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Why Pac-12 schools are back talking to the Big 12

It would be wise for Pac-12 Four Corners schools to begin investigating a backup plan in case the league collapses

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Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles.

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. The Pac-12 is scrambling to find a new media rights partner and the clock is ticking.

Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

The Pac-12 media negotiations may have entered the ninth month, but this week a few interesting twists and turns did shake out for those keen to follow this turtle race.

It is widely reported the Pac-12 is looking for a streaming partner like Amazon, Disney or Apple to be a major component of its broadcast deal, and ESPN could end up supplementing the package.

Athletic director Ray Anderson of Arizona State and Washington State president Kirk Schulz confirmed to media sources that a deal needs to wrap up immediately — as in March.

To me, this means some folks are getting antsy. It’s gone on too long.

Early last week Oregon State president Jayathi Murthy told KXTG-AM radio in Oregon that the league’s directors (presidents and chancellors) have discussed unequal shares, unequal media rights and College Football Playoff revenue. 

“I know what sits underneath is a commitment to the Pac-12. We want to hang together. We find a lot of value to each other, so we work out what needs to be worked out,” said Murthy, as reported to Oregon sportswriter Jon Canzano.

What that underscores is a concrete move by a few Pac-12 members to either require legacy equity due to perceived or proven worth (Oregon and Washington are the league’s most valued football brands, followed by Stanford), or that the Pac-12 creates a merit payout, awarding a greater paycheck to the achievers, i.e. conference champions or CFP participant.

Also earlier in the week, national college football columnist Dennis Dodd, wrote a piece quoting four former Pac-12 coaches with 39 years of experience in the league. The consensus was their beloved league was on the ropes.

Dodd cited concerns by Mike Bellotti (Oregon), Dennis Erickson (Oregon State, Utah), Rick Neuheisel (UCLA, Colorado, Washington) and Rich Rodriguez (Arizona).  

“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.”

Days later news broke that Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State were in “talks” with the Big 12. Numerous news outlets reported this as fact, not speculation, including Shehan Jeyarajah for CBS Sports and 247Sports.

Over the past week and a half, a radio station in Waco, Texas, interviewed Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades on conference expansion issues. Rhoades did not offer his views on what the Pac-12 was going through until hosts specifically put him on the spot.

Rhoades responded: “Those that want to believe we are trying to dismantle the Pac-12, they can believe that,” Rhoades said to 365 Sports. “But that is not what we are trying to do. But we also are going to be ready. And shame on us — we would not be doing our jobs if we were not ready if there was an opportunity.”

As the Pac-12 began its basketball tournament in Las Vegas last week, Conzano broke the news that the league had agreed to examine expansion candidates, as many as four possibilities. He then couched his news by saying it could be two, four or even none.

Wrote Conzano: “This does not mean the Pac-12 will definitely add four schools via expansion. It just means that the board gave the ‘green light’ to kick the tires on four possible additions. The Pac-12 CEO Group will ultimately vote to add zero, one, two, three or four new members. I think it’s most likely the Pac-12 adds only two members. Could be zero. I would be surprised at four additions, but I’ve been surprised before.”

Some of the schools mentioned in addition to SDSU and SMU are Tulane and Colorado State.

Pac-12 insider John Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News came out with a unique meter to gauge if the league will survive. He started out with a 5 ½ point margin that the league stays together. He said he’d adjust it by half a point per week through March. He moved the margin to 5 points this past week.

I think Utah’s first inclination is to stick with the Pac-12, see things play out, and work to cobble together a TV deal that works for the majority. As a two-time defending champion, Utah has enjoyed two trips to the Rose Bowl and has enjoyed the league identity since joining in 2010.

But if things turn sour, it would be wise for Utah to resume Big 12 talks, as reported.

Anything less would be malfeasance and a little naive. 

One of the reasons talks have been slow is the current economy. Many streamers have lost subscribers. The Washington Post reported Friday that Jeff Bezos is pausing a giant second headquarters for Amazon in Virginia comprised of three 22-story office buildings.

In recent months, Amazon has laid off 18,000 employees in a post-COVID expansion retraction. Disney has laid off more than 7,000 workers.

This current business climate is not what it was nine months ago when the Pac-12 began negotiations for a media partner.

An early hope that the Pac-12 would sign a deal for more than the Big 12’s reported $31 million appears more and more unreachable the longer this exercise creeps along.


A referee runs past the Pac-12 logo at Sun Devil Stadium, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. The question is, is time running out on the league to secure a new media rights deal?

Ralph Freso, Associated Press