The Pac-12 Conference is facing a major crisis as key schools defect to the Big Ten and Big 12 in the wake of an insufficient media rights deal. The departure of Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah leaves the Pac-12 with just five remaining schools. The conference’s failure to secure a satisfactory deal, coupled with its inability to adapt to the changing media landscape, has left it in a precarious position. Billy Witz reported
A fortnight ago, George Kliavkoff, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, confidently declared a bright future for the league. He announced that a new media rights deal would be announced soon, which would secure the participation of 10 schools and pave the way for expansion. This would eliminate the uncertainty that had loomed over the Pac-12 since the University of Southern California and U.C.L.A. had left for the Big Ten last summer. Kliavkoff dismissed concerns about the Big 12 poaching his schools, stating that they had bigger priorities.
However, by the end of the week, the Pac-12 had suffered a major blow. Colorado had already jumped to the Big 12, and now Oregon and Washington refused to agree to a proposed television contract they deemed inadequate, opting to join the Big Ten instead. Later, Arizona also left for the Big 12, taking Arizona State and Utah with them. By the end of the day, only Stanford, California, Washington State, Oregon State, and the memories of the century-old alliance remained.
Washington State football Coach Jake Dickert expressed his disbelief at the situation, stating that it was unthinkable that the Pac-12 would find itself in this position just five years ago. The Pac-12’s downfall had been years in the making, with Larry Scott’s failed attempt to launch the Pac-12 Network without major partners like ESPN or Fox being a significant factor. This led to a significant revenue gap and financial struggles for U.C.L.A. Furthermore, the Pac-12’s negotiations for a new media rights deal were hindered by the Big 12’s early extension with Fox, which offered considerably less than other conferences.
The Pac-12’s list of potential partners had also dwindled, with Fox securing agreements with the Big Ten and the Big 12, and ESPN holding the rights to the SEC and A.C.C. Amazon and Apple emerged as potential bidders, but Kliavkoff’s inability to close a deal tested the patience and confidence of the conference. Finally, an Apple deal was presented, guaranteeing schools over $20 million with potential revenue sharing from subscriptions pushing that figure to around $30 million per school. However, there were concerns about committing to a streaming platform that older fans may not understand and whether recruits would have access to the product.
Ultimately, the Pac-12’s fate serves as a stark reminder of how the big business of college sports, driven by football’s television revenue, can shape the landscape of conferences. The Pac-12’s demise highlights the challenges and complexities of navigating the ever-changing media landscape in the pursuit of financial stability and success..