Arizona football kicks off the season Saturday night against NAU the U of A’s final season in the Pac-12.

I got the opportunity today to talk one-on-one with Director of Athletics Dave Heeke about the emotions of leaving the conference the school has called home for the past 45 years:

“Lots of memories, lots of great colleagues, incredible rivalries, stories,” Heeke says. “In a way it’s bitter sweet. We’re going to celebrate this year as a proud member, have a chance to compete like heck, and hopefully go win some championships. Then we’ll embark on that net chapter of moving on to the Big 12.”

Pat Parris: “Having said that, though, you’ve got a team that’s already working on…moving into the Big 12. That must be quite an undertaking you’re going through right now.”

Dave Heeke: “It’s a big transition team and part of that is how we move from existing Pac-12 model to the Big 12 model. Being prepared, so that…next year at this time, we go. We know how to go. That’s really everything from the transactional pieces of it, but also how are we going to travel, where are the new places we’re going, what is the culture of the Big 12. It might be different than the Pac-12. Just so our programs are ready to go and compete and win championships.”

Pat Parris: “Probably too early to know for sure, but there’s talk: Is it going to be divisions in the Big 12? In other words, is there going to be an ‘east and a west’ or a ‘north and a south’? What are you hearing, what do you think might happen?”

Dave Heeke: “A lot of work yet to be done on that, as I say. I think there are scheduling efficiencies that we need to look atsome regional games that are very important to everyone. Rivalries certainly are important at the top of the list. So, we’ll continue to have that kind of conversation.

“A divisional model is one concept that you could look at. But I think we’ll center more around efficiencies on the scheduling, how do you keep certain people and play them more in a cycle than others, But probably a one league without divisions, but again, scheduling efficiencies.”

Pat Parris: “You talked about, I think, 480,000 Arizona Wildcat fans bought tickets to your sporting events last yeartops in the Pac-12. What does that mean going forward going into the Big 12? I guess it means you’re one of the big universities going into a big conference?”

Dave Heeke: “I think walking out, when we do go to the Big 12, that comes with it: Incredible support. The best support of any institution in the Big 12. That’s a powerful statement that we bring and is out there when we move into the Big 12. It carries a lot of weight. We’re not just another school wandering around. There’s a lot of passion, excitement, enthusiasm here to be successful.”

I also asked Heeke about the upcoming football season.

He wouldn’t predict the Wildcats’ 2023 record, but did say he expects everyone will be happy at the end of the season.