Is a Big 12 vs. Pac-12 battle brewing on the conference realignment stage?
There were more significant moves from both the Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences on Tuesday, as the two leagues continued to scramble to find their footing in the latest round of conference realignment.
The stage has been set for an all-out brawl, and it appears as if both sides are ready to rumble.
Tuesday morning, the Pac-12 released a statement that indicated that the conference had authorized its leaders to immediately begin negotiations for its next media rights agreement. The current deal is set to expire in 2024, one year before the Big 12’s current television rights deal expires in 2025.
This came just four days after conference officials authorized league leaders to explore all of its expansion options in the wake of UCLA and USC announcing their move to the Big Ten.
While the negotiations could take weeks and may not actually lead to anything, this is still a significant move. If nothing else, it serves as an announcement that the Pac-12 has joined the race for relevance and provides notice that the Big 12, should it choose to expand, will not simply be handed anything.
The Pac-12 may have fewer needle-moving options and less overall appeal than the Big 12, but the conference is clearly not going down without a fight. Just like the Big 12 refused to do during the previous two rounds of major conference realignment. Somehow, the Big 12 survived both of those.
Doing so a third time may not come without swift and significant action by the Big 12 Conference and new leader Brett Yormark, whose official start date is still nearly a month out on Aug. 1. Don’t think for a second, though, that the new Big 12 boss has not been involved at a very meaningful level in the conversations currently taking place within the conference.
To that end, a little later in the day on Tuesday, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported that the Big 12 Conference was “involved in deep discussions to add multiple Pac-12 programs as a way to shore up its membership.”
While Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah have recently been tied to the Big 12 as possible additions, Dodd’s report also named Oregon and Washington as potential expansion candidates for the Big 12.
It remains to be seen whether those two programs, which also have been rumored to be targets of the Big Ten albeit at a lat-er date, would be interested in joining the Big 12. But if you’re the Big 12, and you deem that their value is strong enough to keep your television revenue pie divided equally at a high enough rate to make everyone happy, you absolutely should at least make them say no.
The risk lies with them on this. Even just offering those two additional schools a spot in a strengthened Big 12 paints the conference in a position of power. And that, for now, is the easy and early answer to the Pac-12 making its first move in this race.
The key is action. In past rounds of realignment, the Big 12 has shown a preference for patience. But the landscape is different today than it was then. The stakes are higher, as well.
Survival and key positioning in the power conference hierarchy are on the line this time. There is still room for smart and strategic planning as long as it’s paired with swift action. But sit-ting on your hands this time around could be catastrophic.