When Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, many thought surely the Big 12 would crumble and cease to exist. Since then, the Big 12 has added four solid programs that all bring something new and exciting to the conference. When USC and UCLA announced they were leaving for the Big 10, the PAC 12 supporters such as ESPN and writers such as John Wilner clamored that the PAC would live on, despite subpar athletics for nearly a decade and a culture that does not allow for the growth of athletics. The PAC 12 has an expiration date, and I’ll explain why below:
Solidarity, a Powerful Tool
When the Big 12 heard two of their larger schools were leaving for different pastures, instead of panicking and jumping ship, the remaining eight schools banded together in a display of solidarity. They wanted to keep the conference alive and growing. This was shown by statements and the hiring of a new Commissioner, one that had experience growing brands, and Brett Yormark has shown to this point that he’s the right person to lead this group of schools going forward. They grew and added, expanding their footprint east and west, garnering some of the best schools in Group of 5 Conferences.
The moment USC and UCLA jumped ship to the Big 10, rumors began flying around about different schools jumping ship to other conferences. The Four Corners Schools (Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, and Colorado) in particular have regional and prior conference ties with many Big 12 schools. While Utah fans claim their school is too good for “the backwoods conference that is the Big 12” (real quote from a fan), the Big 10 and SEC aren’t asking them to join their conference.
This has resulted in factions being formed in the PAC 12 conference. Oregon and Washington are the big dogs that will most likely jump ship first to the Big 10 or Big 12. Arizona, Arizona State, and Colorado won’t get an invite to the Big 10 but could find their way into the Big 12 if the conference disbanded. Utah is the school that believes they’re too good for the Big 12 but won’t get an invite to a larger conference (have fun in the Mountain West again). Oregon State, Washington State, Cal, and Stanford are schools that probably won’t get invited to any conference. These are the schools you often hear great things about the PAC 12 from.
The PAC and the Mythical TV Money
With the Big 10 and SEC cemented as the top two conferences, both the PAC 12 and the Big 12 began jockeying for new TV deals. Many believed the first conference to ink a solid TV deal would solidify their position as the third-best conference. When the Big 12 Conference inked a deal with ESPN and Fox and increased their TV money by 33% despite losing Texas and Oklahoma, they solidified their spot as the third-best conference in the NCAA.
The PAC 12 believed they could get a better deal. What they failed to realize was the only thing ESPN or Fox wanted from the PAC 12 was their late-night game slot. One slot per week was all the TV partners needed to round out their coverage of collegiate athletics. Both ESPN and Fox already had pretty full slots on their flagship channels with ESPN dominating the SEC TV rights and Fox dominating the Big 10’s TV rights, and a 60/40 split of the Big 12’s TV rights. The PAC would only be visible from minor channels or through streaming.
This leaves the PAC where it is now, hearing deals from Apple TV and Amazon, fully streaming TV partners that would not reach the audience that the other three conferences would. This comes after much negotiating with ESPN and Fox and Fox straight up left the negotiations after not offering enough money. In theory, the PAC could still accept an offer from ESPN, albeit an offer for less money and less exposure than the Big 12, something new Commissioner George Kliavkoff can’t accept for his schools.
The PAC’s Grand Finale (Of Sorts)
Those two talking points lead to this, a finale of sorts for the conference. In all actuality, I don’t believe the PAC 12 Conference will be truly disbanded. The fact that the majority of the schools don’t agree with one another does spell doom for the conference as a major player in collegiate athletics. The plain fact of the matter is that some of the schools in the conference (Cal and Stanford especially) would probably accept an all-streaming TV deal from either Apple or Amazon. These schools aren’t focused on athletics and are much more academic bodies (which is fair).
If some of the PAC schools leaned towards accepting a deal that some of the previously discussed factions were not happy with, they would certainly lose some of the more athletically prestigious schools to either the Big 12 or Big 10. As previously stated, I believe Oregon and Washington are the next to jump ship. Rumors are swirling that both have talked to the Big 12 in recent weeks.
What the PAC will be left with is a group of schools that are academically prestigious that happen to have sports teams. The conference will ultimately amass more schools that are like-minded to that identity. Will they be a powerful athletic conference? No. The PAC will most likely turn into the West Coast Ivies, a collection of academic powers that rely very little on athletics and the athletic conference itself to keep the schools’ athletics running.
Should the PAC-12-2 begin to disband in any way, it will be a huge loss. Not to the rest of the country, but to all the athletes along the west coast. All programs desire good competition, but unless someone comes up with a foolproof plan to keep their remaining members content, I see the quick dismantling of a once great conference. Stragglers will be left to scrummage for scraps.