Big Ten Lands Oregon and Washington Leave Pac-12 Robbed

Two weeks ago, George Kliavkoff, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, stood on the stage of a Las Vegas nightclub and confidently proclaimed a bright future, following a video montage celebrating the league’s rich history of star quarterbacks who led to runs to this day.

A new media rights deal would be announced “in the near future,” he said at the conference’s football media day. The pending agreement would include 10 schools and pave the way for expansion, removing the uncertainty that had hung over the Pac-12 since the University of Southern California and UCLA targeted the Big Ten last summer.

Kliavkoff dismissed concerns that the Big 12 would poach his schools.

“The truth is we have bigger fish to fry,” Kliavkoff said.

The Pac-12 was done on Friday.

A week after Colorado jumped to the Big 12, two of the conference’s remaining cornerstones, Oregon and Washington, declined to agree to a proposed television contract they deemed insufficient and instead went to the Big Ten. Later, Arizona jumped to the Big 12, taking Arizona State and Utah with them.

By evening, all that was left of the Pac-12 were Stanford, California, Washington State, Oregon State and the memories of a centuries-old alliance.

“The old question — how long before TV money destroys college football? Maybe we’re here. Maybe we’re here,” Washington State football coach Jake Dickert told reporters after his team’s practice on Thursday, as rumors of a collapse were gaining momentum. “If you even think about it five years ago, if the Pac-12 were in this position, it’s unthinkable that we’re here today.”

It might have been unthinkable just a few days ago. There was little interest in the Big Ten for expansion — until earlier this week, when it looked like Arizona was eager to leave. And if Oregon and Washington, so dissatisfied with a Pac-12 media deal that focused on Apple TV, came in with cap in hand, willing to accept a reduced offer…

The Big Ten came up with a proposal, the Northwest schools agreed and after a brief meeting of the Big Ten Board of Presidents and Chancellors on Friday evening, the conference announced that in a year the league would consist of 18 teams.

The Pac-12 has billed itself as the Conference of Champions, which is hardly an exaggeration. Stanford, UCLA and USC have each won at least twice as many national championships as any other school. Cal and Oregon are among the top 15.

But the growing business of college sports is driven more than ever by the profits of football on television. Everything else is just details.

Schools in the Big Ten, such as Ohio State and Michigan, and those in the Southeastern Conference, such as Georgia and Louisiana State, rake in enough money solely from football television rights – more than $50 million – to cover the entire athletic budget of a school like Florida . Atlantic, which reached the Final Four in men’s basketball this year.

Hundreds of millions of additional television rights are distributed among the top conferences from the six College Football Playoff bowls.

However, these windfalls are largely reinvested in football in the form of ever-expanding staffs, ever-more luxurious facilities and amenities for the athletes. The athletes do not share the revenue directly, but they do bear a greater burden of conference realignment through coast-to-coast travel.

That travel burden will be shared by athletes in the non-revenue sports, such as tennis players in Arizona taking trips to Central Florida and West Virginia, and lacrosse players in Oregon heading to Rutgers and Penn State.

The demise of the Pac-12 was as quick as it came, but it took years for it to go down.

Just over a decade ago, conference commissioner Larry Scott was hailed as a visionary — a sports outsider who landed a 12-year, $2.7 billion media deal after adding Colorado and Utah, which more than tripled conference rights fees. placed it before any other conference.

But Scott’s push to launch the Pac-12 Network without ESPN or Fox as partners backfired because the conference had no leverage with cable distributors, many of whom refused to pay the Pac-12’s asking price, leaving the network with far fewer viewers — and far less revenue — than other conference networks.

Scott was forced out two years ago and replaced by Kliavkoff, a former MGM executive. But by then, the conference’s revenue gap and UCLA’s $100 million budget deficit made the Los Angeles schools an inviting target for the Big Ten, whose pursuit was carried out hand in hand with Fox, its business partner.

The Pac-12, whose media rights deal expires after the 2023 season, immediately began negotiations for a new deal after USC and UCLA announced their departures last summer. But the Big 12 jumped ahead and reached an early extension with Fox in October that would generate an average payout of $31.7 million per school.

That deal, significantly less than those of the Big Ten and the SEC, convinced the Pac-12 to lower its expectations. Kliavkoff told the University of California Regents, when encouraging them to block UCLA’s move to the Big Ten, that the Pac-12 lowered its estimates by 10 percent.

Worse still for the Pac-12, the list of potential partners had shrunk by then. In November, Fox had deals with the Big Ten (as did CBS and NBC) and the Big 12, and ESPN had the SEC and ACC. Meanwhile, cord-cutting had roiled the cable industry, even cooling ESPN’s voracious appetite for college football.

Around that time, Amazon and Apple became serious bidders.

But Kliavkoff’s inability to close a deal — January expectations gave way to April, which again gave way to June — tested patience and confidence that the terms, which were kept a top secret, would be satisfactory .

“Today’s news is incredibly disappointing for the student-athletes, fans, alumni and employees of the Pac-12,” the conference said in a statement late Friday. “We remain focused on securing the best possible future for each of our member universities.”

Ultimately, the Apple deal announced this week guaranteed schools more than $20 million in subscription revenue, potentially bringing the schools’ share to $30 million or more, according to a person familiar with the proposal.

While streaming seems to be the future, there were concerns about going all-in on a medium that older fans might not understand. And would recruits even see the product?

The proposal was structured similarly to Apple’s 10-year, $250 million deal with Major League Soccer. Major League Soccer would have to reinvest some of that money into its broadcasting, but signing Lionel Messi would put the league in a strong position to generate additional revenue from subscription sales.

Of course, there’s the international appeal of soccer (and Messi) that could boost Apple TV subscriptions around the world in a way that Oregon State soccer simply can’t match.

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