USC and UCLA in 2021. Nov 20, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Keaontay Ingram (28) runs past UCLA Bruins defensive back Quentin Lake (37) in the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about who the Pac-12’s new media deal will be with, how much it will be for, and if that will be sufficient to keep on-the-fence schools in the conference. But amidst that, it’s also interesting to look back at how we got here. And a new Los Angeles Times piece from Brady McCullough looks at the conference’s current media situation, and what it might have been if USC and UCLA hadn’t announced (ahead of the 2024 season) exits for the Big Ten last year.

There’s a particularly notable section in there where one of McCullough’s sources makes some bold claims about what the Pac-12 TV situation might look like if the Bruins and Trojans (seen above playing each other in 2021) hadn’t left:

One person I spoke with last week who is plugged into the media rights world thought the Pac-12 could have gotten a deal for a half-billion dollars if the L.A. schools were still around. Without USC and UCLA, it appears to be a struggle for Kliavkoff to negotiate an attractive package for the $300 million or so it would take to stay in the ballpark of the Big 12’s deal.

With the Trojans and Bruins in tow, the Pac-12’s deal could have placed the league an easy third behind the Big Ten and SEC.

…Adding USC and UCLA made the Big Ten a rumored $250 million extra annually to be distributed among the other 14 schools. The Big Ten and SEC are now so far ahead of the lesser three Power Fives that the excluded big football brands — other than Notre Dame, of course — are frothing at the mouth to get their due.

The numbers here should be considered in context. The “rumored $250 million extra annually to be distributed among the other 14 schools” for the addition of UCLA and USC is far from a proven fact. Last July, after the additions of USC and UCLA but before the Big Ten media deals were done, Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports had one source estimating extra boosts from the Bruins and Trojans as 10 percent and one estimating up to 25 percent, while John Ourand of Sports Business Journal estimated “more than 15 percent.”

Those pieces both used $1 billion as the baseline annual number before the jump (Ourand had “eclipse $1 billion”). The actual deals were done in August and came in at $1.1 billion, so that’s a 10 percent increase, and not the $250 million (which would be 25 percent) extra annually.  However, there are further benefits for the Big Ten from adding UCLA and USC beyond those Fox/NBC/CBS deals, including the value of getting the Big Ten Network (61 percent owned by Fox, 39 percent owned by the conference) into the Los Angeles market.

Also, “distributed among the other 14 schools” doesn’t seem quite right. There have been suggestions that USC and UCLA will get lower per-school distributions initially as new members, but that seems unlikely to last for the full run of the deal. So the extra money here (which is going to be reduced slightly for UCLA by added travel costs and by a “Berkeley tax” payout to Cal, but is still estimated at $65-75 million even in the first year still be significantly higher than the per-school numbers of around $34 million they were getting in the Pac-12 under the old deal (which actually was only $19.8 million in the COVID-impacted 2021 fiscal year), or the $30 million or so they’d get under a Pac-12 deal at the currently-being discussed estimates) will likely be distributed amongst all 16 Big Ten schools at some point, including the Trojans and Bruins. They’ll get some of those rewards they’ve brought to the Big Ten in the end.

Despite all that, there is a good chance the Bruins and Trojans may have provided more excess value in the Pac-12 than the $100-million plus they’ve brought to the Big Ten. The conference’s media discussions were taking a far different tone before the UCLA and USC exits. This March, research firm Navigate projected the conference to jump to $42.6 million per school (from a projected $36.6 million in 2024.

Of course, that’s not the “easy third” behind the Big Ten and SEC. Those projections had the Pac-12 behind the Big 12, but ahead of the ACC, but with all three in similar ballparks. And there were plenty of questions about how much the Pac-12 could get even before any of these realignment moves. But it’s a far different discussion than where they’re at now. The Bruins and Trojans were two of the Pac-12’s most prominent schools from a media perspective. Losing them has hurt, perhaps even to the tune of $200 million annually (which, it should be noted, needs denominator consideration thanks to the drop from 12 schools to 10; $500 million divided by 12 is $41 million per school, while $300 million divided by 10 is $30 million per school).

And that drop gets more reasonable still when you consider the greater uncertainty around the conference now, and the suggestions explored by ESPN’s Pete Thamel Tuesday that four schools may leave for the Big 12 and Oregon and Washington could be Big Ten targets. The Pac-12 seemingly becomes less appealing, and less stable, and less desirable, around this talk. (And, as Thamel writes, this may also force shorter-term deals, giving the conference less flexibility.)

Whether the realignment talk leads to anything remains to be seen.  As Thamel notes, a lot of that is going to depend on what media deal the conference eventually delivers. (And it’s notable that Pac-12 insiders John Canzano and Jon Wilner seem more confident on how that deal will wind up and how it will let the conference retain schools than Thamel does.) But it is quite clear that the Pac-12’s media situation is much worse than it was with USC and UCLA. And it’s interesting to see McCullough float some particular dollar numbers on what that loss might be.

[The Los Angeles Times; photo from Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.