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Jedd Fisch confident Arizona will do ‘what’s best for Arizona’ when it comes to media rights deal, conference choice

arizona-wildcats-football-pac12-media-day-big12-media-rights-deal-realignment-colorado-ucla-usc-2024 Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images

Just as it’s starting to feel like there’s a sense of stability around the Arizona football program, the school’s future in the Pac-12 has become uncertain. But Jedd Fisch isn’t too concerned about what league his team will be playing in a year from now, not when there’s a current season beginning in just over a month.

“Truthfully, I’ve given a lot more thought to our team and what we need to do to win games than I have about where we’re going to play in 2024 and beyond,” Fisch said Tuesday during Arizona’s preseason media day. “My focus has been on this season and this team. I don’t know what’s happening with the conference, so I don’t know what’s going to happen there. But I do know that Arizona is a great brand and will be just fine.”

Fisch was speaking to local media not long after his bosses, school president Dr. Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke, were processing information received about the long-awaited Pac-12 media rights deal. Conference commissioner George Kliavkoff presented a potential deal, which according to ESPN’s Pete Thamel was from Apple, that would be primarily focused on streaming content and included “incentivized tiers” based on new subscriptions to the streaming service.

No agreement was made between the Pac-12 and its nine remaining members, one less than a week ago after Colorado skipped out for the Big 12 and three less than are set to play in 2023-24 with UCLA and USC leaving for the Big Ten.

Fisch said he wasn’t surprised by Colorado’s decision to return to the conference it was in for more than 60 years before joining the Pac-12 in 2011—“it’s where they felt most comfortable”—but he is surprised that Arizona is being described as the school that is key to the Pac-12’s future.

“I recognize that people are putting, let’s call it, some added pressure that the University of Arizona will be the program that makes the final decision on what happens to the conference,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case. I think that the decision was made by other programs to change the conference, and now it’s going to be a matter of the University of Arizona to decide what’s best for Arizona.”

Fisch said the UA will end up wherever provides the most stability, but notes that the money that comes from a media rights deal is equally important because of the costs associated with running a successful athletic department.

“Athletics are very expensive,” Fisch said. “And to run sports programs is very expensive, and as the NCAA has continued to loosen rules when it comes to feeding players, when it comes to travel, when it comes to certain benefits, when it comes to academic bonuses. All of those things go into making running an athletic department extremely expensive. So clearly the multimedia rights aspect of this decision is going to be critical to the success of Arizona athletics in the future.”

With no real say in the matter, Fisch and his staff have no choice but to focus on the season in front of them. But they’re also recruiting for 2024 and beyond, which is when that uncertainty can become an issue, particularly when it comes to the concept of negative recruiting. That was among the topics he said were discussed when he recently held a Zoom call with the parents of every current player on the team.

“I understand that some programs might be telling you, ‘why would you go there if they don’t know where they’re going to be?,’” Fisch said. “I would say this: we’re going to be in a great spot, and we’re not going to even flinch about it, and neither are our recruits. I explained to them that we’re going to know something soon. We’re in a position where people want us and we’re in a position where we’re going to be successful with the multimedia rights deal, because we’re not going to take a bad deal.”

Players in attendance at media day were noncommittal about where Arizona should be in 2024, as were most coaches. Offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll noted that he played college football in a conference that no longer exists—“I played in the Big East, anybody heard of that?”—and that it’ll still be a 12-game schedule next year no matter what league the Wildcats are in.

Defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen, however, said he’d prefer to stay in the Pac-12.

“I’m a West Coast guy; I hope we stay here,” he said. “Arizona is a great place to keep our (in-state) kids here and recruit Southern California. Build a wall around this state, that’s what I’m fired up about. If we can keep it that way (in another conference), I’m all for it.”