At Big 12 Tournament, coaches express desire to add Arizona schools

Mar 9, 2023, 3:00 PM | Updated: Mar 10, 2023, 12:10 pm
Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his team's play against Texas Tech during the first half of an...
Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his team's play against Texas Tech during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
(AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

The week on the court at the Pac-12 Tournament is an important one for the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils. They want to add games to their March schedules.

Behind the scenes, discussions are ongoing regarding their future in the conference of champions as we know it.

League commissioner George Kliavkoff is in the final stages of agreeing to a new media rights deal. While John Canzano reports that a Tuesday board meeting with Pac-12 CEOs among the 10 schools committed to the future of the conference led to “good progress,” there is at least belief outside of the men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas that the league could still be at risk of dissolving.

The Athletic reported on Friday that the Big 12 had been in contact with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah about potentially joining their conference.

And before the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City got into its second day, multiple coaches have openly expressed intrigue at the thought of expansion: Two specifically named the Arizona schools as appealing targets, reports CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd.

“That, to me, is the one we have to get,” (Kansas head coach Bill) Self said of Arizona.

“I’ve always thought the Arizona schools, Colorado and Utah are a natural fit for us,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “Who doesn’t want to visit Arizona?”

Dodd’s Big 12 sources believe that if one of the four potential Pac-12 targets leaves its current conference, the other three could follow.

Dodd adds that there have been “weekly” conversations between the Big 12 and the four schools.

While outside opinions might not matter if the Pac-12 schools remain committed to what’s left after UCLA and USC leave for the Big Ten following next season, there are at least some signs of preparation for potential fracturing in the Pac-12.

As The Mercury News’ Jon Wilner points out, the Pac-12’s executive committee who work with Kliavkoff most closely on a deal are chosen by seniority, and none of them are from the schools in Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

The Colorado Board of Regents, the governing body of the state’s public colleges and universities, held a special session on Wednesday. The topic?

“Legal advice on a specific matter – athletics update on PAC 12.”

Of course, there was Arizona State vice president for university athletics Ray Anderson weeks back expressing confidence in Kliavkoff. In the same breath, he admitted anxiousness and frustration over the media rights negotiations that have gone months longer than expected.

“We’re managing it by being patient and letting the process with our new commissioner take its course. It’s been challenging and it’s been frustrating, I don’t think anybody can deny that,” Anderson told Bickley & Marotta when he joined Arizona Sports on Feb. 23.

“And so we’ve had to be patient because, very frankly, we’re not in control. We certainly believe in the value of this market and certainly the value ASU as an institution brings to the Pac-12 conference.”

While Anderson’s words aren’t overly harsh or critical of Kliavkoff and the Pac-12, it’s at least a very different tone than what Self is saying of his first-year commissioner, Brett Yormark.

The Big 12 has attempted to rebrand its basketball tournament, making it a cultural event in Kansas City.

“I don’t know his gameplan or everything but what I do know, the little bit I’ve been around him and know what he’s expressed to the coaches and myself, is whatever is a 10, he wants the Big 12 to operate what’s next to that,” Self said Wednesday. “Whatever it is that would make our product better, let’s do it.

“I know he’s obviously thinking big-picture that we have to bring money into the league, revenue. But I also think he feels like, maybe you spend a little revenue (and that) will help bring a bigger revenue into the league.”

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At Big 12 Tournament, coaches express desire to add Arizona schools