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UW football moving to Big Ten, pulling Huskies out of Pac-12

caption: Husky Stadium on a rainy game night in Seattle.
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Husky Stadium on a rainy game night in Seattle.
Juan Pablo Chiquiza

The University of Washington is taking its football team out of the Pac-12 and moving the Huskies over to the Big Ten Conference.

"The Big Ten is a thriving conference with strong athletic and academic traditions, and we are excited and confident about competing at the highest level on a national stage," UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement. "My top priority must be to do what is best for our student-athletes and our University, and this move will help ensure a strong future for our athletics program."

UW's move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten will become official in August 2024. The University of Oregon is making the same move. According to the Big Ten, both UW and UO submitted applications to join the conference Friday afternoon (morning Seattle time). The conference's board called a virtual meeting and voted in favor of allowing the universities to join.

President Cauce added that the university concluded that the "opportunities and stability offered by the Big Ten are unmatched," and that UW had worked for more than a year to "find a viable path" that would keep the Pac-12 together.

"We have tremendous respect and gratitude for the Pac-12, its treasured history and traditions," Jen Cohen, the UW's director of athletics, said in a statement. "At the same time, the college athletics landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. The Big Ten's history of athletic and academic success and long-term stability best positions our teams for future success, and we are energized at the opportunity to compete at the highest level against some of the best programs in the country."

In its announcement Friday, UW noted that it is "committed to preserving the rich tradition of the Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State University in all sports, including football."

In a statement, WSU President Kirk Schulz expressed disappointment in UW's decision, but said that the university has been preparing for "numerous scenarios."

Why did UW leave the Pac-12?

Christian Caple writes about Husky football for Substack's On Montlake. He told KUOW that the seeds for UW's exit were planted on June 30, 2022. That's when the University of Southern California and UCLA announced that they were leaving the Pac-12. Both schools moved over to the Big Ten.

"Ever since, there has been a lot of concern that the Pac-12 wouldn't be able to negotiate a new media rights contract that would be suitable for the remaining 10 members to stick together, and of course, Oregon and Washington were the two biggest brands, the two most high-profile programs left," Caple said.

In the months since then, doubt has grown over the ability of the Pac-12 to keep its remaining members together. The University of Colorado and the University of Arizona have also since left the Pac-12.

"While it did look for a moment, on Friday morning, as if that was a possibility, they were going to pull a rabbit out of their hat, they were going to do the unthinkable at that point, keep the league together, keep existing, the Big Ten did come through with an offer for Washington and Oregon that both schools thought they just couldn't turn down."

Caple notes that that Pac-12's media plan was short on guaranteed money, but was a bit forward thinking. The Pac-12 would be streamed under its approach, viewed via Apple TV. Fans would have to purchase an additional streaming package through Apple to watch their teams. But the uncertainty around all this was too much for the colleges. While the Big Ten wasn't offering a full share of its media deal, it is expected that the schools will be cut in at a full share in 2030 when things are renegotiated.

UW was among four founding members of the Pacific Coast Conference in 1915. That conference evolved into the Pac-12.

Listen to Caple's full conversation with KUOW's Angela King by clicking the audio above.

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