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Can Cal and what remains of the Pac-12 stay together long-term, avoid Big 12 incursion?
There is a strong front being put together, but it is unclear where every school stands.
As we march closer toward Pac-12 Media Day this week, numerous conference presidents and administrators are staying firm—for the moment, they’re sticking true to the Conference of Champions.
The rumor is the Big 12 is looking to add schools to become the dominant third conference, and the Pac-12 is where they’d look to poach. The most rumored programs are Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah.
However, up to this point, talks have stalled. A number of Pac-12 programs seem hesitant allying themselves with the Big 12, with no major revenue driver making a significant difference at this point. Pete Thamel of ESPN:
The Pac-12 source indicated the Big 12 was interested in that option. A Big 12 source said the Big 12 needed more time to explore that option further, which it did over the weekend, and decided not to explore any options further.
The Pac-12 source said that the Pac-12 was skeptical of the full merger because the leagues' media rights expire at different times. A Big 12 source countered that the Pac-12 had expressed ways it could work around that.
"Because the Big 12 media rights can't be negotiated until 2024, Pac-12 schools have no motivation to join the Big 12," a Pac-12 source said. "The Pac-12 has announced that they're staying together and are in the middle of media rights negotiations."
With the departure of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in 2025 (or maybe 2024 if the Longhorns and Sooners get their way), there aren’t many markets that provide attractive financial lift for any program to depart and see marked revenue gains.
In terms of individual schools, it does not seem like Arizona State’s leadership is interested in a move.
“Really, I’m very optimistic moving forward,” WSU president Kirk Schulz told The Seattle Times on July 24. “With every week that goes by, that sense of optimism probably increases. The conference is as unified as I’ve seen it in my six years here.”
“Our membership is committed to being together,” WSU athletic director Pat Chun said. “Obviously, we had two members that weren’t committed. Being in these meetings, there is positivity. We are united and there is a pathway forward for the Pac-12. Where we sit today, I honestly think the Pac-12 is well-positioned for its next chapter, and that’s good news for Washington State.”
Oregon State athletic director Pat Barnes also penned an optimistic tone.
However, there’s been general silence from power programs like Oregon, Washington, Cal and Stanford. There has been no public statement from Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton or UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. For now, it seems like they’re playing their cards close.
From a financial perspective, a partnership with the Big 12 also feels a bit shaky. The Pac-12 After Dark TV revenue streams have proven to be steady in terms of viewership, and have generally outdrawn the majority of Big 12 content.
For all the grumbling about late night football, those games have provided significant lift that outdoes most Big 12 content.
The one advantage the Big 12 enjoys over the Pac-12 is its members aren’t attractive enough for future expansion the way schools like Oregon, Washington, Utah, Cal, and Stanford can be. Any sort of Big Ten mass-invite to those members could accelerate the Pac-12’s extinction.
It seems likely that Oregon and Washington would leap at the opportunity if presented, although with no moves from Notre Dame it seems like they’ll have to wait another year for news on that front. You’d expect Cal and Stanford would have to consider it—Stanford’s brand makes sense in this conference, and Cal has debts to pay off.
A Big 12 and Pac-12 merger would provide a decent layer of stability for all the programs for the time being, but without firm commitments from the schools above, it too sits in quicksand.
Maybe the Big Ten says firmly they’re not planning on expanding for awhile, hastening the decision-making of Pac-12 programs into the Big 12 alliance. But for now, it seems like a giant carrot remains dangling from the Midwest, and schools like Cal have to wait for it to lower just a little further.
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