Time To Pac It In?

I have a friend who is as addicted to USC sports and the Pac 12 as any human being alive.  Whenever anything even close to an alert about any move, rumor or result crosses his inbox, he eagerly and promptly forwards it to those us who are in this e-mail group (many of them are far too technologically illiterate to be part of a text chain, sorry to say).   And although his beloved Trojans, along with their arch-rivals, the despised UCLA Bruins, are heading for the sometimes frozen tundras of the Big 10 next fall, trooper that he is, he is consistently sending us all of the news regarding the drama of what’s left of their current conference.

Well, that remainder diminished by one last week, as the Colorado Buffaloes, one of the two newest Pac 12 members, announced their return to the Big 12, as the Associated Press’ Arnie Stapleton reported:

Colorado is leaving the Pac-12, and the Big 12 is ready to welcome the Buffaloes back to the conference they left a dozen years ago.

Colorado’s board of regents voted 9-0 in a special remote meeting Thursday to approve the conference switch.

While some of the regents expressed disappointment about leaving the Pac-12, they said the shifting sports landscape left CU no option but to rejoin the conference where they were a founding member in 1996.

The Buffs, newly relevant despite their lack of much major sport success during their brief Pac 12 tenure with the presence of Deion Sanders as their head football coach as well as two of his sons as starters, may not be the last domino to fall, as Jeremy Cluff of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC reported yesterday:

Rumors and speculation are swirling about Arizona, and possibly other Pac-12 schools, following Colorado to the Big 12. 

Many sites predict that the Wildcats will be the next school to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12, and rumors and chatter are running rampant about the school’s potential conference switch.

Are the Arizona Wildcats the best candidate to join the Big 12 next?

Yes, they are, according to several college writers’ lists of Big 12 expansion candidates.

Added SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Casey Lundquist:

Arizona would fit the Big 12 culturally and geographically. The addition of Arizona would also further cement the Big 12 as the best basketball league in America. The Arizona football program is on the rise under Jedd Fisch after a few down years under Kevin Sumlin. Adding Arizona could create a domino effect of more Pac-12 defections, giving the Big 12 leverage to be selective with its last two remaining spots.”

And speculation is growing that the Pacific Northwest schools could soon have no choice but to defect as well, as David Jones of pennlive.com speculated Monday:

While it’s a juncture of urgency for some, not so much for the Big Ten. The B1G’s university presidents are not merely preoccupied with dollars-to-donuts, they are assuming that Washington and Oregon have no viable options at this point and will sit tight until the Big Ten is ready, if it ever is.

What’re they gonna do, join the Big 12? No, not a fit geographically, academically, or culturally. Form a merger with the equally endangered and academically attentive ACC and get ESPN to sign off on some sort of bicoastal conference? Not with the ACC’s albatross of a TV deal, currently binding through 2035.

It’s that TV thing that’s the real elephant in this room.  Yesterday, a small wisp of hope emerged from a meeting of the conference’s presidents and athletic directors, as Scott Polacek of the BLEACHER REPORT shared:

The Pac-12 still doesn’t have a long-term television deal in place, but it reportedly took a step toward changing that Tuesday.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented a potential media rights deal to the league’s presidents and athletic directors. Jenna Ortiz of the Arizona Republic noted that even though no agreement was reached among the executives, “there’s an expectation that they will eventually conclude a deal.”

According to ESPN’s Pete Thamel and Heather Dinich, the proposed deal “primarily” consisted of Apple TV+ streaming with incentives in place that would increase the payout if subscription benchmarks are reached.

“Campus leaders are digesting the possibilities of a stream-centric future and the variance in potential income,” Thamel wrote. “The money piece is tricky because of the variables of subscriptions.”

If that sounds uninspiring to you, you’re not alone.  Apple TV+ has a model in place with MLS which Kliavkoff is offering up as a barometer, but that oine has the benefit of 24 larger T.V. markets plus three of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas, and recently got a kickstart with the arrival of Argentian GOAT Lionel Messi.  Ain’t no one like that coming into the Pac whatever.

And it was the presence of those larger markets that gave the league the ability to maintain a significant linear TV presence with a regular Match of the Week on FOX.  With the loss of the Los Angeles and Denver DMAs, more than a third of the Pac 12’s original combined total of 20 million U.S. TV households are now gone.  The impending loss of Tucson (UA) and Salt Lake City (Utah), as well as the almost certain defection of Arizona State from what is now the conference’s second-largest TV market (Phoenix) would raise that loss to more than 40 percent of the 2023 level.

Yes, as experts like my former FOX colleague Patrick Crakes offers, there is a value to late window games.  But without attractive and significant teams and markets, the allure of the Bay Area schools and markets like Spokane and Eugene are, to be honest, minimal.  The existing state schools know this.  The logical options for fill-ins come from smaller markets like San Diego (State) and smaller fan bases from markets of comparable size (SMU, which is at best an extremely weak third behind the SEC-bound Texas Longhorns, and in a market as front-running as Dallas even a Fort Worth-based winner like TCU has dibs.

Even the Ivy League, whch Stanford and Cal compare to academically, has enough national appeal to be worthy of a significant ESPN deal.  A Pac 12 with that sort of makeup simply doesn’t.  Cardinal and Bear alumni tend to be clustered around the Pacific Coast, and aside from thte Big Game, most of them aren’t passionate sports fans.  A 3-29 basketball team like the one in Berkeley isn’t something you’d expect would generate a whole lot of incremental Apple TV+ subscriptions.

Small wonder that this poll from @azcentralsports turned up on perhaps the one Bay Area business doing things worse than the Pac 12:


azcentral sports
VOTE: What percentage would you put the #Pac12‘s survival as a conference at right now? (#Big12, #BigTen expansions threaten survival: tinyurl.com/rsssvvdt)

  • 0-25%
  • 26-50%
  • 51-75%
  • 76-100%
955 votesFinal results


Hardly a ringing endorsement.
The next week should be telling.  Preparations have already begun for what is shaping up to be a pretty exciting 2023 football season.  Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams is back at SC.  Emerging rivals like Bo Nix at Oregon and Michael Penix, Jr. at U-Dub will provide additional excitement.  The Sanders family will provide ample content for their Amazon Prime Video reality series.   One last USC-UCLA rivalry game with a Pacific Coast conference banner just before Thanksgiving break awaits.

After that?  Well, let’s just say that Ivy League package sounds more enticing.
And I’m fairly sure the number of e-mails I get on a daily basis about this subject will diminish.  My obsessed Trojan friend will move on.  We’ll soon see how many others do as well.


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