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A Guide To The Big 12 And Pac-12 Soap Opera – How Will It End?

There are plenty of drama and subplots for a miniseries

WASHINGTON — There is high drama between the members of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 in a college turf battle for the ages. What could be at stake is one conference, the Big 12 growing larger and moving West while the future of one of the oldest sports leagues in college athletics, the Pac-12 perhaps, looking at the possible loss of their Power 5 ranking if they have more defections.

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) celebrates during the Pac-12 Championship football game between Utah Utes and USC Trojans on December 2, 2022, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV. Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You can’t fault the Big 12 for wanting to add schools that would bring them more value to their league while you certainly can see that those in the Pac-12 would like to remain together and have a future. This is the latest in the college sports conference realignment a battle that has seen teams move all over the country.  

So, who are the stars of our melodrama?

Well from the Big 12 we have Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma (leaving for the SEC), Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, (leaving for the SEC), Texas Tech and West Virginia. Next up it is the Pac-12, Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, (leaving for the Big Ten in 2024), USC, (leaving for the Big Ten in 2024), Stanford, Utah, Washington and Washington State.

Utah Utes linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (3) defends during the Pac-12 Championship football game between Utah Utes and USC Trojans on December 2, 2022, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, NV.  Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This is what college sports have come to in 2023 a version of the “Hunger Games,” with billions of dollars at stake as television contracts causing the movement of historically regional powers to relocate to conferences that geographically make no sense. It is a case of the haves SEC and The Big Ten, the rest are way behind that duo.

The Southeastern Conference extended a rights deal with ESPN for ten years, worth $300 million a year that will begin after the 2023 football season, netting each member between $60 and $70 million a season, while The Big Ten’s deal with Fox, CBS (Paramount+), and NBC (Peacock) was a staggering $7 billion and will begin July 1, 2023, and run through the end of the 2029-30 athletic year with an annual per member payout of an estimated $80 million year, but it could grow to as much as $100 million.

That brings us to the battle between the Big 12 and the Pac-12 as both conferences lost two marquee programs that bolted for more cash. In 2021 the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma informed the Big 12 they were heading to the SEC. Meanwhile, in 2022 the Pac-12 was informed that UCLA and USC were heading East to join the Big Ten.

Los Angeles, CA – January 07: Big 12 Conference Commissioner Brett Yormark during media day for the College Football Playoff championship game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the TCU Horned Frogs at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, January 7, 2023. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group via Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images


The Big 12 rallied from the brink of extinction by expanding to add BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston under former commissioner Bob Bowlsby. The new commissioner Brett Yormark made news by beating the Pac-12 to market and landed a new media deal with ESPN and Fox which is six-year extension of the deals that runs through 2030-31 and is worth an estimated $2.2 billion or a little over $31 million a year per member.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff looks on before the PAC-12 Championship football game between the USC Trojans and the Utah Utes at Allegiant Stadium on December 02, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Alika Jenner/Getty Images

That has put Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff on the clock as well as the hot seat after the exclusive window for a new media deal came and went in July of last year  with the parties not able to come to an agreement so former partners Fox and ESPN passed on a new  multi year contract. So the Conference of Champions was on the open market with their television rights. 

At present reports are that a deal with Apple TV+, Amazon, and ESPN is close to becoming a reality, reports are it is equal to or perhaps a bit more than the Big 12 in money per school, but it is “heavy on the streaming,” which could be a problem for some members. When a deal is presented for approval it will take eight votes to get the contract passed and that is where things get tricky with each school having at times different ideas of what a new pact might look like. 

In a perfect world given the limited options, the Pac-12 would have a Friday Night Game of the Week on Amazon that could be promoted on their Thursday Night NFL Football broadcast. ESPN would continue its Pac-12 After Dark package, Apple TV+ would be the majority partner.

Apple TV+ would take over the Pac-12 Network and using the template that they’re doing with the MLS  all production coming through their Bay Area headquarters where they could stream the games in all three Saturday broadcast windows, then again following the MLS template they would sublicense a package of games to Fox for East coast primetime airing. 

At present we are not living in a perfect world and Pac-12 is still attempting to nail down a media deal and find creative ways to pull it together.  While the sharks feel as if they smell blood. and perhaps there might a break in the solidarity of the conference as this process drags out.

Things between the two conferences are getting heated and in some cases even personal. Here is a very small sample of the back and forth as the Pac-12 fights for its life and the Big 12 would love to add some of their teams as members.

Things have got so testy Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote on Twitter the “Big 12 readies to pounce on Four Corners schools as doubt creeps in about Pac-12’s viability.” It quickly got a terse response from Utah AD. Mark Harlan replied to Dodd “Give ME A BREAK.”

Both sides are battling using the press and social media to make their case in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, Pac-12 presidents are working to keep the conference together while members of their teams are monitoring what the Big 12 is doing. 



 In this photo illustration, a remote control is seen in front of a television screen showing an Apple TV + logo on March 28, 2020, in Paris, France.  Chesnot/Getty Images)

“In the end, my guess and that is all it is – is a guess the Pac-12 will get a media deal that will be good enough to keep them together,” said Sports Business expert Evan Weiner. “ A deal with a streaming partner, Apple, Amazon, is likely. The tech industry is part of the DNA of the conference, and they will find a linear partner at discount maybe Fox, they and Apple work together on the MLS.”


TALLAHASSEE, FL – OCTOBER 15: Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers line up during the Clemson Tigers game against the Florida State Seminoles on October 15, 2022, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. (Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

We now have a quickly growing gap as The Big Ten and the SEC are far, far ahead of the other three Power 5 conferences. As the Big 12 and Pac-12 lose the marquee brands that weaken them and make the difference between ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 closer to the Mountain West Conference and the American, 

The American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco spoke out on the subject and here is an excerpt of his statement: 

“As it now stands, in terms of competitiveness, the gap between the number two and three conferences is far greater than between the number three conference and The American. There are P5 conferences that have lost the marquee teams which gave them that status in the first place and whose value today is much harder to define. There are P5 conferences that have added multiple teams from The American and other conferences among this group that have discussed adding schools from our conference. If the P5 label means that you are vastly different, why is this so?”


More information will come in the next couple of weeks if the Pac-12 gets what they need to stay together or if they will go the way of the Big East. One thing is for sure this is the new normal in college sports and that is chaos. 



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