And Then There Were 9
Can a conference that loses 25% of its membership--including the two schools in its biggest media market and the one with the most interesting new coach--somehow stabilize and survive?
That's the question facing the once proud Pacific-12 Conference after Colorado announced last week that it is leaving to re-join the Big 12. The Buffaloes have been dismal on the field, but are garnering a boatload of national interest due to the hiring of "Prime Time" Deion Sanders as head coach.
A year ago, of course, the Pac-12 lost USC and UCLA to the Big Ten. And along with them, the Los Angeles market.
So come 2024 the Pac-12 will become the Pac-9, unless it expands by adding another school...or two or three.
Problem is, the school that made the most sense, San Diego State, got tired of the Pac-12's dilly-dallying on a media deal, failed to opt out of the Mountain West by the June 30 deadline, and therefore may not be available until 2025, unless it forks over $34 million in exit fees.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when you hire unqualified people to be your commissioner. People with ego and hubris rather than foresight and leadership.
The Pac-12 has whiffed twice in a row now, first hiring the arrogant, incompetent Larry Scott, a former women's tennis executive who admitted at the time of his hiring that he hadn't seen a college football game in 11 years, and then an entertainment/gambling industry executive, George Kliavkoff, whose ignorance or naivete, take your pick, is absolutely staggering.
All their big talk has produced for the Pac-12 is a failed TV network and three schools jumping ship.
Ironically, at this point, the fate of the Pac-12 may rest in the hands of Arizona and Arizona State.
If they follow Colorado out the door, the conference will almost certainly crumble. The Big Ten, which professes not to be interested in further expansion at this time, would likely seize the opportunity to grab Oregon and Washington, both of whom would jump in a New York minute.
Both of the Arizonas say they are waiting to see the details of the long-delayed and elusive media deal that Kliavkoff has been pursuing for over a year.
Getting a good deal now, with nine teams in a depressed market, is going to be extremely difficult. If there was a good deal to be had, it would've been announced a long time ago.
Last October the Big 12 jumped ahead of the Pac-12 and negotiated a deal with ESPN and Fox that gave the conference credibility and stability. Since then, things have deteriorated in TV network land, due to budget tightening, layoffs and strikes.
To put it simply, this is the worst possible time to be pursuing a big media rights contract, particularly when your value has diminished.
If Kliavkoff somehow puts together a deal that measures up to the Big 12's numbers in terms of money ($31.7M per school per year) and exposure (more ESPN, less streaming) the Arizona schools may opt to stay.
If the deal falls short, or if their patience runs out, they will join Colorado in the Big 12, everyone will panic, and the other dominoes will fall.
Which leads to a whole host of other questions relative to the future of the schools left behind--Stanford, Cal, Utah, Oregon State, and Washington State.
We'll save that for another day.
Truth, Anyone? One of the sad lessons to be learned from all of this is that, no matter how solid and trustworthy you think your sources are, and no matter how high their position in the university or conference may be, they all have their own agendas.
They will tell you whatever serves their own interest.
For months, two Pac-12 insiders I greatly respect, John Canzano (Bald-Faced Truth) and Jon Wilner (Pac-12 Hotline), have been discounting the "disinformation campaign" and "prophets of doom"--including yours truly--who have been critical of the Pac-12 and warning of a potential implosion.
But it appears Canzano and Wilner were buffaloed, pardon the pun, by Pac-12 CEOs, Athletic Directors and conference suits promising a media deal "very soon" or "in a few weeks," and pledging their fidelity to the Pac-12.
Obviously, despite frequent denials, Colorado has been talking to the Big 12 for weeks, if not months. This didn't happen overnight. And obviously, Commissioner Kliavkoff is still not "very close" to a media deal.
There can be no denying it now. The Pac-12 is on life support.