After months of posturing, procrastinating, and professing patience that a Pac-12 media rights deal is right around the corner, Arizona president Robert C. Robbins may soon have to make a decision he’s purposefully put off until now.
Passively wait for the Pac-12 to deliver the numbers of its just-over-the-horizon media deal or bolt for the Big 12, leaving the remaining eight members of the Pac to fight for their place in the fast-changing hierarchy of college athletics?
A spot in the Big 12 would ensure Arizona receives upwards of $31 million a year in annual media revenue, which is how much the Big 12 will reportedly pay new member Colorado. That’s well below the $50 million plus schools in the SEC and Big Ten will receive through their leagues’ respective media rights deals, but it’s potentially more than the Pac-12 could offer through its deal, if/when it gets one.
No one knows what the Pac-12 deal is worth because Commissioner George Kliavkoff has still not presented definitive numbers to the remaining nine league presidents. And with Colorado now exiting conference, the Pac-12’s media rights negotiations become potentially even more complex.
Kliavkoff has insisted that the league will agree to a media rights deal before it adds any members. But with only nine current members and an air of instability permeating the conference, what media partner would agree to be a part of a multi-hundred million dollar deal in this present moment?
Though Robbins has publicly demonstrated patience that a Pac-12 media rights deal will be presented, as recently as Wednesday stating “we’re just waiting to get a deal,” there must be a sense of urgency growing inside him.
After all it was nearly two months ago that Robbins delivered a pointed message to Kliavkoff when he quoted the famous Jerry McGuire line, “Show me the money.”
Robbins on Pac-12 TV situation: “Everybody remembers the line from Jerry McGuire. ‘Show me the money.’”— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) June 7, 2023
So far, the Pac-12 has not a dollar to show for.
What’s different today compared to a week or a month ago is that the Big 12 now has serious leverage to deploy if it wants to play a game of hardball in filling out its conference. Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark, notoriously New Yorker in his business style, can give Arizona and other programs an ultimatum of join the Big 12 or get left behind in this round of realignment.
The Big 12 is currently eyeing one more school to bring the conference to 14 members, according to ESPN’s Heather Dinich. “Who wants to be the first to really be a part of the Big 12 now and join us? ... We’ve got room for one more,” a Big 12 source told Dinich.
A Big 12 source told me their ADs had a meeting this a.m. and repeated what I told you here yesterday - 14 seems to be their best number. The question is "who wants to be the first to really be a part of the Big 12 now and join us? ... We've got room for one more."— Heather Dinich (@CFBHeather) July 28, 2023
Multiple reports the last few days said the Big 12 wants to add another Power 5 school with Arizona as its desired top choice. Arizona would bolster the Big 12’s geographical footprint and would strengthen what is already the nation’s top college basketball conference.
Arizona wouldn’t be on its own out west; BYU officially joined the Big 12 this summer and Colorado is now in the fold as well.
If not Arizona, the Big 12 would turn to a Group of 5 school like UConn, Memphis, SDSU or UNLV, according to Brett McMurphy of Action Network.
Big 12 will add b/w 1 & 3 schools to join Colorado in 2024, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ. League will 1st seek others from Pac-12 to join. If none do so, Big 12 would add 1 Group of 5 (UConn, Memphis, SDSU or UNLV) to reach even number of teams in 2024https://t.co/j31J8IUMQN pic.twitter.com/rXcumkWoqn— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) July 27, 2023
Robbins will face increasing pressure in the coming days and weeks to secure Arizona’s future by moving into the Big 12. The decision would not come without significant drawbacks, namely separating Arizona from rival ASU and removing the university from a conference that boasts some of the top academic institutions in the world.
Conference realignment is driven by money more than loyalty to a state or region, or any pretense to the importance of academics.
While the Pac-12 continues to try to get its ducks in a row and present a competitive media rights deal, the Big 12 is already at the bank teller, determining who to sign its next check to. It’s time for Robbins to make the undeniably difficult but correct decision, which is to pick up the phone and give the Big 12 the answer it wants: Arizona.