The Washington Huskies decision to leave the Pac-12 for Big Ten is controversial. While the focus is football, other sports can benefit too.
NCAA conference realignment is at center stage right now. Starting in 2024, the Washington Huskies will leave the Pac-12 in favor of the Big Ten.
Some like the move, and many others hate it. Changing conferences is primarily football driven or as UW President Ana Marie Cauce said for stability. The change is far from optimal for basketball and other non-revenue-generating sports.
Let’s put that aside for a moment. Other sports don’t have to suffer terribly if their schedules are done right. Washington Huskies fans might even find a few new ways to support their favorite university.
These are some things I’d like to see happen when UW moves to the Big Ten
While almost no one had the Pac-12 Network, the Big Ten Network partners with Fox Sports and is widely distributed. That means more television exposure for the Washington Huskies non-football teams.
Because these games are available to a much wider audience, recruiting in all sports should elevate with the rising tide. More exposure and better recruits lead to winning across the board.
People joke about UW making a mid-February trip to Rutgers in February. But this is the perfect time for the Washington Huskies Men’s and Women’s basketball programs to become closer and learn from each other.
To make scheduling and travel easier, how about some “partnerships?” For example, on a given week, Washington plays Maryland and Rutgers on the road. How about the men play Thursday in College Park, followed by a women’s game on Friday?
Both teams get on a bus Saturday morning. The men tip off later that day at Rutgers, and the women play early Sunday. After the game, the teams hop on a plane back to Seattle. It works the same way for eastern teams headed to the pacific time zone.
The Big Ten is set up to do this with all their teams. Travel pairs would be Washington/Oregon, Indiana/Purdue, Wisconsin/Minnesota, Michigan/Michigan State, Iowa/Nebraska, USC/UCLA, Ohio State/Penn State, and Rutgers/Maryland.
Non-revenue sports will be the biggest challenge. Baseball and softball are a little different because they play in three-game series.
Additionally, it’s common for a school’s baseball and softball teams to play at home the same weekend. With staggered start times, this would make a nice weekend for traveling fans.
More opportunities await the Washington Huskies. UW doesn’t play either ice hockey or lacrosse at the NCAA level. With a new NHL franchise in town, the Huskies could ride the Kraken wave of popularity.
The Big Ten is one of the NCAA’s premier college hockey conferences. UW doesn’t have to go all in immediately. The facilities and resources are in place for Washington to get up to speed over a five year period.
As a former lacrosse player, it would be great to see the Washington Huskies athletic department add this sport too. Lacrosse teams are relatively inexpensive for athletic departments.
Even if the university decides not to add a men’s team, women’s lacrosse is a great way to add scholarships and meet Title IX requirements. As for travel, send the lax players with the baseball and softball teams.
I have no idea how the Husky athletic department should handle their olympic sports programs, such as cross country and swimming. My best suggestion is to have more regional meets or events.
Or plan B: Not play these sports as part of the Big Ten. Instead, they could compete in an alternate conference like the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Washington fields rowing, volleyball, and women’s gymnastics teams. It would be nice to find a way for those teams to be part of the Big Ten because they can be an immediate factor.
I don’t envy the Big Ten or the Washington Huskies athletic department trying to get Olympic sports scheduled.
Things will change for UW athletics. Hopefully for the better.