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Navigating the End Game: Cal's Strategic Moves in an Evolving Sports Landscape



Realignment is Starting Once Again


Realignment discussions in college sports are once again stirring up excitement and speculation. As rumors swirl and alliances shift, the future of collegiate athletics hangs in the balance, leaving fans, pundits, and university administrators alike on the edge of their seats. While I may lack the "inside scoop" or privileged connections of sports insiders, I offer instead a candid exploration of what lies ahead for Cal and its place in this ever-evolving landscape of realignment. Hopefully soon we will see a more long term solution as the question most of us who are reading this article are asking "What lies ahead for our beloved Golden Bears?"


With Spring sports well on their way, we are only a few months out till life changes for a lot of different schools. To recap if you need a reminder. Come July 1st, Texas and Oklahoma go to the SEC. Oregon, UCLA, USC, and Washington go to the Big 10. Cal, Stanford, and SMU go to the ACC. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah go to the Big 12. Then finally, the unlucky Oregon State and Washington State stay in the Pac 2. This will likely combine with the Mountain West, unless they are picked up by the Big 12 or ACC. Both options do not seem to be on the table at the moment.


The ACC realignment rumors have been the main topic of conversation ever since the SEC and Big 10 finished with their moves, with FSU continuously trying to find a way out without having to pay the conference half a billion dollars. There is also what is called the "Magnificent 7" which includes FSU along with Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Virginia Tech, which are moving for the conference to disperse leaving Louisville, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest and Duke scrambling for a landing spot. As the old saying goes "When there's smoke, there's a fire."


Where This Leaves Cal 


This is a less-than-ideal position for Cal and the other newcomers Stanford and SMU to be in. While they barely made it in this time around what are their options if the ACC dissolves as fast as the Pac-12 did? To be honest I follow a lot of the "Masters of Realignment News" (saying that jokingly as many of them throw out every conceivable option and then say their sources told them that after they hit one of the 250 other scenarios they tweeted.) have not talked a lot about Cal and Stanford. 


There has been a good amount said that SMU would likely not get picked up by the Big 12, Big 10, or SEC. It is anyone's guessing game how the others in the ACC fair. FSU, Clemson, North Carolina Virginia seem to have guaranteed spots in the Big 10 or SEC. Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Miami could go to the SEC or Big 10 but I see them more being a Big 12 school unless they're brought along by the four schools above. Louisville and maybe Pitt are Big 12 or bust. That leaves five teams (Duke, Wake Forest, Boston College, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech) who have a huge question mark over their head... Cal and Stanford join those schools in July as well.


As much as it pains me to say this it is nice for Cal and Stanford to have a a gentleman's handshake that they're a package for realignment.  However, it's evident that our options are rather limited, with the Big 10 emerging as the most viable avenue. Let us be honest with ourselves, I do not see the SEC taking a call from either school with the distance to travel. Moreover, the cultural landscape of Berkeley, while vibrant and unique, may not necessarily align seamlessly with other conference counterparts, save perhaps for Austin, Texas. As for the Big 12, historical tensions, such as Cal's previous opposition to Baylor and BYU joining the Pac-12, suggest a less-than-ideal fit. During the tumultuous realignment period of 2010-2011, discussions involving Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma ultimately faltered, underscoring the complexities of such negotiations. Consequently, Cal's historical dynamics with current Big 12 members don't bode well for future relations, making the Big 10 appear as the most plausible destination for our university's athletic future.


The Argument for the Big 10 to Add Cal


Cal individually has a strong argument to be added to the Big 10 as the conference is very much in favor of academically superior schools. First and foremost, Cal boasts a distinguished academic reputation that aligns closely with the academic standards of the Big 10. As a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and a leading public research university, Cal embodies the commitment to excellence in education and research that is characteristic of Big 10 institutions. With a rich tradition of academic achievement and innovation across various fields, Cal would contribute significantly to the intellectual vitality of the Big 10 conference and in addition to its academic prestige, Cal boasts impressive credentials such as the Space Grant, Public Land Grant status, and its recent recognition as the #1 Public School in the United States as of 2024, alongside an impressive $6.95 billion endowment as of 2023. The inclusion of Cal and Stanford would solidify the Big 10's presence in the Pacific Time Zone, facilitating travel for schools like Oregon, Washington, USC, and UCLA to sporting events. Furthermore, it would introduce built-in rivalries to the conference, adding an exciting dynamic to collegiate athletics.


Admittedly, there's work to be done at Cal, particularly in the realm of athletics. While the Big 10 places a strong emphasis on academic excellence, the significance of competitive prowess in the "Big 3" sports—football, basketball, and baseball—cannot be overstated. Consider the track record of our conference counterparts: USC boasts a storied history in football and baseball, UCLA commands respect with its legendary basketball program, and Washington recently made waves in the college football championship scene, as well as having a stellar program that last 25 years. Meanwhile, Oregon has maintained a consistent top 15 ranking in football for the past decade and a half. In contrast, Cal's performance in these pivotal sports leaves much to be desired. It's been nearly a decade since our basketball team last made an appearance in the NCAA tournament, and football hasn't graced a major bowl game since the Holiday Bowl in 2006. Similarly, our baseball program has struggled to regain its footing, with a notable absence from the College World Series since 2011. These shortcomings underscore the pressing need for improvement and revitalization within Cal's athletic programs, ensuring that we not only uphold our proud history but also reclaim our competitive edge on the national stage.


Let's switch gears and get real here: what's up with Cal's lackluster performance in football, basketball, and baseball? No need to sugarcoat it – we're just not cutting it lately. It's not about pointing fingers, but we've got to face the facts: our administration hasn't exactly been hitting it out of the park when it comes to investing in and improving our sports programs. Now that Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rules are shaking things up in college sports, it's high time we step up our game. Why is it that schools like Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, all top-notch public universities, are competing in championships or on the national stage regularly while Cal has been an afterthought. It's time to tackle these questions head-on and start making moves to get Cal back in the game – and not just any game, but the big leagues of college athletics.


The administration must prioritize investments in infrastructure, technology, and personnel to enhance the overall student-athlete experience and foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation within Cal's athletic department. The fans need to rally behind the university's athletic programs with unwavering support and enthusiasm, both in attendance at games and through active engagement on social media and other platforms. Was there a more exciting time than Tennessee came to Berkeley in 2007 when both teams were Top 20 teams? There have not been as many electric atmospheres that compete with that in Memorial Stadium since that day.


The Finale of My Rant


As the Avengers famously declared in 2019, "This is the Endgame." And for Cal, it truly feels like we've reached a pivotal moment. It's adapt or perish. With the Big 10 and SEC gearing up for their next moves and the ACC seemingly teetering, now's the time for Cal to step up. Joining the Big 10 isn't just a smart move – it's a win-win. It aligns perfectly with the conference's academic, geographic, athletic, and cultural priorities. By welcoming Cal into the fold, the Big 10 not only solidifies its status as a top-tier athletic conference but also underscores its commitment to excellence, diversity, and innovation in collegiate sports. But Cal can't just sit back and hope for the best. We need to make some noise in the athletic world, showing that we won't be sidelined. It's time for action – investing in facilities, teams, and fan support. Let's face it, the clock's ticking down to the next realignment, and if we don't step up our game, Cal could find itself left in the dust. So, Cal fans, let's rally together. The future's in our hands, and it's time to make our mark.

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