Canzano: Oregon and Washington trade Pac-12 for Big Ten
What turned it? And what's next?
The Pac-12 CEO Group met on Friday morning. Each of the nine remaining members joined the meeting. The conference’s objective was to get its Grant of Rights signed and for a spell it appeared the Pac-12 might save itself.
Apple TV+ should have streamed it.
I’d have subscribed.
The dramatic twist came when University of Oregon president John Karl Scholz informed the conference that his school was having second thoughts and intended to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten. Washington president Ana Mari Cauce did the same.
Two bitter Pacific Northwest rivals banded together in a surreal ‘going and going’ moment which left the Pac-12 essentially gone. A second meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled for later on Friday. One involved source told me: “We need to come up something very quickly.” Regardless, it appears the Ducks and Huskies have their minds made up and bags packed for the Big Ten.
Here’s what you need to know:
• The Big Ten made a late push this week to expand to 18 teams and apparently peeled Oregon and Washington away from the Pac-12 at a reduced distribution. I’m told that the Ducks examined the decision from all angles, poring over the implications through a long-range lens.
Not a two-year window, but a 20-year view.
“Tons of implications either way,” said one involved UO source.
• The Pac-12 believed earlier in the week that it had staved off the Big 12’s latest attack and would survive. The presidents at Arizona and ASU were privately telling their Pac-12 peers they’d stay as long as Oregon and Washington did, too.
Late this week the Pac-12’s primary focus turned from fighting off the Big 12 to battling another Fox-television fueled conference. Said one member of the CEO Group on Thursday morning: “Now we have to fend off the Big Ten.”
• With USC and UCLA gone to the Big Ten, Oregon viewed itself as the big dog in the Pac-12. The Ducks weighed whether they would be better off remaining in a weakened 108-year old conference or move alongside Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State and company. There had also been some reluctance from Big Ten members, who wouldn’t be guaranteed more revenue with Oregon and Washington joining.
• Staying in the Pac-12 provided a clear path to the expanded College Football Playoff for Oregon. But was that enough? UO athletic director Rob Mullens told me recently that playoff access was a huge factor to his school, but he also mentioned visibility, revenue and exposure as important things. Those things appear to have won the tug-of-war.
• Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, have given $1 billion in gifts to his alma mater. Oregon wants to get him a return on that investment, but it’s not totally about getting to the playoff for Knight. He thinks about long-range success. He’s visionary. Knight, 85, would cave to the Big Ten decision if he was convinced it’s what’s best for Oregon long term.
• There was some question about whether the University of Washington could handle the financial burden of travel in the Big Ten while receiving a reduced distribution. The Huskies and Ducks are making the same conference move as UCLA/USC, but at a discount. An up-front payment against future distributions? Some other subsidy? We’ll soon find out how that will work.
• The Apple deal with the Pac-12 included risk in the early years. It had some upside, though. The projections presented to the CEO Group included a model in which the Pac-12 could pass the Big 12’s $31.6 million annual distribution in the first year if subscriptions went well and passed the ACC in year No. 2.
Again, “if” all went well.
• There were concerns about the Apple deal in Eugene. If the model wasn’t executed properly it would threaten revenue and Oregon’s visibility. There was no guarantee of a linear element. There’s a cost to staying relevant, right? In a worse-case scenario the Ducks could have faced additional costs that Pac-12 fans weren’t thinking about (i.e. additional marketing, NIL, recruiting increases, etc.).
• Apple cut a 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with MLS. Apple layered in a bonus structure for star Lionel Messi, who will reportedly receive a revenue share of subscriptions to MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+. There was some late discussion at Oregon, I’m told, about whether Apple might add a layer of Messi-like upside for the Ducks.
• Without Oregon and Washington what happens to the rest of the Pac-12? It feels gone as you knew it. Dead. Over. Apple won’t pay $25 million per school for what’s left of the Pac-12.
Arizona and ASU would likely seek shelter in the Big 12. Utah, Stanford and Cal could make a run at joining the Big Ten or try to be tentpoles in a new-world Pac-12. The Mountain West Conference may choose to absorb Washington State and Oregon State at some point. Or the Cougars and Beavers could join forces with the Bay Area schools.
It amounts to a sobering ending to a conference that had rich tradition and solid rivalries. The Pac-12 was founded in a downtown-Portland hotel in 1915.
• Will someone please check on Bill Walton?
• How about expansion candidates SMU and San Diego State? They were both on standby on Friday morning, hoping for the phone to ring with good news from the Pac-12. One or both was expected to be announced as a new member. They may still be included in a new version of the Pac-12, if there’s one out there.
• Who do you blame for the death of the Pac-12? Greed. Television. Ex-commissioner Larry Scott, who put the conference on the road to destruction. Commissioner George Kliavkoff, who lost USC in his first 366 days on the job and struggled to get a media-rights deal done. The Pac-12 presidents themselves get a pile of blame too. In the end, the academics in charge could not trust each other. That much was evident.
• Can we place a moratorium on anyone involved calling them “student athletes”?
• Is there an antitrust issue here? If someone can find evidence that the Big Ten and Big 12 — together with Fox — have been working in concert to blow up the Pac-12’s negotiations over the past year leaving the conference with less money and, thus, vulnerable to poaching, there may be a problem. That wouldn’t put the Pac-12 back together, but I can’t be the only one thinking about it.
• How about the upcoming Pac-12 football and men’s basketball seasons? They get really weird for a lot of people. You not only have a bunch of awkward ‘goodbyes’ at the stadiums and arenas, but also questions about whether the Pac-12 could operationally staff the upcoming seasons with employees all out job hunting.
Also, you have the splintering of the Pac-12 overshadowing what is expected to be a tremendous college football season.
I’ll have more.
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