Pick something to blame for UCLA and USC leaving the Pac-12 and potentially spelling the demise of the nation’s westernmost major college athletics conference. Frankly, there is plenty of blame to go around.
You can blame former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (and everyone did Thursday). You can blame the Pac-12 presidents for not prioritizing football. You can blame USC and UCLA’s respective football ineptitude over the last decade. You can blame current Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff for not acting aggressively when he had the opportunity to do so a year ago.
Kliavkoff may still be the new guy, having just finished his first year as commissioner, but he is indeed the commissioner, so that’s a good place to start.
Less than one month after Kliavkoff came aboard on July 1, 2021, Texas and Oklahoma sent shockwaves through college athletics as they announced their intentions to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. The move, which was made official on July 29, left the Big 12 without two of its flagship schools, and with just eight teams and an uncertain future. Among the ideas bandied about by Big 12 decision-makers in order to ensure survival was to engage the Pac-12 about the prospect of merging leagues to create one 20-team conference.
On Aug. 24, in response to SEC expansion, the Pac-12, ACC, and Big Ten announced an alliance, whose chief purpose was to bring more stability to the sport, minimize disruption — including poaching schools — and add a scheduling element among the three conferences. There was no contract, making The Alliance, as it was dubbed, a non-binding handshake agreement.
Two days later, in staying in line with alliance values, the Pac-12 announced it would not seek expansion, ending speculation of a 20-team merger between the Big 12 and Pac-12.
Kliavkoff, liking his league’s position, chose not to be the aggressor. Instead, on Thursday, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was the aggressor. If Kliavkoff had acted differently last August, the Pac-12 may not be in the position it finds itself in now.
Kliavkoff was reportedly caught off guard Thursday, but so was everyone else. Some of the blame falls at his feet, but again, in fairness, he is the new guy, so he doesn’t get all, or even the majority of the blame here.
No, that distinction goes to Scott, long maligned by media and fans as an inept, ineffective leader before leaving the conference last spring, a year before his contract was up.
In May 2011, with Scott at the wheel and the conference on the verge of officially adding Utah and Colorado to get to 12 schools, the league tripled its media-rights by agreeing to a 12-year, $2.7 billion deal with ESPN and FOX to begin in 2012. As that deal began, the Pac-12 Network was launched.
The ESPN/FOX deal was, at the time, the most-lucrative of any conference, but it came at a time when the marketplace was escalating. The 12-year agreement proved too long as it eventually got lapped by the SEC and Big Ten, which meant the Pac-12 began handing out tens of millions less in media rights revenue to its member institutions compared to its SEC and Big Ten peers.
One estimation on Thursday stated that UCLA and USC stood to pull in roughly $100 million annually in media rights revenue as members of the Big Ten. With the Pac-12, that number was roughly $35 million.
As for Pac-12 Networks, its and Scott’s legacy are tied to well-documented carriage problems, specifically the inability to strike a deal with DirecTV. Linear TV offers limited options for Pac-12 Network, rendering it unwatchable in large swaths of the country. Using Salt Lake City as an example, Pac-12 Network is only available in the 84106 zip code via DISH Network, fubo TV, Sling TV, Vidgo, and Xfinity/Comcast.
Here’s all anyone needs to know about Pac-12 Network. As the UCLA/USC news was breaking, Big Ten Network, a Fox Sports subsidiary, was going with live studio coverage of the unfoldings. Pac-12 Network was replaying an old volleyball match.
Both commissioners can share in the blame for the Pac-12′s potential demise, but that one’s on Scott, not Kliavkoff.
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