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San Diego State and SMU confident about Pac-12 invites, but the TV rights deal is not yet done
The conference of champions appears to be settling into the new normal, pending a final decision on the overall TV deal.
As the Pac-12 passes the one year anniversary of losing UCLA and USC to the Big Ten, the remaining members appear to have consolidated around staying together. Despite some idle flirtations between Colorado and the Big 12 and Arizona voicing some similar fence-sitting, it appears as if the likely course of action will be a new TV deal that should provide short-term stability to its conference members.
What will be involved in the TV deal?
A streamer, for sure. There does not appear to be an appetite from a major TV network to take on the bulk of the Pac-12 product without USC and UCLA, so the split could run heavy in the favor of whatever streaming service makes the best deal. AppleTV is likely the favorite, but Amazon Prime does have the cash to mke it work. It’s also possible the conference could explore split distribution.
You’d expect one OTA distributor, maybe two (ESPN and FOX, despite all the rumor-mongering otherwise, are still in consideration, but even oddball networks like the CW and ION have been floated) to take on a significant set of football inventory, likely during the Saturday night slot but also the occasional Thursday and Friday night games.
College basketball will likely live entirely on whatever streamers the Pac-12 signs with, with a small package going to the OTA partner the Pac-12 chooses to partner with.
Olympic sports, one of the nicest parts of the Pac-12 Network package, is likely to be in the most trouble of maintaining its current streaming status given lack of ratings. ESPN+ would be a nice home for these rights, but it’s possible that the conference might have to get creative to keep these telecasts going.
Additional hold-ups in the TV deal likely have to do with the fiasco involving the Pac-12 and Comcast, which is owed $50 million by the conference for overpayments due to overcharged licensing fees from 2012-16. This has likely complicated financial projections for the conference and further angered conference members.
Once that deal is locked into place, presumably before Pac-12 Media Day next month, it’s expected the conference will finally be able to extend long-awaited invites to San Diego State and SMU. Both schools already seem to be ready for their next steps toward being the newest Pac-12 members in 2024, even though no formal invite has been proffered.
San Diego State has already subtly announced its intention to exit the Mountain West conference, asking for a one-month extension on exit fees should they choose to depart. The exit fee doubles if they choose to leave after June 30. And given the Aztecs have decided to appeal for a one-month extension to avoid paying that fee, it seems like the TV deal will not be settled before the end of next week.
"If the Mountain West doesn’t budge, SDSU will have a $17 million decision looming on June 30 absent a firm invitation from another conference: Take a leap of faith and leave, or risk paying double in exit fees by playing it safe and waiting?"
Things are more certain on the SMU front, who can likely exit whenever and be fine financially.
It appears to be smoother sailing where SMU is concerned. Canzano reports the American Athletic Conference’s bylaws call for a $10 million exit payment but 27 months’ notice for a school to withdraw -- that said, it appears the AAC is open to negotiation. One of the SMU donors Canzano spoke to said; “The pockets are there. Money isn’t an issue.”
Make no mistake though, these next months are critical for the future of the Pac-12 as a Power 5 Conference. If no TV deal is in place by the end of the summer and the Aztecs are left in the lurch, it’ll be hard for the conference to ever be taken seriously by any school again. That’s including their members.
All Cal and its fans can really do is observe and wait and hope for the best. Because things get very gloomy if it all falls apart.
Tick, tick, tick.