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Pac-12 begins formal media rights negotiations

An important step? Or one of many deck chairs currently being re-arranged? Only time will tell for sure.

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NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The past week has felt like a year for college football fans across (most of) the west coast. Most of us, myself included, have spent the anxious time since Thursday’s bombshell announcement that USC and UCLA were leaving the Pac-12 to head to the Big Ten obsessively refreshing Twitter looking for any small morsel of information. And while there were plenty of morsels, almost none of them were useful.

But while fans have spent their time digging for rumors and “news,” there is one group of people that have gone mostly silent. That group is the leadership of the Pac-12.

In the weeks leading up to the news, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was all over the headlines. The conference’s leader was heading toward his one-year anniversary as commissioner on July 1. To celebrate, Kliavkoff opened his schedule for interviews with reporters.

He talked with John Canzano about his morning routine. He talked with the Athletic about a “renewed sense of optimism in the future of the Pac-12.” He talked with the Oregonian, telling reporter James Crepea that he had “no concern” about Pac-12 programs getting poached by other conferences. On the morning of June 30, just hours before the Big Ten news broke, ESPN posted an interview with Kliavkoff where he was breaking down the conference’s stance on a new look college football playoff.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Kliavkoff and the rest of the conference leadership were reportedly ‘blindsided’ by the news out of LA. The conference’s leader immediately stepped out the spotlight. Since then, the public has gotten mostly radio silence out of the Pac-12.

Conference officials have only gone on the record three times since June 30, posting a trio of abrupt and straight-to-the-point statements on the their Twitter account. The first, coming just after the news became official, expressed the conference’s disappointment in the LA schools. The second statement came a day later when the conference announced that they were looking to expand, while also trying to reassure people that the remaining 10 programs were “committed to a shared mission.”

The third statement came on Tuesday, and might be the most interesting.

As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Pac-12 was playing the waiting game. The conference had bragged for years that their next media rights agreement, set to start prior to the 2024 season, would get them back on track with the rest of the power conference in college football. The Pac-12 was sure they were due for a major windfall, but the loss of USC and UCLA was a significant blow to not only those goals, but possibly to the fate of the conference itself.

So, with the league seemingly on life support, why would the Pac-12 decide to open negotiations now? We don’t know for sure, but the answer may be a little more simple than it looks.

The Pac-12 has likely been speaking to TV partners for some time now. The decision by Pac-12 leadership to officially open negotiations allows these partners, including ESPN and Fox, to start exchanging dollar figures and bids with the conference.

With the loss of the two most valuable schools in their footprint, the Pac-12 knows they won’t be able to get even close to the reported $100 million per school, per year figure the Big Ten is likely to get in their negotiations. But that’s not their goal. If schools like Washington or Oregon get offers from the Big Ten, they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.

All the conference has to do to stay alive is stop their members from jumping to the Big 12. And in that fight, the Pac-12 has one major advantage.

The Pac-12’s new media rights contract will kick in before the 2024 season, one year before the Big 12’s new deal gets started. The beginning of negotiation means the Pac-12 can add cold, hard numbers to their discussions with schools like Washington, Oregon, Utah and Arizona State who may be flirting with jumping ship.

Of course, the next big domino for the Pac-12 will be the fate of Washington and Oregon. The Big Ten has stated they are standing down on expansion... For now. The conference is reportedly waiting for Notre Dame to make a decision before adding any other teams. If those two leave, it would deal another significant blow to the conference’s value, one that it might not bounce back from.

The good news is that the Pac-12 isn’t quite dead yet. The bad news is that one wrong move from this point forward might spell doom for the Conference of Champions. And one thing is for sure: the demise of the Pac-12 would be disastrous for Washington State University.

Pac-12 to jump-start media rights negotiations after thunderbolt from Los Angeles | The Spokesman-Review
Commissioner George Kliavkoff can get creative, seek firm offers.

Pac-12 accelerates negotiations for media rights deals in wake of UCLA, USC exits
The Pac-12 is pushing up negotiations for its next media rights agreements in the wake of the decision by UCLA and USC to leave for the Big Ten.

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