Two weeks ago, George Kliavkoff, the commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference, stood on a Las Vegas nightclub stage and — after a video montage celebrating the league’s wealthy history of star quarterbacks that runs to the current — confidently proclaimed a vibrant future.
A latest media rights deal could be announced “within the near future,” he said on the conference’s football media day. The upcoming agreement would lock in 10 schools and pave the way in which for expansion, eliminating the uncertainty that had hovered over the Pac-12 because the University of Southern California and U.C.L.A. had bolted for the Big Ten last summer.
Kliavkoff waved off concerns concerning the Big 12 poaching his schools.
“The reality is we’ve greater fish to fry,” Kliavkoff said.
By the tip of Friday, the Pac-12 was cooked.
Per week after Colorado jumped to the Big 12, two of the conference’s remaining cornerstones, Oregon and Washington, refused to comply with a proposed television contract they deemed insufficient and as an alternative headed to the Big Ten. Later, Arizona leapt to the Big 12, taking Arizona State and Utah with them.
By nightfall, all that was left of the Pac-12 were Stanford, California, Washington State, Oregon State and the memories of a century-old alliance.
“The old query — how long would it not take TV money to destroy college football? Perhaps we’re here. Perhaps we’re here,” Washington State football Coach Jake Dickert told reporters after his team’s practice on Thursday, when the rumblings of a collapse gathered momentum. “To think even remotely, five years ago, the Pac-12 could be on this position, it’s unthinkable to think that we’re here today.”
It may need been unthinkable just just a few days ago. There was little interest within the Big Ten in expansion — until earlier this week, when it looked as if Arizona was itching to go away. And if Oregon and Washington, so unhappy with a Pac-12 media deal that centered on Apple TV, were coming hat in hand, willing to take a reduced offer …
The Big Ten cobbled together a proposal, the Northwest schools nodded yes, and after a fast meeting of the Big Ten’s council of presidents and chancellors on Friday evening, the conference announced that a 12 months from now, it might comprise 18 teams.
The Pac-12 has billed itself because the Conference of Champions, which is hardly hyperbole. Stanford, U.C.L.A. and U.S.C. have each won a minimum of twice as many national championships as some other school. Cal and Oregon rank among the many top 15.
However the increasingly big business of faculty sports is driven, greater than ever, by football’s television lucre. Every thing else is just details.
Schools within the Big Ten, like Ohio State and Michigan, and people within the Southeastern Conference, like Georgia and Louisiana State, reap enough money solely from football television rights — upwards of $50 million — to cover all the athletic budget at a college like Florida Atlantic, which reached the Final 4 this 12 months in men’s basketball.
A whole bunch of tens of millions more from television rights are distributed to the highest conferences from the six College Football Playoff bowls.
Those windfalls, though, are mostly plowed back into football in the shape of ballooning staffs, ever more opulent facilities and amenities that service the athletes, who don’t share the revenue directly but who tackle a greater burden of conference realignment with coast-to-coast travel.
That travel burden can be shared by athletes within the non-revenue sports, like tennis players at Arizona taking trips to Central Florida and West Virginia, and lacrosse players at Oregon going to Rutgers and Penn State.
The Pac-12’s demise, as quickly because it arrived, was years within the making.
A bit greater than a decade ago, the conference’s commissioner, Larry Scott, was hailed as a visionary — a school sports outsider who landed a 12-year, $2.7 billion media deal after adding Colorado and Utah that greater than tripled the conference’s rights fees and placed it ahead of each other conference.
But Scott’s insistence on launching the Pac-12 Network without ESPN or Fox as a partner become a colossal failure since the conference had no leverage with cable distributors. Thus, lots of them refused to fulfill the Pac-12’s asking price and left the network with far fewer viewers — and much less revenue — than other conference networks.
Scott was forced out and replaced by Kliavkoff, a former MGM executive, two years ago. But by then, the conference’s revenue gap, and U.C.L.A.’s $100 million budget shortfall, made the Los Angeles schools an inviting goal for the Big Ten, whose pursuit was done hand-in-hand with Fox, its business partner.
The Pac-12, whose media rights deal expires after the 2023 season, immediately began negotiations for a latest agreement after U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. announced their departures last summer. However the Big 12 jumped ahead, reaching an early extension with Fox in October that might generate a median payout of $31.7 million per school.
That deal, considerably lower than those of the Big Ten and the SEC, convinced the Pac-12 to downgrade its expectations. Kliavkoff told the University of California Regents, when he was encouraging them to dam U.C.L.A.’s move to the Big Ten, that the Pac-12 was lowering its estimates by 10 percent.
Even worse for the Pac-12, its list of potential partners had dwindled by then. By November, Fox had agreements with the Big Ten (as did CBS and NBC) and the Big 12, and ESPN had the SEC and A.C.C. Meanwhile, cord cutting had roiled the cable industry, even cooling ESPN’s voracious appetite for faculty football.
It was around then that Amazon and Apple became serious bidders.
But Kliavkoff’s inability to shut a deal — expectations of January gave option to April, which gave option to June — tested the patience and the arrogance that the terms, which were a tightly held secret, could be satisfactory.
“Today’s news is incredibly disappointing for student-athletes, fans, alumni and staff of the Pac-12,” the conference said late Friday in an announcement. “We remain focused on securing the very best possible future for every of our member universities.”
Ultimately, the Apple deal that was laid out this week guaranteed schools greater than $20 million with revenue sharing from subscriptions that might push each school’s cut into the $30 million range, and maybe higher, in accordance with an individual accustomed to the proposal.
Though streaming appears to be the longer term, there have been concerns about committing so wholeheartedly to a medium that older fans may not understand. And would recruits even see the product?
The proposal’s structure mirrored Apple’s 10-year, $250-million cope with Major League Soccer, which is required to reinvest a few of that cash in its broadcasts, but whose luring of Lionel Messi could leave the league in a powerful position to reap additional revenue from subscription sales.
In fact, there may be a global appeal of soccer — and Messi — that may drive Apple TV subscriptions world wide in a way that Oregon State football just can’t match.