Allegany Communications Sports
Thirteen years ago, the Pac-12 Conference had the richest media deal in college athletics and very nearly became the first 16-school conference made up of a variety of marquee programs. Today it is left with four schools and is on the brink of elimination. No college athletic conference as we’ve known them is safe. In fact, consider them extinct.
What came to be known as the Conference of Champions (553 all-time NCAA team titles) started in 1915 as the Pacific Coast Conference. It has thrived as the Pac-8, the Pac-10, the Pac-12 and nearly the Pac-16, yet found itself on life support last summer when Southern California and UCLA announced their departures to the Big Ten. Last month, shortly after it became clear Commissioner George Kliavkoff had no television contract to speak of, Colorado said it was leaving for the Big 12.
On Friday, Oregon and Washington, the Pac-12’s most prominent remaining schools, joined USC and UCLA in the Big Ten; and just moments later, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah joined the Big 12, leaving only Stanford, California, Oregon State and Washington State to hold down what’s left of the fort.
Last week we discussed how fortunate West Virginia is to be in the Big 12 after its fortunes turned so quickly, particularly after losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in 2021, as last fall, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark shrewdly signed a new long-term TV contract with Fox and ESPN, blindsiding the Pac-12, which had been in discussions with both networks.
Now ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS all have partnerships with every Power Five conference but the Pac-12 — the SEC (CBS and ESPN), the Big Ten (Fox, NBC and CBS), the Big 12 (ESPN and Fox) and the ACC (ESPN).
Which brings us back to our old friends in the ACC, who have more than once told WVU there was no room at the inn. The ACC remains on the outside looking in as its two largest football revenue members – Florida State and Clemson – express unhappiness with the conference’s shortsighted but long-binding deal with ESPN that still has another 12 years to go and pays a fraction of SEC and Big Ten money.
ACC presidents were scheduled to meet Friday night to further discuss the league’s latest expansion plans, with the recent Big 12 and Big Ten acquisitions likely ending any Westward expansion plans, as the league had real interest in five to seven Pac-12 schools.
With the Pac-12 kaput, the ACC is now the little dog trying to run with the big dogs. That’s just how insane the college athletics landscape has become and will continue to be. We’re not done yet. Capitalism and greed assure it.
Certainly the Pac-12 found itself on the wrong end of both, but the conference is also the victim of the ESPN-Fox feud, which began with ESPN creating the Longhorn Network to keep Texas from moving to the Pac-12 (it worked), to the poor leadership the conference’s presidents have put it under.
College sports has been made-for-TV since the mid-1980s when the Supreme Court stripped the NCAA of its control of football television rights and left teams and conferences to make their own agreements. The Big Ten and the SEC, in turn, have been the most opportunistic in taking advantage of it by churning out lucrative TV networks of their own that run in partnership with the major networks for hundreds of millions of dollars. Why do you think UCLA and USC, and now Oregon and Washington, moved to the Big Ten, the weather? No, because while they likely will receive half the money of a current Big Ten member it will still be more than they were going to receive if they had stayed in the Pac-12.
Under former commissioner Larry Scott, the Pac-12 Network was formed, but it creates little of the revenue member schools are looking for. Then Scott’s successor Kliavkoff stood helplessly by as USC and UCLA left for the Big Ten and seems to have done the same as the Pac-12 found itself as the only power league without a major media agreement. The best Kliavkoff could come up with was a low-dollar streaming deal with Apple, which is why there are only four teams remaining in the conference.
So the next time you hear a coach complain about NIL, tampering or the transfer portal, hope there is somebody in the room who will ask him or her about the tampering, money chasing and transferring by universities that have led to the demise of the Pac-12.
It will be enormously damaging to college athletics and to the United States Olympic movement to have no prominent collegiate conference in the West. And so much for the fan who likes regional rivalries and for the volleyball, softball, baseball, golf and track athletes who chose to attend certain schools so their parents wouldn’t have to travel far to see them play.
Nope. Sorry. TV revenue and college football drive every decision. The well-being of student-athletes does not concern us.
Are you surprised? Uncompromising spending by athletic departments on obscene engagement-ring facilities, larger administrative staffs and absurd coaching buyouts necessitates uncompromising pursuit of even more money to spend without compromise; and that’s where the television networks come into play, as it’s television that’s orchestrating this entire wave of realignment, and the waves that are sure to follow.
Think about this as you pay your next $300 monthly cable bill.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT