Gordon Monson: Utah and Pac-12 loyalists are caught in a vortex of speculation and a war of words with BYU and Big 12 fans

In the absence of concrete news about the future of conference realignment, fans’ feuds have filled the void.

Pac-12 Conference commissioner George Kliavkoff speaks at Pac-12 NCAA college football media day Friday, July 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Talked to a ranking administrator inside the Pac-12 the other day and he said he had no news on the league’s media rights deal. What he did have was hope.

Up with hope, down with dope.

The problem with hope and dope is that neither is real news.

And in this case, no news is bad news.

It’s worse than just that.

No news leads to guessing and guessing leads to speculation and speculation leads to interpretation or reinterpretation of what is basic and obvious and then that is passed on as the kind of news or non-news that conjures conjecture and confusion.

More than that, the uncertainty hissing from the inside out fuels a weird kind of feud among fans on social media, a whole lot of back-and-forth hurled from those loyal to the Pac-12 and its schools toward those loyal to the Big 12 and its schools, and vice versa.

From there, it blows past sports — although measuring athletic successes here and there through biased prisms is always present — and becomes quasi-political, a clash of cultures beyond on-field, on-court competition. Politics and culture mixed with sports often gets not just ugly, but oooogly. You know, that arrogant and elitist consortium of high-brow, highfalutin, hippie-loving and god-denying liberal institutions out yonder versus a bunch of backwoods-bumpkin schools cooking up squirrels on their engine blocks for lunch in that dusty truck-stop league.

Stanford might suck at football right now, but it will always be a short drive from the beauty of the Pacific, while Oklahoma State might have its moments on the gridiron, but it will always be in Stillwater. But in Stillwater, fans always care about football, while the stands are half-full at Stanford. Utah has its mountains; what does Kansas State have?

Caught in the crossfire is the truth.

The obvious is this: Leaders of schools in the Pac-12 are doing their due diligence, which is to say they are in discovery mode regarding what path forward, which league affiliation best suits their own interests, the interests of the university for which they work. And here’s a real shock: money has everything to do with satisfying those interests.

Talk about academic similarities and conjoined philosophical missions all you want, cold, hard cash is the motivator here.

The Big 12 got its TV deal done months ago, rewarding each of its schools a future payout of $31.7 million a year. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark recently said that after all the additional goodies coming from the College Football Playoff, bowl games and other streams of revenue, that each conference school at the end of this past year will receive $44 million. Moreover, he projected that number could yet rise to $50 million per member university moving forward.

Meanwhile, the Pac-12 is scratching and clawing for its media rights share in negotiations with networks and streaming services, seeking to find a per-school number that comes within shouting distance of the Big 12′s deal.

Yormark has openly indicated a hunger on the part of his league to expand. Grabbing another member school or two or three or four from the Mountain and Pacific time zones would make the Big 12 the only conference with a footprint in all four of the country’s time zones.

After the loss of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is trying to survive, all as its schools are each … uh-huh, looking out for their interests.

Their own interests.

So university officials in the Pac-12 would be negligent were they not talking to the Big 12 about what the possibilities might be there or to other leagues, as they consider what the possibilities are, were they to stay put.

That’s called good business. Loyalty is nice and all, but in a world as competitive as college sports, with cashflow at stake that runs past annual payouts straight into the arms of massive donations that depend on not just the win-loss records of football and basketball teams, but the environment in which they compile them.

And so, with no authentic news at hand, anytime a school president burps or belches into a microphone or onto a notepad, stating the obvious, the guessing/speculating/interpreting begins anew.

Anew in the absence of news.

And the online insults fly, the bitterness stirred in the form of social media and also by some media members covering each of the conferences, attacking and defending, constructing and deconstructing, leaning one way or the other.

Around these parts, the Utah-BYU rivalry plays its role in the vitriol, Utes bolstering the Pac-12, blasting the Big 12; Cougars talking up the Big 12, tearing down the Pac-12.

If the disputes are nothing more than buffoonery, what’s actually at stake is significant. If the Pac-12′s coming TV/media number is well south of $31.7 mill per, will Colorado make the jump back to its former league? If Colorado goes, what will Arizona and Arizona State do? And the heaviest question around here: Where does that leave Utah? Furthermore, would the Big Ten venture west again, this time gobbling up Washington and Oregon?

Here we are, guessing, speculating, interpreting again.

It’s all we’ve got, all anybody’s got.

Repackaging what’s been packaged and repackaged for months now.

Just remember, when a school president or athletic director from either conference burps or belches, it’s simply business, not news. The only news for the time being is bad.