It’s easy to feel like Fresno State lost in the latest round of conference realignment around college athletics.
Rumors were swirling for months that Fresno State was a top target of the Big 12. Fresno State President Saul Jimenez-Sandoval even confirmed in March that there was interest from the Big 12 in the university as the conference sought to expand its reach to the west coast.
Some Fresno State fans were convinced that an offer was coming from Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark and are left wondering what went wrong as Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah jumped ship instead.
Whether Yormark and the Big 12 presidents actually had any legitimate interest in Fresno State, or if the university was simply a pawn while the conference waited for the Pac-12 to self-destruct doesn’t matter anymore.
What matters is that Fresno State is in as strong of a position as fans could have reasonably hoped for at this point despite not being invited to join the powers that be in college athletics.
The Mountain West is still fully intact. That’s a win in and of itself. Fresno State was not passed over by its peers (i.e. an exceedingly trigger-happy San Diego State).
And, looking to the future, has an excellent opportunity to get stronger and cement itself as the fifth-best college football conference by adding Oregon State and Washington State, two natural fits who have been left behind by their longtime Pac-12 peers.
The San Diego Union-Tribute reported Saturday that the idea of merging the Mountain West and the remnants of the Pac-12 – Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State – has gained some traction.
While such a merger makes perfect sense for Fresno State and onlookers nationwide, it seemed a little difficult to imagine Stanford and Cal swallowing their elitist pride and playing ball with schools in the California State University system?
The ACC may wind up offering them a route to save face.
Regardless, Fresno State is in a stable position right now and will only benefit from welcoming at least Oregon State and Washington State with open arms.
The destruction of the Pac-12 also promises much greater access for Fresno State on the national stage.
After one final four-team playoff this season, the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams starting with the 2024 season. The expanded playoff guarantees bids for the top six conference champions in the College Football Playoff rankings, doing away with the Power 5 and Group of 5 status.
With the Pac-12 out of the way in 2024, that leaves the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC as the conferences which will likely take the top four conference champion bids in the 12-team playoff.
The two other spots will be fought for by the Mountain West, American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt. Those same conferences all would have been fighting for one spot had the Pac-12 stayed whole.
While in reality the new system still won’t put Fresno State on equal footing with the big boys of college football, the Bulldogs will have their best opportunity yet to finally play on the sport’s biggest stage.
Fresno State still has an opportunity to be relevant in college football, at least until the next time conference realignment strikes.