It remains disappointing that San Diego State’s men’s basketball team fell short in its bid for the school’s first national championship.
But what the squad accomplished didn’t really reveal itself on the scoreboard. What coach Brian Dutcher’s bunch did was what no other Aztecs squad, no matter the sport, had ever done.
We’re not talking about the red-and-black advancing to the Final Four and eventually being among the last two dancing in the NCAA Tournament. Just because SDSU lost, in Houston, doesn’t mean it has a problem.
Instead, just maybe, the Aztecs were the biggest winners of the 60-plus teams, turning a defeat into a resounding win.
Some mention the final score: University of Connecticut 76, SDSU 59.
But the real digits that count are a 1 and a 2, preceded by “Pac.”
All signs point to SDSU joining the Pac-12, giving the conference a presence in Southern California, with UCLA and USC leaving for the Big Ten in 2024.
“We have a national perception now,” Dutcher told reporters. “I think everybody out west has always known we’ve been good, but now that we’re playing on the biggest stage and winning on the biggest stage, I think a lot like when Gonzaga made that step, (it) did it on a national stage.
“That’s how (it) gained (its) respect, and hopefully this national stage will give us national respect.”
SDSU has long had visions of ditching the Mountain West Conference for the Pac-12, a Power 5 conference. But with UCLA and USC serving as roadblocks, the Aztecs had two chances for inclusion: slim and none.
Among the reasons the Bruins and Trojans have such success recruiting in these parts is what they could offer, which was something SDSU couldn’t: being able to play in the Pac-12.
But with UCLA and USC settling their tabs and soon heading east, those arguments for keeping SDSU in the Mountain West have gone south.
The Aztecs’ opportunities were only strengthened by their Final Four run.
But in digging deeper into the numbers, that deep run was hardly an aberration considering SDSU’s top two revenue-generating sports.
Since 2009-10, San Diego State stands alone with the highest combined winning percentage of .737 when referring to its football and basketball teams. That number just edges Ohio State, but it’s stunning nonetheless.
“It’s not just our athletic program,” Dutcher added. “Our university is incredible. Everything about San Diego State is at the highest level you can get to, academically, socially, athletically.”
What Dutcher states is true, mostly.
One red flag hovering over punching SDSU’s ticket into the Pac-12 is the classroom evaluation.
Every other Pac-12 institution has a R1 distinction, which is granted to the nation’s most decorated research schools. But SDSU isn’t alone there, as most other Pac-12 candidates fall short, and that includes Southern Methodist University.
Some speculate that the Mustangs will ride along with the Aztecs into the Pac-12 to give it an even number of schools. Then again, with the conference doing away with its two divisions, that’s no longer a requirement.
So that brings us back to SDSU and the Aztecs say, “bring it on,” when it comes to joining forces with the Pac-12.
The Big 12 would work, too.
But it’s hard to see the Pac-12, which is negotiating a new television contract, not wanting to remain in the Southern California market. SDSU has morphed into a national brand, and it would bring thousands of eyeballs to its telecasts, which helps the conference overall.
With the Chargers gone, the remaining winning teams are the rage.
The energy produced by Padres fans, and the similar buzz that SDSU boosters showed with Aztecs hoops, only delivers more hope that the time is right to join the Pac-12.
Come on, Pac-12, what are you waiting for? Rest assured that SDSU will be quick with its RSVP.