New locales
For those of us lucky enough to travel to cover UA sports, we’ve gotten to visit some of the biggest cities and most distinctive college towns on the West Coast. We’ll miss L.A., the Bay Area, Seattle — even you, Pullman. The Big 12 provides a plethora of new cities, stadiums, arenas and ballparks to explore. Never been to Lawrence or Manhattan, Kansas? Ames, Iowa? Stillwater, Oklahoma? Waco, Texas? Morgantown, West Virginia? Now’s your chance. Maybe they lack the glitz and glamour of the West Coast, but they’re true college towns, just like Tucson, with their own traditions, cultures and culinary delights.
4. Recruiting opportunities
When the news broke that USC and UCLA were leaving for the Big Ten, we all wondered how that would impact recruiting in Southern California for the holdovers. It doesn’t seem to have affected UA football recruiting much, if at all; Jedd Fisch and his staff continue to pull prospects from the L.A. area. The move to the Big 12 offers the opportunity, in all sports, to expand Arizona’s reach. A quarter of the Big 12 resides in Texas, among the most fertile recruiting grounds in the U.S. UCF joined the league this year, opening a new pathway into Florida. Being in the Big 12 will allow Arizona to supplement its SoCal and in-state recruiting with “national” prospects.
5. Path to football success
Does the UA football program have a better chance to win the Big 12 than it ever did of winning the Pac-12? Maybe. Even without Oklahoma and Texas after this year, the Big 12 promises to be a deep, difficult conference with no gimmes. But there’s also no USC, Oregon or Washington. Perpetually underrated Utah is the two-time defending champion of the Pac-12 and will continue to be a hard out as long as Kyle Whittingham remains coach (and probably after). Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship Game four years in a row from 2017-20, but the Sooners will be in the SEC in 2024. The last two champs, Baylor and Kansas State, rose from the middle ranks. It’s doable.
6. Arizona vs. Kansas (MBB)
Two of the most storied men’s basketball teams in the country playing each other at least once a year, maybe twice, maybe thrice? Let’s go! The Jayhawks have the seventh-most NCAA Tournament championship (four) in history, trailing only the bluest of blue bloods (UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, UConn, Indiana). They won it all as recently as 2022. Arizona has only one natty, but it recruits nationally (and internationally) and has the biggest, best fanbase west of Texas. The idea of Kansas playing in front of a packed house at McKale Center, or Arizona at Allen Fieldhouse, on a regular basis has gone from dream to reality. Can’t wait.
7. Arizona vs. Baylor (WBB)
Baylor has by far the most wins and most titles in the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Bears have won three national championships, tied for third most all time. Will they continue to dominate the league and be Final Four contenders without Kim Mulkey? TBD. Regardless, they’re the standard in the league — the team to chase for Adia Barnes and the Wildcats. By the way, the school Baylor is tied with for national titles is Stanford, whose dominant women’s basketball program finds itself in a strange place today. Where do the Cardinal go from here? Nouveau Pac-12/Mountain West combo? Independent, a la Notre Dame football?
8. Building a new rivalry
One of the many ways that Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark outflanked Pac-12 counterpart George Kliavkoff was adding Brigham Young to the league, starting this year. BYU was the biggest brand out there within the Pac-12 footprint, but Kliavkoff and the league’s presidents failed to see the value the Cougars would bring. Now Arizona and BYU, who have a long history of playing each other in football, are conference cohabitants. They’ll get to face each other in other sports as well. The bad news, if you want to call it that: BYU has dominated the football matchups recently, winning three in a row and four of the past five.
9. Rekindling an old rivalry
During more innocent times, the UA was a founding member of the Border Conference. By Year Two, Texas Technological College — aka Texas Tech — joined its ranks. The two were conference rivals for 25 years, from 1932-56, before the Red Raiders joined the Southwest Conference. (A few years later, Arizona joined the Western Athletic Conference, its home from 1962-78.) Now the former Border buddies, who’ve faced off in football 32 times, can be Big 12 besties. Lubbock, Texas, is the second-closest Big 12 burg after Tempe, a mere 633 miles from Tucson. Road trip!
10. Queens of the diamond?
It was a rough year for UA softball, which failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since — gulp — 1986. Many factors contributed to the Wildcats’ drop-off, including the lack of a dominant pitcher, injuries and the depth of the Pac-12, which sent six teams to the tourney (and three to the Women’s College World Series). The Big 12 is a strong softball league, but it’s about to lose its flagship program, Oklahoma, which has won the past three WCWS crowns. The Big 12 has seven all-time titles — all won by Oklahoma. Arizona has eight. If the program can get back on track, the Wildcats can run the Big 12.
11. Bountiful baseball battles
The Pac-12 is a robust baseball league boasting the most national titles of any conference (18). Finishing over .500 in league play is a feat and usually worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid. The Big 12 should be no less competitive, even with Texas leaving for the SEC. The Big 12 has averaged almost as many NCAA Tournament bids as the Pac-12 over the past 10 years, per D1Baseball.com, and had more participants this past season (6-5). TCU and Texas Tech have advanced to the College World Series in the past five years and have 10 appearances between them. Oklahoma State has gone 20 times — two more than Arizona.
12. National respect
Tired of the Pac-12 not getting the credit or attention it deserves, something that manifests itself in a lack of NCAA Tournament bids and a dearth of airtime on ESPN? Well, those days are about to end. Yormark has positioned the Big 12 as no worse than the No. 3 league in the land. Prime TV slots on ESPN and FOX will lead to plenty of talk about the conference — promotion that only helps when it comes time to pick postseason participants. Seven Big 12 men’s basketball teams finished in the top 27 of the NET rankings last year; the Pac-12 had just two, UCLA and Arizona. Iowa State and Texas Tech both finished 9-9 in Big 12 regular-season play. Both earned 6-seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Players mentioned in this article

A.J. Calhoun

Addison Lawrence

B.J. Baylor

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