A Big 12, Pac-12 merger is off the table. Could the conference still come after Utah?

Merging conferences was always a long shot with the Big 12 believing it is in a position of power.

(LM Otero | AP) Incoming Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark, center, speaks with outgoing Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, left, and Baylor President Linda Livingstone looking on during a news conference opening the NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 13, 2022.

New Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark opened up his tenure by saying all options were on the table when it came to expansion.

Well, less than a week later, at least one of those options has been nixed.

A potential merger between the Big 12 and Pac-12 will not happen, according to Pete Thamel of ESPN. The Big 12 brass reportedly informed the Pac-12 it would be looking at other options on Monday, after multiple calls occurred between the conferences about what a potential merger would look like.

The Big 12 thought a merger would not generate enough revenue for the league, per the report. Standing independently, and looking at poaching individual schools, could be more lucrative.

In reality, this move was always more of a long shot. The more probable merger would be between the ACC and the Pac-12. A “loose partnership” between those conferences has been discussed for the last several weeks.

The prevailing sentiment is that the Big 12 did not need a merger to position itself at the third major conference in college football. After the addition of its four new members, including BYU, it will be in three time zones and have the most national reach out of all the conferences.

This week, it was also reported Notre Dame could be interested in becoming a media partner with the Big 12. Both Notre Dame’s and the Big 12′s media rights contracts expire in 2025. NBC could be interested in combining the rights of an independent Notre Dame and several Big 12 games to its package, according to CBS Sports.

“I feel confident our conference is in the best position,” Yormark said. “I feel there is incredible upside with the Big 12. It is one of the reasons I am here today. We have a chance to build our brand and our business. To nationalize our conference in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

Now that a merger with the Big 12 and the Pac-12 is off the table, it again turns the conversation to whether the Big 12 will try to add individual teams from the Pac-12. This would likely include Utah, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado.

At Big 12 media days last week, Yormark said he has been in discussions with individual schools about coming onboard to the Big 12. Multiple coaches from the league also suspect the conference will add around four teams.

Utah’s addition to the Big 12 continues to be attractive for the upcoming media rights contract. It would add another school in the Mountain Time Zone — providing another late-window television game for ESPN or FOX — and also give the conference an instant rivalry with BYU.

“I think we will get up to 16 schools in this conference,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “It is all about grabbing some sort of viewership and television market now. It is about hoping you can fit your games into time slots and hoping the three or four networks will buy into it.”

For now, the remaining Pac-12 members have said they are “tethered together” as they head into their own media rights negotiations. A source in the Utah athletic department told The Salt Lake Tribune any reports that Utah is in discussions to join the Big 12, at this juncture, are false.

That said, the Pac-12 does look less stable than the Big 12. There is the chance Oregon and Washington could leave down the road. Without them, the Pac-12 becomes a less attractive option.

Yormark feels confident the Big 12 will not lose members before the Pac-12 does. The Big 12 media rights contract expires in 2025 — after the Pac-12 — which tethers the conference members together and protects the league.

“We are a very unified group,” Yormark said. “It is one of the things that drew me to the job. The alignment that the board, the ADs and presidents have going forward.”

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff will address the media next week at Pac-12 media days.