Maybe the wildest semi-legitimate conference realignment rumor ever didn't come when Texas, Oklahoma and half the Big 12 nearly joined the Pac-10 a decade or so ago. It was much earlier than that.
For most of 1959 and 1960, it looked as if about half of the Pacific Coast Conference (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington) would join up with eastern independents (Notre Dame, Penn State, Syracuse and maybe West Virginia or Pitt), the three service academies and maybe even Oklahoma to form what was colloquially called the Airplane Conference. The PCC was falling apart, air travel was getting easier and cheaper, and some of the biggest, most well-followed (and integrated) programs in the sport were really enjoying the idea of competing with one another annually. It was set up perfectly for divisions and an annual championship game in the Rose Bowl.
It fell apart, eventually. The Pentagon decided that really wasn't an Army priority (which made sense). Stanford started hoping to include other PCC programs. And by 1964, the PCC had basically dumped poor Idaho and continued on as the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU), then the Pac-8. It would add Arizona and Arizona State in the 1970s and become the Pac-10. For decades, the Airplane Conference has been the biggest what-if rumor that college football has produced.
Then Thursday happened. Granted, decision-makers are getting better and better at keeping secrets -- everything went from rumor to confirmed rumor to fact within a few hours -- but the Big Ten, which already stretched from New Jersey to Nebraska, officially invited UCLA and USC to become its 15th and 16th members. Penn State and California schools, together at last. The Airplane Conference really has become a thing.
The Pac-12 Conference -- or whatever it was called in a given year -- has long been a marriage of geographic convenience. Schools like USC have always had grander ambitions but were limited by the simple fact that only so many similarly ambitious programs were available to play out West. But while the remaining Pac-12 schools can feel shocked by the timing of this move, and they can certainly feel alarmed about their future, they can't really feel betrayed. Or at least, they can't act as if they didn't know betrayal was a possibility.
Here are a few takeaways from a move at least as seismic as Oklahoma and Texas bolting the Big 12 for the SEC last summer.