When Mike Bellotti goes to the reunions, it's just sad. The former Oregon coach started his career in something called the Far Western Conference. It was small Division II league based in Oregon, Nevada and California that disbanded in 1998.

Before growing the Ducks into a national program, Bellotti grew up as a coach at UC Davis, Cal State Hayward, Weber State and Chico State from 1973-88.

"Fifteen years of my coaching career, my life, it ceased to exist," Bellotti told CBS Sports. "You go back for reunions, and it's just not the same thing. There are no teams to celebrate with.

"The unfortunate thing is I've already seen it happen."

Bellotti quickly pivots to what he is watching play out in the Pac-12. Actually, it was the Pac-10 when he arrived as an Oregon assistant in 1989. It became a conference where he spent two decades as an assistant, head coach and athletic director.

Bellotti knows the future of the league he loves seems tenuous. The conference is about to enter its ninth month since it was gutted with stalwarts USC and UCLA deciding to leave for the Big Ten in 2024.

By this point, too much of the league's attempt to cobble together a new media rights deal has become public. Uncertainty looms. At least one conference, the Big 12, is open to welcoming Pac-12 teams that share that uncertainty. 

"I have that impending sense of doom," Bellotti said. He added: "All my life, I've always been a West Coast guy. … I can just see [the Pac-12] falling apart."

This is not to pour gasoline on a flame. It's a different perspective on the Pac-12 situation as the league continues to make headlines because of its inability to land a lucrative media rights deal -- at least to this point.

There is a significant football side to the discussion despite speculation about broadcast windows, market size and demographics.

CBS Sports recently spoke with four former Pac-12 coaches who spent a cumulative 39 years in the league leading programs to 286 combined wins.

Bellotti was Oregon's winningest coach until Chip Kelly came along. Dennis Erickson spent a total of 11 years as head coach at Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State. That's not counting four years as an assistant under Kyle Whittingham at Utah. Rick Neuheisel played and coached at UCLA. As Washington's head coach (1999-2000), he won 11 games, including a Rose Bowl. Rich Rodriguez spent six years at Arizona from 2012-17.

"We always thought, at Arizona, [in general] they like football, but I don't know if they really love it," Rodriguez said. "So, once [the players] leave our football building, they're not hearing people talk about football a lot. We had to make it really, really important moreso than maybe we really have should have. We wanted them to feel how important it was to our players.

"When you come out here to the Southeast, you don't have to worry about that."

Rodriguez was speaking from Alabama where he's in the second year coaching FCS Jacksonville State that is transitioning to FBS as a future member of Conference USA.

Rich Rod is as qualified to speak about the situation as anyone. One of the modern fathers of the zone read spread offense was the offensive coordinator for undefeated Tulane in 1998. West Virginia came within game of a BCS Championship Game berth in 2007 under Rodriguez. He joined Arizona on the rebound after an uninspiring stay at Michigan yet remains the only coach to win 10 games in a single season for the Wildcats since 1998.

Rich Rod went West -- to the Pac-12, specifically -- for the same reason as scores of other coaches: There was something special about the talent, the vibe, the weather and the possibilities on the Left Coast. He also witnessed how the league got into this situation: by embracing a Pac-12 Network that failed to gain distribution and watching an exodus of top recruits to Eastern powers.

"What is to stop Oregon and Washington from going to the Big Ten, from Arizona and Arizona State going to the Big 12?" Rodriguez asked. "I would think they're teetering on the brink right now."

Rich Rod has no specific knowledge. And to be fair, we've seen example after example coaches pontificating to no avail. However, his comments reflect the perception of the Pac-12 at the moment.

It's no secret Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark is ready to pounce on the Four Corners schools. Oregon and Washington reportedly had discussions with the Big Ten as early as last fall. Never mind a media rights deal, how do you get the 10 existing schools to sign a grant of rights with those kinds of options out there?

"They were caught totally off guard," Bellotti said of the Pac-12. "As we all know now, they're scrambling to catch up and try to get this media rights deal on track to keep the existing members happy and others that might bring in viewership."

Bellotti, 72, is a member of the Pac-12 Alumni Council is an advisory group that is charged with keeping the league competitive on the field. Suddenly, that body has more on its plate. If the league doesn't sign a deal that makes Pac-12 games available to the masses on linear platforms (cable, broadcast), the conference gets less competitive.

"I know most everybody can get ESPN+ or the streaming things," Rodriguez said. "You're not going to have it on in the bars. … Your visibility will never be the same, ever. Then there's just the perception, 'Oh, you guys played? I didn't see it.' And then you won't be talked about."

Stadium recently reported ION, a network that specializes in showing network reruns, was interested in the Pac-12. Apple, Amazon and ESPN are all thought to have some interest. Any significant streaming presence raises a potential problem with visibility.

Recruiting is hard enough. Think about trying to find Pac-12 games, the majority of which may require a separate subscription.

Neuheisel discusses the plight of his old league almost daily on his SiriusXM show.

"You would be forced to explain it all the time [in recruiting]," he said in a text. "Probably could find some NIL deal with Apple that could subsidize the cost to the family, but [it would be] cumbersome to say the least."

Erickson, 76, is one of those who know what the possibilities there are in the Pac-12. He came to Miami in 1989, leading the Hurricanes to a national championship a year after winning nine games at Washington State the prior season. Erickson is still the only Oregon State coach in history to win 11 games. That was in 2000 with current Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith as his quarterback.

At Arizona State, Erickson won 10 games in 2010. Since 1998, only Todd Graham's 2014 Sun Devils finished higher in the final AP Top 25 (No. 12) than Erickson that year (No. 16).

"It's nice when you can turn it on a regular channel and not worry about all that other stuff," Erickson said. "I think it will hurt them in recruiting, no question."

But there is hope even without USC and UCLA. Ten of the 12 Pac-12 programs finished in the top 50 of the 247Sports Composite team rankings in 2023. That ties for second-most since the current 12-team configuration debuted in 2011. Five of those schools -- Oregon, USC, Utah, Washington and Colorado -- finished in the top 30.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12 is stuck in a sort of a middle earth. Subscriber numbers are down for both cable and streamers.

"We've not been able to figure out how to deliver profits in renting big-league sports in our subscription model," Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said recently.

Interesting term, "renting." That's really where media rights exist.

The Big Ten and Big 12 recently preferred to go with comparatively short-term deals planning on the market being ripe when the current contracts are up. MLS signed a 10-year deal with Apple+ that increased its rights 450%. If streaming hasn't hit for live sports yet, it will during that term ... or else (for MLS).

The Pac-12 is in a different place. It needs both visibility and dollars to hang together. Because streaming isn't a widespread distribution platform for live sports yet, it is a risk.

A risk in that, if current members don't feel the deal doesn't make their programs properly profitable or visible, they've got options.

A risk Bellotti doesn't want to consider.

"You know Phil Knight is using his clout, his money, his connections making sure this doesn't end up the debacle that Oregon will not end up in the Mountain West or Pac-West or whatever they think they may call it," he said. "They'll be somewhere."