SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Pac-12 Conference is in jeopardy of losing at least five more members, and possibly being eliminated altogether.
Arizona is in serious talks to join the Big 12 Conference, with an announcement expected in the next few days. Utah and Arizona State would be the next targets of the Big 12, joining Colorado, which announced it is leaving in 2024.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten is discussing membership with Oregon and Washington, where they would join USC and UCLA.
None of the news bodes well for the Pac-12’s survival.
Utah has been a member of the Pac-12 since 2011, when it left the Mountain West Conference.
A move to the Big 12 would rekindle one of the best rivalries in the country against BYU, which is joining the Big 12 this season.
Arizona is amid the final steps, sources tell ESPN and the Associated Press, including detailing the move in an Arizona board of regents meeting Thursday night. Big 12 presidents and CEOs met Thursday to vote on approving the move, another sign of the likelihood of it happening.
Barring an unexpected turn in the board of regents meeting, Arizona’s decision is expected be formalized soon.
The spotlight will then quickly shift to Pac-12 members Arizona State and Utah, which could take a few days to determine their future. The Big 12 has also courted them, the final two of the so-called “Corner Schools.” But they always have been on a separate timeline from Colorado and Arizona, which both had meetings with the Big 12 in recent months before jumping aboard.
Washington regents held a special meeting late Thursday night with most of the 90-minute gathering held in executive session to discuss present, pending or potential litigation with counsel. The meeting included Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and athletic director Jen Cohen, and adjourned around 10:35 p.m. PDT without any action taken.
While the Big 12 has been eyeing Pac-12 schools for months, the Big Ten — which dealt the first blow to the Pac-12 by poaching Southern California and UCLA last year —- has jumped in late.
The people with direct knowledge of those talks say no formal offer has been made to Oregon and Washington, but the framework of a deal was presented that would have the Ducks and Huskies enter the conference with an annual payout in the low-to-mid $30 millions.
The schools could also receive an advance on future payments that could increase the total payout to more than $40 million for the first several years they are in the conference, though it would be subtracted from future payouts, two people said.
That payout would be about half what current Big Ten members will receive when all its new television deals fully kick in next year, but still more than what Washington and Oregon are guaranteed to receive from a recently presented potential media rights deal the Pac-12 has on the table from Apple.
USC and UCLA are headed to the Big Ten next year, the same time Colorado is leaving the West Coast’s largest and most storied conference for the Big 12. The Buffaloes announced their return to the Big 12 a week ago.
That leaves the Pac-12 with nine schools — for now — and no media rights deal beyond the upcoming school year. None of the other remaining schools have scheduled regent or trustee meetings — yet.
The Big 12 also has targeted Utah to get to 16 members next year after Texas and Oklahoma leave.
The uncertainty in the Pac-12 is being felt across the conference, especially at places that might not have clear options to join another Power Five conference.
“You know, the old question of how long would it take TV money to destroy college football? Maybe we’re here,” Washington State football coach Jake Dickert told reporters Thursday. “To think even remotely five years ago the Pac-12 would be in this position it’s unthinkable to think that we’re here today. And to think local rivalries are at risk and fans driving four hours to watch their team play in a road game and rivalries is at risk to me is unbelievable.”
“But at the end of the day, I just think we’ll look back at college football in 20 years and be like, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing?’” he added. “Let’s let our guys stay regional. Let’s play. Let’s preserve the Pac-12 and what it is.”
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff presented details of a media rights deal to league stakeholders Tuesday, but no vote was held. ESPN reported the deal would make Apple TV the conference’s primary home and not a more well-known traditional network like ESPN or Fox.
The carrot may not have been big enough. The deal reportedly would guarantee schools about $20 million each per year, but with subscription based escalators that could grow that total.
One corner of the four corner schools is gone from the Pac-12, another has a foot out the door, its two biggest brands are forming an exit strategy and the conference that touts sports alumni like Jackie Robinson, John Elway and Jackie Joyner-Kersee appears to be in peril.