A special Pac-12 Conference edition of Your Weekend Reader

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Weekend Reader | 1 comment

Last week, as faithful Weekend Reader readers will remember, we talked about the University of Colorado’s decision to leave the Pac-12 Conference and return to the Big 12 — and we wondered together if it was a sign of impending doom for the conference. I worried then that the collapse of the conference seemed like an increasingly likely prospect.

Today, not quite one week later, the Pac-12, the “Conference of Champions,” appears to be toast.

Washington and Oregon are off to the Big Ten. And on Friday night, the Big 12 announced that it has admitted Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. You already know about USC, UCLA and Colorado.

That leaves the Pac-4: Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford and Cal.

The final nail in the coffin appeared to come this week, when Commissioner George Kliavkoff revealed details of his long-gestating media-rights deal to conference presidents. Apparently, the deal with Apple was not the big win Kliavkoff had envisioned, seeing how five of the conference’s schools decided to bolt after hearing the details.

My guess is that the Apple deal is off the table now.

Of course, the media-deal fiasco wasn’t the only major blunder Kliavkoff made along the way: He failed to act when he could have wooed Big 12 schools to the Pac-12 after the departures of Texas and Oklahoma left that conference reeling. And, since then, he has been consistently outmaneuvered by Brett Yormark, the Big 12 commissioner.

But Kliavkoff isn’t the only culprit here: The conference’s previous commissioner, Larry Scott, helped dig the grave for the conference when he launched the Pac-12 Networks, without lining up a proven media partner. The networks never came close to delivering their revenue goals. Arizona State’s president, Michael Crow, was a big champion of Scott’s strategy — and other Pac-12 presidents, including OSU’s Ed Ray, also were Scott supporters.

In his obituary for the Pac-12, Athletic writer Stewart Mandel is blunt about the cause of death: “gross failure of leadership.”

Here’s another Athletic article, which has details about the potential Apple deal: The base deal Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented to the Pac-12 presidents called for a base payment of $23 million to $25 million per school, with incentives based on projected subscribers to a streaming product similar to what Apple TV+ has with its Major League Soccer package. The number to beat or match in the deal was $31.7 million per school, which is what the Big 12 got from its media deal with ESPN and Fox. The Pac-12 streaming product would have had to lure 1.7 million subscribers to hit that mark. But the deal did not include a guarantee that Apple would simulcast certain games on a linear network, leading to fears that Pac-12 games would reach far fewer viewers than games featuring teams from other conferences. In the meantime, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel reports, the Big 10, with an assist from Fox, put together an offer for Oregon and Washington. Oregon was torn over whether it should accept the offer, Mandel reports, but at 7 a.m. Friday, Oregon and Washington told the other Pac-12 schools they were leaving, and the Pac-12’s collapse was in full force.

Both of those Athletic pieces, sadly, are available only to subscribers to the site.

But here are links to other accessible pieces bout the impending collapse of the Pac-12:

Here’s a piece from Jon Wilner, the best Pac-12 beat writer in the country, summarizing the 12 essential mistakes that led to the collapse of the conference. An interesting side note: Wilner has sharp words for Fox, saying that “In our view, no external entity played a greater role in the Pac-12′s demise.”

Here’s another piece from Wilner in which he outlines the options remaining for OSU, WSU, Stanford and Cal. The best option might be for those four schools to join an expanded Mountain West conference, which might (might) be able to renegotiate its media deal with Fox and CBS. But even a deal like that would pay the schools considerably less than they make now from the Pac-12’s current media deal. Wilner says expansion is still an option, but unlikely: The schools have just one year to pull that off, and even an expanded Pac-12 will almost certainly be unable to generate the kind of media money that the schools receive now.

Here’s a Monday piece from Wilner that is somewhat more optimistic: He thinks it’s possible the four remaining members of the Pac-12 might be able to rally and lure new members to the conference — and he thinks a revamped conference could still potentially land a media deal. But the Pac-12 needs to move fast: The Athletic is reporting that the ACC is starting to investigate the possibility of adding Stanford and Cal. If that happens, the Mountain West might be the only stop remaining for Oregon State and Washington State.

NIck Daschel of The Oregonian/OregonLive caught up with Scott Barnes, OSU’s athletic director, who said he was furious at the decision by Oregon and Washington. (The story already is a little outdated in that it doesn’t take into account the expected departures of Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.) But Daschel hits on an important point: Whatever happens to OSU, it seems almost certain that the school will take a big hit in terms of athletic revenue. For years now, watchers of college athletics have worried that there’s a big and growing rift between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and it looks now as if OSU, Washington State and maybe Cal might fall on the wrong side of that divide.

Two Oregon legislators, including Albany Republican Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, decried Oregon’s decision on Friday: Boshart Davis called for a legislative panel to investigate the Ducks’ departure. Rep. Paul Evans sponsored a bill in the 2023 Legislature that would have required state universities to get legislative approval before shifting conference affiliations; the bill died in committee. The truth of the matter, though, is that state government has little sway in this matter — especially with so much television money at stake.

OSU President Jayathi Murthy released a statement to OSU students and employees on Friday, calling the dismantlement of the Pac-12 a “serious moment,” but frankly not saying much else.

Bill Oram of The Oregonian laments how Oregon’s departure for the Big Ten sucks much of the wind out of the annual rivalry game between Oregon and OSU. And he raises a good point: Once Oregon begins reaping the benefits of Big Ten money and recruiting, the game typically will be a mismatch — sort of like when OSU schedules a Football Championship Subdivision school as part of its nonconference schedule.

One of the key players in the drama — and a longtime supporter of the Pac-12 — was Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University. James Crepea of The Oregonian/OregonLive has a story about why Crow was forced to change his mind on Friday morning. (Of course, Crow also is being blamed in some corners as being among the Pac-12 presidents who gave former Commissioner Larry Scott way too much leeway, leading to the collapse of the conference.)

Here’s a piece from Antonio Morales, who covers USC football for The Athletic, bidding farewell to the Pac-12, which he says provided football that was rarely great, but always entertaining.

Here’s a story from The Associated Press about how the membership in college conferences has changed since 1996.

I’ll update this as I come across additional stories or as the situation changes. And tomorrow’s edition of the Weekend Reader will include other, non-sports, stories. I promise.

But here’s a nugget to help cheer up OSU fans, who have reason to be despondent tonight:

There is at least one season remaining of Pac-12 play. And Feldman, the writer for The Athletic, has written that he sees this year’s Beaver football team making a run at the conference title — and, possibly, having a shot at the College Football Playoff. Here’s what he wrote in a recent column:

Finally, keep an eye on the Oregon State Beavers, surprise 10-game winners last season with three-point losses to USC and Washington. They were the one Pac-12 team with a decent defense. Note: I don’t believe DJ Uiagalelei will be the savior. If anything, dual-threat freshman Aidan Chiles was the “wow” quarterback in the spring and could emerge as the guy to go with stud RB Damien Martinez. Also worth noting: The Beavs don’t face USC.

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