This past July, weeks after the stunning Big Ten announcement of USC and UCLA, Pac-12 Commissioner George Klyafkov made a bold realignment prediction: “No Pac-12 school is going to the Big 12.”
After eight months, we may finally learn whether his confidence was warranted or a feigned bravado.
Kliavkoff is under pressure to offer its members a new media rights deal by the end of the month. If the dollar numbers or the details disappoint, March could be the moment when the Big 12 finally hits. Sources familiar with the discussions say the conference has recently been in contact with so-called Four Corners schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — which have renewed optimism that persuading them to join is possible.
Brett Yormark has been looking to expand west since the day he was named the new Big 12 commissioner last summer. Yormark has never shy away from his interest in expanding the Big 12 into the “Fourth Time Zone” to establish a true national conference and advance the value of the league’s media rights. BYU’s arrival this summer will put the Big 12 in the Mountain Time Zone. Yormark wants more, though he’s always said any extras should be additive, not diluted.
“I don’t think any of us are trying to break up the Pac-12,” said Baylor Athletic Director McRhods. SicEm365 said on Tuesday. “If there is an opportunity, and when their TV media deal comes to fruition, and if these organizations decide it’s not good for them, the Big 12 will be ready. And that’s probably as simple as I can tell.”
Yormark is also deep in discussions with Gonzaga, but sources involved in the process indicated he wanted clarity on the Pac-12’s status before making that move.
Since those expansion adventures began last summer, Yormark has been confident he can convince his targets the future is brighter in the Big 12. October will make its members more money than they do now with Oklahoma or Texas. This agreement would bring in $31.7 million annually for each of the Big 12 members, setting a measuring stick for the Pac-12 deal.
like the athlete Reportedly last month, Kliavkoff was met with lukewarm market interest. ESPN, Amazon, and Apple are the only known suitors, and any deal would likely put the majority of the league’s action on a streaming service. the athleteAmazon’s Richard Deitch reported that there was interest from Amazon in the weekly Friday night Pac-12 game, but the two teams were “far apart” in February. And the Pac-12’s timing couldn’t be worse. Since just last summer, the networks have committed billions in future rights fees to the Big Ten and Big 12, and “we simply have to be more selective” in sports bidding, Disney’s cost-cutting chief executive Bob Iger said in February.
However, sports consulting firm Navigate projects that the average annual value of the Pac-12 is $31 million per school, barely less than the Big 12’s new deal. Although the Big 12 has larger fan bases, Pac-12 games on ABC, Fox, NBC, and CBS averaged 20 percent higher ratings than comparable Big 12 games (excluding departing members of the two leagues) from 2014 to 2014. 2021, according to data provided to the athlete.
Several people familiar with the Pac-12 board members have expressed doubt that their schools would switch conferences unless it was for a much better deal. School heads, not ads, authorize realignment decisions, and the Pac-12 prioritizes academic and cultural events more than most. Both Washington State President Kirk Schultz and Oregon State President Jayathi Murthy have tried to defuse various rumors in recent interviews.
“There are a lot of reasons for us to come together. The different members of the Pac-12 understand it,” he said. Murthy told John Canzano. “It’s all about people running away and joining the Big Ten and the Big 12 or whatever it is that’s just talk.”
Motivating these Chiefs to expand the Pac-12 was also a challenge. Sources familiar with the discussions said they have not yet reached a consensus on inviting San Diego State, SMU, or other expansion candidates. Two summers ago, on the heels of the SEC’s additions of Oklahoma and Texas, the Pac-12 board had the opportunity to welcome any number of the existing Big 12 schools—and waive them all.
But circumstances have changed. These sources believe that if Yormark can convince the leadership at two Pac-12 schools to join the Big 12, that may be all it takes to get all four schools and break up the conference.
Yormark will need to make Fox an equal expansion partner. CBS Sports reported previously that the Big 12’s new rights contract includes an agreement with ESPN on a proportionate clause but that Fox has not committed to one. ESPN has secured 63 percent of the new television deal with the Big 12, sources familiar with the agreement confirmed. Fox would have to sign off the Big 12 adding Pac-12 schools as fully participating members.
Yormark strongly believes basketball is undervalued in these TV rights talks. He has dropped hints about interest in separating it from football and selling those rights separately when the Big 12 enters the market next term in 2030-31. This is one of the motivations behind the Big 12’s ongoing talks with the powerhouse Gonzaga Hoops. Joining as a non-football member would mean a smaller revenue share for the Bulldogs, but it would be an indisputable value addition. Arizona, a top ten program with more Pac-12 titles than every school but Big Ten associated UCLA, will likewise boost the best conference in men’s college basketball and its long-term ambitions.
yourmark said in his appearance on The Wilner & Canzano podcast Last month. “It’s definitely something I’m thinking about. So, if at any time there is an opportunity, within building what makes sense for expansion, as part of that, we can double down on basketball and strengthen our leadership position, then it’s certainly something I’d like to consider.”
On the Pac-12 side, a defining moment in that process could come next week, at the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Las Vegas. Present ads want clarity and hard numbers. Kliavkoff took those rights to the open market in October. It’s been almost five months. On February 13, the Pac-12 Chiefs issued a joint statement reaffirming their unity and pledging to complete the transaction “in the very near future.”
There is no official deadline, but each day this negotiation process drags on with anxiety, perhaps weakness. As in the world of sales: time kills all deals. What ultimately matters is what deal Kliavkoff can offer its members in the coming weeks. If it wasn’t enough, Yormark and the Big 12 are about to pounce.
(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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