Big 10, Big 12 honing in on Pac-12 schools

Published 12:44 am Friday, August 4, 2023

The Associated Press

The Big Ten has joined the Big 12 in pushing the Pac-12 to the brink, with Oregon and Washington being courted by the former and Arizona pointed toward the latter.

Arizona was in serious talks to join the Big 12, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

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Meanwhile, the Big Ten is discussing membership with Oregon and Washington, two people with direct knowledge of those talks told the AP.

All spoke on condition of anonymity because nothing has been made official by the schools or conferences involved.

None of the news bodes well for the Pac-12’s survival.

The boards of regents for Arizona’s two biggest universities, along with the University of Washington, scheduled special meetings for Thursday night, ramping up speculation that more Pac-12 schools could leave the flailing conference.

The person with direct knowledge of the Arizona situation also said that Arizona State was mulling jumping to the Big 12, too, but was not as far along in the process. That could slow down Arizona’s final decision because the Tucson-based school would prefer to be in sync with its rivals from Tempe.

The Arizona Board of Regents were holding a closed executive session Thursday to look at possible legal advice and discussion regarding university athletics. Washington regents called a special meeting for later Thursday to discuss present, pending or potential litigation with counsel.

While the Big 12 has been eyeing Pac-12 schools for months, the Big Ten — which dealt the first blow to the Pac-12 by poaching USC and UCLA last year —- has jumped in late.

The people with direct knowledge of those talks say no formal offer has been made to Oregon and Washington, but the framework of a deal was presented that would have the Ducks and Huskies enter the conference with an annual payout in the low-to-mid $30 millions.

The schools could also receive an advance on future payments that could increase the total payout to more than $40 million for the first several years they are in the conference, though it would be subtracted from future payouts, two people said.

That payout would be about half what current Big Ten members will receive when all its new television deals fully kick in next year, but still more than what Washington and Oregon are guaranteed to receive from a recently presented potential media rights deal the Pac-12 has on the table from Apple.

Southern California and UCLA are headed to the Big Ten next year, the same time Colorado is leaving the West Coast’s largest and most storied conference for the Big 12. The Buffaloes announced their return to the Big 12 a week ago.

That leaves the Pac-12 with nine schools — for now — and no media rights deal beyond the upcoming school year. None of the other remaining schools have scheduled regent or trustee meetings — yet.

The Big 12 has also targeted Utah to get to 16 members next year after Texas and Oklahoma leave.

The uncertainty in the Pac-12 is being felt across the conference, especially at places that might not have clear options to join another Power Five conference.

“You know, the old question of how long would it take TV money to destroy college football? Maybe we’re here,” Washington State football coach Jake Dickert told reporters Thursday afternoon. “To think even remotely five years ago the Pac-12 would be in this position it’s unthinkable to think that we’re here today. And to think local rivalries are at risk and fans driving four hours to watch their team play in a road game and rivalries is at risk to me is unbelievable.”

“But at the end of the day, I just think we’ll look back at college football in 20 years and be like, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing?’” he added. “Let’s let our guys stay regional. Let’s play. Let’s preserve the Pac-12 and what it is.”

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented details of a media rights deal to league stakeholders on Tuesday, but no vote was held. ESPN reported the deal would make Apple TV the conference’s primary home and not a more well-known traditional network like ESPN or Fox.

The carrot may not have been big enough. The deal reportedly would guarantee schools about $20 million each per year, but with subscription based escalators that could grow that total.

One corner of the four corner schools is gone from the Pac-12, another has a foot out the door, its two biggest brands are forming an exit strategy and the conference that touts sports alumni like Jackie Robinson, John Elway and Jackie Joyner-Kersee appears to be in peril.