The Big 12 appears to be in real trouble. Its two top programs, Texas and Oklahoma, are headed to the SEC, and it’s unclear if the remaining eight schools will have the power to survive on their own without serious struggles.
The Pac-12 has its own problems. The league’s network is in the tank and bleeding subscribers. And now it is under new leadership, only after being woefully mismanaged for more than a decade under Larry Scott.
In many ways it is a time of crisis for both. Teaming-up the two left-behind leagues is a no-brainer.
The SEC’s new super-league will be a 16-team conference led by major powers OU, Texas, Alabama, Auburn and others, all under the same shield. It’s likely to reap big money under a new TV deal set to go into effect in the future. A reported $70 million penalty for OU and Texas to get out of its grant of rights agreement likely would be a drop in the bucket comparable to its earning power — and even the penalty may be litigated down or outright forfeited in an exit scenario.
A merge between the Pac-12 and Big 12 wouldn’t carry the same power as the SEC vacuuming up the Big 12’s best — no school in the Pac-12 has the carry and sway anyone currently in the SEC does, nor does any non OU/Texas school in the Big 12 still remaining — but there is at the very least strength in numbers. Twenty teams gets you plenty of television inventory and eyeballs, and the geographical footprint would be spread from the west coast to the east coast, expanding primarily into the midwest where the Pac-12 does not have as much exposure. Does that matter to networks? Maybe, maybe not, but Oklahoma State vs. Oregon might fire some big wigs up more than, say, Oklahoma State vs. SMU or Houston. (Though I did like some of Marshall’s ideas here on the Pac-12 forming a super-conference and thinking way outside the box to get that done.)
The money. Let’s talk money. By the numbers, it would most likely keep the two conferences afloat and plenty competitive, too. Data from last year about 2019 revenue sharing shows the Big 12 payouts ranged from $38.2 to $42 million per school, with the Pac-12 trailing at roughly $32.2 million per school. That was better than the ACC ($27.6 million to $34 million per) though quite lower than the Big Ten ($55.6 million) and SEC ($45.3 million).
Fiscal year 2020 data had the same hierarchy. (Third-tier rights for the Big 12 were apparently not included but it does underscore its general financial strength relative to the market.)
Big Ten: $54.3 million
SEC: $45.5 million
Big 12: ~$38 million
Pac-12: $33.6 million
ACC: ~$33 million
There’s a kicker: the Big 12 was dead-last in gross revenue doled out. So while it had only 10 teams to divvy out to its members, it only had $409.2 million in gross revenue. The Big Ten had $768.9 million. The SEC $728.9 million. The Pac-12 was $533.8 million and the ACC was $496.7 million.
Here’s the good news overall: Both the Pac-12 and Big 12 are in strong financial position considering those numbers, particularly on a per-member distribution basis. And at least one conference of the two here isn’t undergoing a total mutiny. Optimism!
The bad news is that the Big 12 is losing its banner programs, the TV deal is expiring in a few years, the league’s attempt to renegotiate that deal was reportedly rebuffed, and our pets heads are falling off. Not great!
Kyle Porter wrote about all of this last year and, holy smokes, the poignancy of this block quote in his story is pretty incredible to read in hindsight.
Between now and when the Pac-12’s media rights deal — and accompanying Grant of Rights agreement — runs out in spring 2024, the Big 12 needs to invite USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Arizona State.
The Big 12 needs to do to the Pac-12 what the Pac-12 tried to do 10 years ago to the Big 12. It needs to do it unapologetically. If we learned anything from the previous rounds of conference realignment, this is a kill-or-be-killed business. The Pac-12 took its shot in 2010 and missed. The Big 12 can secure its long-term survival by ensuring it doesn’t. [Athletic]
“This is a kill-or-be-killed business.”
The Big 12 is getting killed as we speak! The Pac-12, to its credit, got killed in the first round of realignment, but at least it tried. It shot its shot. There are no viable shots for the Big 12 right now. No one worthy of joining at the Power Five level is jumping aboard this fire.
This Pac-12/Big 12 merger idea isn’t some pipe dream from a blogger in his mother’s basement, either. This is actually an idea being kicked around at the highest levels of the conference. The idea of adding teams to the Big 12 to survive are all well and good, but are Houston, Cincinnati, SMU or BYU getting you where you want? Probably not! It’s about what you can bring to the table from a TV/streaming perspective. None of those schools are getting you where you want. In fact, it might be just the opposite desired goal.
Here’s what The Athletic reported Friday:
Reaching out to the Pac-12 about a potential 20-school merger was discussed during Thursday’s Big 12 leadership call. Such a move seems to be a more favorable alternative for the Big 12 than bringing in new members, which might involve raiding the American Athletic Conference, to lift its membership back into double digits.
“Bringing in a Cincinnati and UCF doesn’t bring any eyeballs,” a Big 12 AD said.
A second league AD said, “There is no combination of Group of 5 members we can add that will garner our same TV deal, but it’s all on the table right now,” then added, “I don’t think (Texas) A&M has been very successful in blocking this.”
Even if the Pac-12 just absorbed all eight remaining Big 12 members, though, there’d be challenges and hurdles. How would a 20-team conference work? What do the TV contracts look like? Is that a viable long-term solution? Would the Pac-12 take all remaining Big 12 members? Can Nike upgrade OSU’s equipment if it joins the Pac-12 and the same league as Oregon?
The questions are plentiful and the answers are few. No one knows what will happen. OU and Texas are as good as gone and everyone outside the SEC is figuring out what this means. Maybe a move to the west coast league makes sense for middle-of-the-bible-belt Oklahoma State as part of a bigger merger. Maybe the Big Ten comes calling. But with the revenue gap between the Big 12, Pac-12 and the rest of the major powers seemingly problematic now (and likely even moreso problematic with OU and Texas leaving, at least for the Big 12), a mega-merger — with all its hurdles — could be the band-aid both teams need to get enough skin back in the arms race of a changing college athletics landscape.
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