Power swings to Big 12 amid Pac-12 ‘fracture’

Incoming Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark walks after speaking at the NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

After a relatively quiet couple of weeks on the conference realignment stage, things could again be heating up.

According to reports from ESPN.com’s Pete Thamel and CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, among others, the Big 12 Conference has officially informed the Pac-12 that it is not interested in a complete merger.

That news, provided it’s true, swings the control back to the Big 12 and puts the Pac-12 in perhaps its most vulnerable position yet.

The reason? Just because Big 12 officials communicated that they were not interested in a full merger does not mean that the Big 12 is not interested in expanding by raiding the Pac-12.

Given the fact that it is known that the Pac-12 has been negotiating its next media rights deal this month, this latest stance seems to suggest that the Big 12 has enough intel to assume that the Pac-12, as a whole, does not add enough value to the negotiating table and that some Pac-12 schools need the Big 12. Reports from out west certainly indicate that, as well.

Jason Scheer, who covers Arizona for the 247 Sports network, tweeted on Monday night that there is “a major fracture” in the Pac-12, adding “it’s ugly” to the tweet.

There’s no doubt that the remaining Pac-12 schools who were left high and dry by USC and UCLA bolting to the Big Ten made the right move by trying to stick together. If any other schools leave now, though, it’s hard to see the conference surviving, at least not in the form some of the remaining Pac-12 schools would like to see.

Reports have suggested that the number of Pac-12 schools holding out hope that the league survives as a Power 5 entity may be smaller than once believed and could be diminishing by the day.

Others have indicated that Colorado — as it was when it became the first to leave the Big 12 a decade ago — actually could be the first current Pac-12 school to jump, this time rejoining the Big 12 should a formal invitation be extended.

For weeks, it was believed that the so-called “four corners schools” — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — could be at the top of the Big 12’s wish list if it were to target the Pac-12 for expansion candidates.

While much of that time was spent believing that group was a packaged deal, the idea that Colorado could jump first, with or without the other three, is not crazy. Just as was the case in the first round of realignment, when CU jumped to what was then the Pac-10 in an effort to survive, the opposite move could be made this time around, with survival again the goal.

Utah makes sense for the Big 12 because of its strong football brand, its mountain time zone home base (as opposed to the more difficult west coast time) and its proximity to those other three Pac-12 schools, along with incoming Big 12 program BYU.

If the Pac-12 finds itself on the type of unstable ground that it appears it might, Utah’s interest in joining the Big 12 sooner rather than later certainly could increase.

It’s looking more and more like the Big 12 might be the best landing spot for Arizona State, whether that’s today or in the near future. And Arizona and Arizona State sticking together during whatever moves are made only makes sense.

As for how any of this could impact Kansas, nothing has really changed there. The Jayhawks would benefit from a strong and revamped Big 12 Conference no matter how it is formed. If the Big 12 were to snatch the four-corners schools, Kansas and the rest of the existing Big 12 would certainly be headed toward much more restful nights in the near future.

While it remains to be seen just exactly how large the Big 12 pie could grow during its next media rights negotiations in 2024, there is reason to believe the number could be significant enough to support a 16-team conference while still paying out upwards of $60-$70 million to each member on an annual basis.

While that would still trail the mega-millions dished out by the Big Ten and SEC, it would be far greater than what any Big 12 school is bringing in today — the most recent payout for 2021 was a Big 12 record $42.6 million per member — and it also would firmly position the Big 12 as either the bronze medalist in the realignment race or at the top of the second tier of conferences.

How you view that is a matter of perspective, but both realities paint a very promising picture for the future of the Big 12 and the schools in it.

Remember, when new Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark noted that the conference was “open for business” last week during his official introduction at Big 12 media days, he vowed to get creative in making the conference younger, hipper, cooler, and also noted that any moves the conference would make would be additive and not dilutive.

Simply put, if the Big 12 moves forward by adding schools from the Pac-12 — regardless of which ones they are — you can bet it will be doing so with the understanding that those schools, be it one, two, four, six or more, bring added value to the Big 12’s brand and business and create a stronger bargaining position for the conference heading into its next media rights negotiation in the not-too-distant future.

Some people who have been following the realignment race with a special eye toward the Big 12’s next media rights deal believe that Big 12 football could soon be on as many as four networks and three streaming services.

Younger, hipper, cooler. And better.


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