The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

Menlo Community Reflects on College Conference Changes

Illustration by Maya Stone

For over a century, the Pacific Coast Conference — known as the Pac-12 since 2010 — has excelled athletically, garnering the nickname the ‘Conference of Champions.’ The conference has won 553 NCAA Championships, outpacing other conferences by more than 200 titles. Despite its stature, the 2023-24 season will likely mark the last year of the Pac-12’s existence, at least in its current format. 

Athletic conference realignment over the past two years has greatly shifted the landscape of college sports. The biggest changes have been among the top football conferences in Division 1, known as the Football Bowl Subdivision. The most dramatic has been the demise of the Pac-12, which has seen 10 of its 12 members defect to other top conferences. 

The Bay Area has been particularly impacted by conference realignment as both Stanford University and UC Berkeley left the Pac-12 to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. Menlo Director of Athletics Earl Koberlein, who played college basketball at Stanford and worked in its athletic department for 25 years, views conference realignment as disappointment. “I think it’s a decision based on football and greed,” he said. 

Last year, west-coast athletic powerhouses USC and UCLA decided to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference. Koberlein believes that the two Los Angeles schools left because they lacked confidence in the revenue and viewership that a Pac-12’s future television deal would bring. “They saw the writing on the wall and were proactive in making the jump. So that really caused the dominoes to fall,” he said. 

Six other Pac-12 schools also decided to depart, leaving Stanford and Cal with major decisions for their athletic programs. Their options included going independent, joining another conference or rebuilding the Pac-12. Junior Audrey Hochsetler believes the ACC, though not ideal, made the most sense for Cal and Stanford. “I think it was the right choice given the options they had,” she said. “The ACC aligns with their competitive and academic standards.”

Sophomore Zach Reynolds, an Oregon and Stanford football fan, acknowledged that there will be benefits that come with realignment. “It’s going to be good for many of the [former Pac-12 schools] to strengthen their competition rather than being a part of the weakest Power Five conference,” he said. On the other hand, Reynolds was surprised to see so many West Coast schools opting to play in East Coast conferences considering how far the student-athletes would be required to travel. 

Koberlein pointed out that Stanford baseball players will potentially miss many more classes due to travel. “That’s where I see it’s unfortunate; the collateral damage for all the Olympic sports on a decision that was really made for football,” he said.

Hochstetler is hoping to play soccer in college and empathizes with the increased demands that these student-athletes now face when balancing academics and athletics. “It’s already really hard to be a student-athlete,” she said. “You are missing lots of classes, your sport is basically a full-time job, and now you have to travel even more.”

Senior Evan Burnett, an avid college sports fan, described the conference changes as controversial, albeit positive for college football. “I think it’s overall for the better, but I definitely understand why there’s a lot of pushback to it,” he said.

Burnett is committed to playing tennis at the University of Texas at Austin. In the summer of 2021, Texas and Oklahoma, two schools with high-profile athletic programs, elected to leave the Big-12 Conference and join the Southeastern Conference starting in the 2024-25 academic year. Burnett is looking forward to playing in the SEC because he says it’s one of the best conferences for tennis, but also knows it will pose new challenges. “Over the course of a season, it’s going to be super draining mentally and physically,” he said.

Koberlein has heard interest in creating a system for college football like professional soccer’s English Premier League, where teams are divided into tiers with relegations and promotions.  Koberlein likes the idea of this type of system strictly for football so that other sports could compete in their regional areas. “Football is a different beast,” he said. “It should do its own thing nationally because football teams travel a lot less [since] you’re only playing 12 games.” 

As the legacy of conference realignment unfolds over the next few years, fans continue to hold optimism for the future of college sports. “It’s going to be exciting and maybe even bring newer fans into the sport,” Burnett said. “I feel like [college realignment] isn’t going to stop here.”

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About the Contributor
Asher Darling
Asher Darling, News Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 2

Favorite aspect of journalism: The freedom to explore topics that interest me through my passion for writing and collaborating with the rest of the COA staff

Interests outside of school: Basketball, traveling, spending time with friends and family

Class of 2026

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