University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins is going on the record to discuss the school’s future in the Pac-12.
Robbins gave a pair of interviews to the Pac-12 Hotline’s Jon Wilner and The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel, where he spoke candidly on the state of Pac-12 media rights negotiations amid growing whispers that Arizona might bolt to the Big 12.
Robbins made it clear that Arizona wants to remain in the Pac-12, but he also didn’t exactly put the Arizona Big 12 rumors to rest, either.
Speaking to Wilner, Robbins said Arizona’s commitment to the Pac-12 is “heavily dependent on (commissioner George Kliavkoff) and his team negotiating a good media deal for us to stay competitive.”
Robbins added, “I don’t think anybody wants to leave. Why would you move for a couple million dollars a year more?”
In the same interview with Wilner, Robbins said that he would for the Pac-12 to be closer in competition to the Big Ten or SEC, “but being closer to the Big 12 is more realistic.”
Robbins said that he is “pretty confident” Kliavkoff will deliver a media rights deal that preserves the Pac-12.
Speaking to Mandel, Robbins offered an assessment of where media rights negotiations stand right now.
“What I think is going to happen is within the next couple weeks, we’re going to have a deal, and then we’ve got to decide: Is it good enough for us to all take?
I’m still very confident. Back last summer, I was even more confident than I am now because there’s a lot of stuff that’s happened. ESPN/Disney has laid off some people, the economy is not going great, some of the tech companies laid off some people, so I don’t think (the climate) is as good as it probably was back in the summer. I’ve been a lone voice saying: ‘Why don’t we wait a little bit longer? What’s really forcing us to make this decision right now?’ Maybe there are other people who will come into this market who will have an appetite for getting into college football. But (his counterparts) want George to bring the best and final deal as soon as possible, and let’s get this out of the way because it’s a drag on people. And I understand that.”
Robbins was asked about the perception that the Pac-12 is on the brink.
“I think Brett (Yormark) is a heck of a salesman, and Endeavor (a Hollywood agency working with the Big 12) is a good PR firm, and they’re working it. And you (the media) are buying what they’re selling,” Robbins said.
“I tell Brett this all the time, and I’ve got really good friends over the years who are presidents now in the Big 12 schools, I love you guys, but if the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t expect any of you to leave the Big 12 if you didn’t know what deal you were getting there. We’ve got to see what deal we’re getting, and then I’ll be able to make an informed decision.”
In the same interview, Robbins was asked about the appeal of the Big 12 to Arizona, particularly its reputation as the country's best basketball league.
“They’re kind of the dominant powerhouse basketball conference right now, and that’s why the Big 12 is attractive. I heard (Kansas coach) Bill Self say we’d love to have Arizona come over here. I think our coach (Tommy Lloyd) would say the same thing. I don’t know, I haven’t asked him. It’d be kind of fun being in the Big 12 because geographically, we’re not that far off for the Texas schools and the Oklahoma schools. It’d be an exciting league to be in for basketball.
But you know as well as I do, the thing that’s driving this is football. That’s what the media companies care about.”
Robbins was also asked about the Pac-12’s expansion efforts, particularly adding San Diego State and SMU.
“We really haven’t had enough time for discussions about expansion. My personal opinion is we need to expand, and I think San Diego State and SMU are two good schools with two good teams that we should give strong consideration to, but we can’t do that until we get a deal. Once we get the deal, get everyone to sign their Grant of Rights, then we can start talking about expansion. But I think both of them would be targets of the Big 12, but maybe not SMU, because they already have the (DFW) metroplex. San Diego State is attractive to the Big 12 because it gets them out into California. But San Diego, as you well know, is not the L.A. market.”