After USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, it was clear to everyone that the major college sports landscape was crossing some kind of Rubicon and there is only so much room on the other side.
While all signs point to the time of the superconferences, the Pac-12 seemed to focus its efforts not on expansion but on potential conference alliances as reports of a Big-12 partnership and a “loose partnership” with the ACC were floated. Almost as soon as they were announced they were roundly mocked given that any previous attempt at an “alliance” or “partnership” ended with the most powerful partner just doing what they wanted in the end (See: Ten, Big).
At least in terms of the potential arrangement with the Big 12, it sounds as though that hard-to-believe partnership didn’t even get off the ground. According to ESPN’s Pete Thamel, talks of a partnership between the two conferences have ended after two weeks and no further conversations are expected. According to his sources, it was the Big 12 who ultimately decided to walk away from the table, seeing a lack of financial incentive to move forward.
Thamel’s rundown reads like a he said/she said conversation between dueling conference sources. Both sources indicated that a potential merger appeared to be the only viable option. While the Pac-12 source seems to paint a picture that makes the Big 12 seem eager to make things happen, the Big 12 source makes it sound as though the Pac-12 was the antsy one.
Ultimately, what may have done in any potential merger is the fact that the conferences have very different timelines of when their media rights are up for negotiation. While the Pac-12 is exploring new media rights now, the Big 12’s rights can’t be negotiated for a couple more years.
“Because the Big 12 media rights can’t be negotiated until 2024, Pac-12 schools have no motivation to join the Big 12,” a Pac-12 source told Thamel. “The Pac-12 has announced that they’re staying together and are in the middle of media rights negotiations.”
As for that “loose partnership” between the Pac-12 and ACC that reportedly would have been a way “for the conferences’ common rightsholder, ESPN, to increase the value of their current media rights contracts,” Thamel briefly notes that “sources have told ESPN that the financial reality of that potential partnership also projects to underwhelm.” And if ESPN themselves is reporting that, we’re gonna assume that checks out.
In other words, both partnerships seem to have been exactly what so many concluded as soon as they heard about them, acts of desperation meant to stave off the reality of what it’s actually going to take to survive in the new world of college athletics.
In hindsight, the recent history of conference realignment should have clued everyone in that a move such as the one USC and UCLA made was inevitable. That’s why all of these conferences, for all their partnership talks, made no bones about discussion expansion at the same time.
“We will leave no stone unturned to drive value for the conference,” Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said at their media day, “There is no higher priority than to best position the Big 12 for its upcoming multimedia rights negotiations. Everything we do must create momentum for those negotiations.”
There might have been a time that a Pac-12/Big 12 media partnership would have moved the needle for a big network, but now it just feels like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic while we all wait to see which conference inevitably airlifts Washington, Oregon, the Arizona schools, Oklahoma State, and Kansas to safety.