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In Realignment, Big 12 and Pac-12 Need Each Other Now More Than Ever

On why forming a super-league to combat the Big Ten and SEC is a viable plan.



With the winds of change sweeping down the plains blowing harder in conference realignment than ever before, one thing is becoming increasingly clear as the Big Ten (newly armed with the imminent additions of UCLA and USC) and the SEC (newly armed with the imminent additions of Oklahoma and Texas) continue to vacuum up power in college athletics.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 need each other.

In a power ranking, the Pac-12 probably needs the Big 12 more than vice versa. Its television distribution through its own network is awful. It just lost the L.A. market and two of its biggest brands. Its revenue distribution is going to plummet even further with only 10 teams, even if Oregon and Washington are still left to hold down some semblance of credibility.

But let’s not overlook the Big 12’s own sticky situation. Adding BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston to the league imminently was a great step in the right direction to help, in part, overcome the losses of OU and Texas to the SEC. But it’s not enough. It was never going to be enough. OU and Texas made up about 50% of the Big 12’s value in its TV deal. You can make up for that in some capacity by just flooding the zone with mid-tier additions, but BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston don’t equate to Texas and Oklahoma. The value add you’re offering to streaming partners or future TV partners is not nearly enough.

Not even close.

Even Mike Gundy last week when asked about potential Big 12 expansion said his spidey senses were tingling to the tune of at least 16 teams.

“I don’t know how to gauge all that,” Gundy said of the financial dynamics potentially at play with expansion. “I just felt like that, before it’s all said and done a year ago or whenever we talked about this, the spring, nine months ago, I figured that ultimately we’d be at 16 teams. And I still think that today.

“I just think there’s security in numbers right now. How you divide all that and work that up with television money, how appealing is that to the networks that are paying the bills? I don’t know. That’s all over my head. I just know that if you start to run, in my opinion, if you start to run into conflicts with lower numbers, it’s easier for that conference to go away . . .”

The tricky part is, at least publicly, the Pac-12 has shown no interest in being taken in by the Big 12. Its new commissioner last year said it was fine standing pat with its current membership (before UCLA and USC jumped ship). But since then, the league has said it is entering into TV negotiations for the league’s next deal, a hint that perhaps it is willing to go at the next era of college athletics alone and without help.

This could ultimately be positioning, though. The Pac-12 is wounded. It doesn’t want to sound desperate — even if it is. That takes away leverage.

There’s little in the way of leverage, though, for the Pac-12. Without the L.A. market its next TV deal will be so far behind whatever the Big Ten and SEC get, that it will be relegated to mid-major status (or a step above). That could be remedied by a team-up with the Big 12. Win-win. Pac-12 gets security partnered or merged with a stable and still-growing league. Big 12 gets strength in numbers and added value for its next media rights deal through expansion into the west coast.

What’s not to like?

No league is going to willingly fold up shop without a fight, mind you. Even if the Pac-12 is a step below the Big 12, merging its membership into the Big 12 would take a swallowing of pride. (To say nothing, mind you, of the academic hurdles and challenges it would present.)

No one is saying this merge would be seamless.

But big picture it’s clear the Pac-12 needs the Big 12, and the Big 12 needs the Pac-12. They both need long-term security. They need new media rights deals. Going it alone is not the option. Together they can achieve both far quicker and more successfully than separately.

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