Hotline Mailbag – Options if the Pac-12 raids the Big 12, The Apple-12 Conference?

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso, File)

Please note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

I’ve inferred from your recent columns that schools the Pac-12 previously passed over, like Houston, are off the table regarding poaching them from the Big 12. Why has that ship permanently sailed? If the Big 12 can poach from us, shouldn’t the Pac-12 return the favor and try to lure Houston and (for example) TCU or Texas Tech? — Joseph S

We chose to focus the mailbag on this issue because it has been mostly overlooked (here and elsewhere) in the three weeks since the Pac-12 lost USC and UCLA and veered toward the cliff’s edge.

First, understand our broad view:

No options should be dismissed. The Hotline has no doubt (none, zero, zip) that Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is exploring every possible scenario — and a few that might seem impossible.

A raid of the Big 12 is extremely unlikely but cannot be ignored completely given that the Pac-12 is currently in the middle of its official media rights negotiations while the Big 12 is resigned to informal talks.

“That’s a slight advantage for the Pac-12,” said a source familiar with discussions in both leagues.

For Texas and Oklahoma, the revenue guaranteed by membership in the SEC makes everything worthwhile. That wouldn’t necessarily be the case for Big 12 schools pondering a jump to the Pac-12.

But what about Houston?

The Cougars should be appealing to the Pac-12 because of their media market, fertile recruiting base and improving academic profile, and they don’t officially join the Big 12 until next summer.

Would Houston be subject to the same exit stipulations as the current members?

We have no idea and won’t begin to speculate on the contractual situations. But if you’re Kliavkoff, that’s probably something worth exploring — at least until it isn’t.

Houston and San Diego State wouldn’t be a bad outcome for the conference.

Now, one more point about this Big 12 vs. Pac-12 staredown …

The Hotline doesn’t expect an incremental outcome.

Either the Pac-12 schools have a reason to stay together (i.e., a satisfactory media rights offer), or they don’t. And if they don’t, then joining the Big 12 to create a 20-team (or more) superconference is the best option.

We disagree with the notion of modest Big 12 growth.

If all the Pac-12 schools are available, why would incoming commissioner Brett Yormark only take the Four Corners when the real value lies in the Oregon and Washington brands and the Bay Area media market?

I’d argue that Arizona, ASU, Colorado and Utah, while better fits geographically, make less sense financially than the West Coast quartet.

(In this scenario, the outlook would be bleak for Oregon State and Washington State.)

And if you’re the Big 12 and all these schools are willing to join, then why not add San Diego State (access to Southern California, No. 27 media market) and one other school for even numbers.

Technically, that would qualify as absorption on a grand scale under the Big 12 banner.

But effectively, it would amount to a merger — and the creation of a 22-team super-league that marginalizes the ACC, spans all four time zones, provides immense inventory for media partners, includes a slew of playoff hopefuls and is a version of the structure we laid out three years ago.

Can you clarify the media rights timing for these conferences? The Big Ten will complete its deal soon, followed by which entities? — @kmasterman

Sure thing, and keep this in mind as you read: New partnerships are typically consummated 12-15 months before the expiration date.

2023 summer: current Big Ten contracts expire
2024 summer: current Pac-12 contracts expire
2025 summer: current Big 12 contracts expire
2025 fall: final season of Notre Dame/NBC contract
2025 fall: final season of four-team CFP

In other words, the 2026 season will mark the start of a new era in college football. Everyone is jockeying for position.

Assuming the Pac-12 and ESPN don’t reach agreement during the 30-day exclusive negotiating window, has there been any indication that NBC or CBS have interest in negotiations? — @Polymorphic1019

The Hotline agrees with your assumption:

At this stage of the process, there is no reason for ESPN or Fox to make an offer lucrative enough that the Pac-12 signs on the bottom line in the next few weeks. (The 30-day window expires in early August.)

Instead, we expect Kliavkoff to take the conference’s rights to the open market — a process that could take months. (It could very well end with ESPN making the best offer, but why would the network make a move now, effectively bidding against itself.)

I haven’t seen, heard or read anything to suggest NBC or CBS would be interested in a substantial piece of the Pac-12’s inventory. Maybe one of them grabs a sub-package, but that would be it.

Most of what has been speculated is that the Pac-12 will expand back to 12. Any chance it could try to expand to 14? Will that just dilute the conference too much? Could they give those teams smaller shares for now? — @hmckee53

We see only one scenario in which the Pac-12 grows to 14, and it involves significant expansion of the footprint.

From a valuation standpoint, there is little incentive to add four schools from the Mountain West. But if the collection of newcomers were to include SMU and a second Texas team, then perhaps the option receives strong consideration.

I’d give the 14-school scenario a five-percent chance.

Never say never, but it’s difficult to envision a combination of schools that would make it financially worthwhile for the current 10 members.

With the growing gap in media revenue with the Big Ten and SEC, what are the chances the Pac-12 pursues ancillary revenue streams such as jersey patches or outright selling the name of the league to a sponsor? How creative will the conference get? — Ryan Burrows

As creative as possible.

I expect Kliavkoff to present the university presidents and chancellors with some options that would have been unthinkable, and impossible, a few years ago.

But the bosses are from the world of higher education, where incremental change is typically preferred. Would they accept a new world order and approve measures — for example: alliances with gaming companies — that run counter to traditional norms of college athletics?

As we have said repeatedly, Pac-12 survival depends, first and foremost, on strong leadership at the very top of the conference. Sometimes, leaders must take risks.

How does the Apple-12 Conference sound?

After all, the Pac-12 already has the infrastructure — thanks to the cutting-edge technology used by the networks — that would be necessary for Apple to buy and produce everything.

Is it standard for Oregon State and Washington State to contact the Mountain West about membership? — @LAWomensHoops

I’m not sure there is a standard for such a move given the series of events that would lead to the Beavers and Cougars seeking membership in the MW.

After all, that scenario unfolds only if the Pac-12 dissolves and the schools don’t become part of a western branch of the Big 12.

At this point, OSU and WSU are hoping beyond hope the conference remains intact.

Have they reached out?

The Hotline has no insight on this matter, except to suggest nothing is off the table during tumult of this nature.

What are the odds ESPN goes all in on Notre Dame, makes it the king of a new conference and poaches the best from the ACC and Pac-12 to form a third super-league? Chances from 1 to 100? — @TomeiTyler

Zero, but the question is worthwhile for the ground it covers.

First, the ACC schools are locked into a Grant of Rights agreement that runs through the 2036 season, so it’s extremely unlikely that any “poaching” of the premier teams would take place.

Second, we cannot envision a scenario in which Notre Dame joins a conference that’s not the Big Ten. The combination of potential revenue and geographic alignment, with so many Irish alums in Chicago, render all other options remote.

And for what it’s worth, the Hotline believes the Irish will remain an Independent through their next contract cycle. That, in turn, will keep the Big Ten from expanding again in a few years.

The Irish will only feel compelled to join a conference if access to the 12-team College Football Playoff is structured in a manner that makes the independent path untenable.

Would one or more Pac-12 schools joining the ACC affect that conference’s Grant of Rights (GoR)? How many schools would it take to void the contract? I ask because the answers dictate whether ACC is any kind of landing pad. — @SandersonMatt

For those unfamiliar, the GoR binds each school’s media revenue to the league. That’s more than $400 million per campus over the course of the contract — an immense sum to swallow in a buyout scenario.

My sense is that voiding the GoR would require consent of a majority of the schools in the 15-team league, a scenario that would materialize only if a plethora of options exist in the Big Ten and SEC for the top programs.

And in that case, there would be little of value left to merge with the Pac-12.

If the ACC and Pac-12 agree on a path forward, their only option is combining the conference networks and leaving the leagues themselves distinct.

That would give ESPN control over the Pac-12 Networks, providing stability and revenue on the West Coast and additional cash on the East Coast (via increased subscriptions).

To gain leverage over the networks and to compete against the SEC and Big Ten, wouldn’t a full merger of the Pac-12 and ACC into a “Atlantic and Pacific Athletic Conference” create a third super-conference on par with or even superior to the other two? — @CanadaCats

Again, the ACC’s Grant of Rights agreement is the issue.

A merger of any sort would require the ACC schools to be released from their GoR contract, making the top programs available for the SEC and Big Ten.

Notre Dame’s situation is unique. The Irish are not full-time members and only receive a partial share of the ACC’s media revenue.

Were Notre Dame to break the GoR, the resulting windfall from joining the Big Ten would allow the school to pay the buyout … with plenty to spare.

Is it possible that people are overestimating the value of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal? — @morganloewcbs5

Yes, sure. But it’s also possible people are underestimating the value of the 16-team league that stretches from coast to coast.

Our understanding is each school will receive at least $75 million at the start of the contract (in the 2023-24 sports cycle), with the annual payments growing to more than $100 million in the 2030s.

Of course, that includes a significant bump from the expanded CFP.

Is UCLA laughing at California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s huffing and puffing or taking him seriously? — @DrDreNoCal

They would be foolish to do anything but take him seriously.

We’ll have more on this matter Saturday on the Hotline.

Not to defend former commissioner Larry Scott, but how much are Pac-12 presidents to blame for the Pac-12 Network problems? — @AlWasser1

Ultimately, the presidents are to blame for each of the conference’s strategic ills. They hired Scott, they enabled his management style and they approved his business plan for the networks, which helped set the stage for the current predicament.

The presidents didn’t prioritized football and bought nearly everything Scott sold, including a media rights strategy built entirely on reaping a windfall in 2024 — a windfall that will never come.

All those years of grin-and-bearing it at the campus level were for nothing.

Only two presidents remain from the group that supported Scott initially: UCLA’s Gene Block, whose school is off to the Big Ten, and Arizona State’s Michael Crow, who’s part of the group attempting to save the conference.

Pac-12 survival series:

Five themes that frame the next step
Pac-12 to jump-start media negotiations
Merge or partner with the ACC or Big 12
The best expansion options: SMU and SDSU
The financial benefits of standing on 10
Pac-12 Fear Index: Assessing anxiety levels
Strategic benefits of a Big 12 merger
Pac-12 Presidential Power Index
Why San Diego State is a must-have
Hated night games could be a lifeboat

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