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Pourover: The Pac-12 is melting

Has melted? Yet another round of Conference Realignment holds the news cycle.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a tale as old as time. For as long as College Athletics have been around, money is king. And chasing money has led programs, administrators, coaches, boosters, and virtually everyone associated with high-level collegiate athletics to make decisions largely motivated by money.

“But Sam,” you say, “Aren’t most of the decisions made in a quest to win?” And I’d reply, “100%, you are right! But because winning means more and more money!”

Conference realignment was really small-time stuff for many years. It was a trickle. A team would move here, realign there. But for the most part, things stayed pretty static. Until the TV money exploded. Now it’s the wild west, with schools owning historical regional rivalries and throwing them aside to chase the media money.

Now, I’m not completely cynical about this. The media money is lucrative and a major reason for these moves, but at least some of the movement is also because of security. Having a strong deep conference with a big and valuable media rights deal evenly split is a nice feeling. After all, as Missouri fans, we can watch from the sidelines during times like these and take comfort in the knowledge that we’ve got our spot... for now.

But more than anything, realignment is about the security of the money.

One of the better writers on the financial side of these things is my former boss at SBNation and FOIA expert, Matt Brown. His take is very close to my take.

I’m not going to post any more ‘newsy’ tweets for additional context here because it really feels like things are changing by the minute. As of late Friday morning, the Pac-12 tried to force a Grant of Rights deal upon the remaining Pac-12 Presidents in an effort to keep the league from disintegrating. Apple and AppleTV+ had a deal on the table for the Pac-12 and was an attempt to save the league as we know it. That didn’t really hold up very long since Washington and Oregon accepted the deal to move to the Big 10, joining UCLA and USC, who had announced their moves already. Then later in the afternoon, Arizona State and Utah joined Arizona in applying for the Big 12. By the evening, it was all done with the Big 12 announcing the three new additions to the league.

If you had somehow missed it in all the hubbub, this all kicked off (well, the most recent spate of news anyway) when Colorado announced they were departing the Pac-12 and returning to the Big 12. The Buffaloes were one of the original Big 8 teams along with Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State. In the mid-90s, the Big 8 became the Big 12 when Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Texas A&M left the disintegrating Southwestern Conference for the Big 8 merger. So they are going back home.

Once the Buffs left for the Big 12, coupled with the lagging negotiations from the Pac-12 office around their media rights deal, it became clear that there could be a run. And the run is happening. Or by the time this publishes, it’s already happened.

Without UCLA, USC, and Colorado on board, the Pac-12 started teetering. Suddenly Washington and Oregon, along with Arizona, Arizona State and Utah all were looking for a soft landing spot. The Huskies and Ducks stuck together for the Big 10 and the other three are looking as likely to the Big 12.

So let's recap.

The Soon-to-be B1G

  • Illinois - Since 1896
  • Michigan - Since 1896
  • Minnesota - Since 1896
  • Northwestern - Since 1896
  • Purdue - Since 1896
  • Wisconsin - Since 1896
  • Indiana - Since 1899
  • Iowa - Since 1899
  • Ohio State - Since 1912
  • Michigan State - Since 1950
  • Penn State - Since 1990
  • Nebraska - Since 2011
  • Maryland - Since 2014
  • Rutgers - Since 2014
  • Southern Cal - Since 2024
  • UCLA - Since 2024
  • Oregon - Since 2024
  • Washington - Since 2024

That’s 18 schools.

The Possible Soon-to-be Big 12:

  • Oklahoma State - Since 1996
  • Baylor - Since 1996
  • Iowa State - Since 1996
  • Kansas - Since 1996
  • Kansas State - Since 1996
  • Texas Tech - Since 1996
  • Texas Christian - Since 2012
  • West Virginia - Since 2012
  • BYU - Since 2023
  • UCF - Since 2023
  • Cincinnati - Since 2023
  • Houston - Since 2023
  • Colorado- Since 2024
  • Arizona - Since 2024
  • Arizona State - Since 2024
  • Utah - Since 2024

That’s 16 schools.

A Possible Pac-12 Future:

  • California - Since 1915
  • Oregon State - Since 1915
  • Washington State - Since 1917
  • Stanford - Since 1918

Just four teams remaining. Cal and Stanford are in a precarious spot, as they’ve fallen on hard times athletically, but are both still considered to be elite academic institutions. The academics could make them attractive to the Big 10, who still consider their conference academically focused... ahem. But Washington State and Oregon State could be looking at a move into the Mountain West.

Meanwhile, Florida State is doing everything it can to maneuver out of the ACC. But there’s no real path for which conference would take them. The SEC is about to expand to 16 teams when Oklahoma and Texas join next season, the B1G is looking at 18 teams, and the Big 12 could move to 16. But if Florida State succeeds, it could really flip the conference realignment thing on its head.

For one, FSU is looking into Private Equity to get out of its Grant of Rights deal with the ACC. Essentially, exiting the ACC would cost a lot of money because the league very recently renegotiated its media rights deal in order to try and give the rest of the league more secure footing for the future. But those in charge of the Seminoles are unhappy and they aren’t hiding it. From the afore-linked article:

The school is considering a structure similar to many of those pro sports investments, where commercial rights are rolled into a new company, the private equity fund invests in that entity, and then recoups its money via future media/sponsorship revenue. That’s how Silver Lake structured its investment into the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, and how CVC organized its $2.2 billion Spanish soccer deal with LaLiga.

If FSU follows through with this, it would fundamentally change college sports in a way we haven’t seen before. In essence, athletic departments throughout the NCAA operate as non-profits. The more money each program makes the more can be invested back into the operating budget. However, if Florida State becomes a For Profit entity, investments into programs could come from anywhere.

If you’ve followed the entire LIIV vs. PGA golf thing, you may be aware of some of this already, but Saudi investments have already deepened pockets in golf, and it’s all around soccer worldwide. So really, it was only a matter of time before Saudi money started infiltrating American sports.

Everyone is chasing the bag and it’s changed the power structure of collegiate sports. This is mostly about football since football is the biggest money maker and money-taker for Power Conference schools. Other sports are going to be impacted, and while money is typically pumped into basketball as well, it’s going to be an expensive move to have schools along the west coach flying across the country several times a year just to play conference games. So yes, this could be interesting for football and even basketball, what about the other sports where accommodations don’t see nearly the investment of those two sports?

It’s safe to say this isn’t close to being over. And I’m not sure where this all leads.