Bye, Buffs: What’s the fallout for ASU, Arizona in Pac-12 realignment?

Jul 28, 2023, 9:39 AM | Updated: 10:27 am

Arizona Wildcats AD Dave Heeke...

University of Arizona Wildcats Director of Athletics Dave Heeke speaks during the 2021 Final Four banner unveiling ceremony after a basketball game between the Texas Southern University Tigers and the University of Arizona Wildcats on November 15, 2021 at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Colorado’s decision on Thursday to announce a departure from the Pac-12 after this academic year now moves attention from the Buffaloes. They will join an aggressive Big 12 in 2024-25 that under new commissioner Brett Yormark now likely turns its attention to which other school or schools it can add.

According to multiple reports, the Big 12 could add one or three more schools to even out its conference after pending departures of Texas and Oklahoma. Poaching more Pac-12 schools is on the table, as is an East Coast addition of the UConn Huskies.

Out West, however, attention squarely turns to the remaining four-corner schools: Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.

According to 247 Sports’ Brandon Marcello, the Wildcats appear most likely on the edge of considering a move, while ASU and Utah have shown signs of more commitment to the Pac-12.

Yormark’s primary target is Arizona, sources tell 247Sports. The university is open to discussing its future and the Big 12 has communicated with the Wildcats’ leadership for several months. Members of Arizona’s board of regents have expressed a desire to keep Arizona State and Arizona in the same conference, sources tell 247Sports, but that is not expected to be a roadblock if the Wildcats want to go alone and join Colorado in the Big 12. Arizona State’s university leadership has been cautious with the changing landscape and is not bullish on moving to the Big 12, sources tell 247Sports.

Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde reports that Arizona is viewed as the most likely to leave the Pac-12, adding that Yormark is likely to put potential targets “on the clock” to expedite the expansion process to reach 14 teams.

Regarding the Wildcats, Marcello’s report backs that of ESPN’s Pete Thamel, who added Wednesday that Arizona had been the most engaged of the four-corner schools with Big 12 talks.

Publicly, Arizona president Dr. Robert Robbins has left the door ajar to a potential departure. He has been consistent, however, in saying he wants to see a new Pac-12 media deal presented by commissioner George Kliavkoff, something that has lagged for months and put the conference in a vulnerable position as USC, UCLA and Colorado now prepare to leave.

The Athletic’s Max Olson spoke to Robbins on Wednesday before Pac-12 CEOs met Thursday about realignment in reaction to Colorado’s announcement.

In a brief interview with The Athletic on Wednesday, University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins repeated what he’s said all along: He needs to see a Pac-12 media rights deal. He’d prefer to stay in the Pac-12, that much is clear, but Kliavkoff needs to deliver an acceptable agreement. He’s willing to be patient but acknowledged that the Pac-12’s latest board meeting on Wednesday morning didn’t offer much clarity on a timetable.

“We’ve still got a year left on the contract. It’s not like you’ve got to decide do you jump or go down with the building,” Robbins said. “So I don’t feel pressure or stress or anything about this. I’m just waiting to see what the deal looks like.”

If we take Robbins’ word for it, the money will likely dictate how likely it is the Pac-12 sticks together with only nine committed members at present.

Until word spreads about what a media deal looks like in monetary terms and distribution partners, it’s wait-and-see.

Kliavkoff has maintained that the conference wants to secure a media rights agreement before discussing expansion. But that two-pronged problem is connected if the conference doesn’t have clear membership and media markets to promise its TV partners.

Colorado’s future departure ventures the Pac-12 into the weeds of whether it can somehow land new schools. San Diego State was considered a favorite, but it has red flags about a massive $34 million buyout to leave the Mountain West in the next few years.

The longer this goes with potential cracks in the Pac-12’s plans, the more the likelihood grows that university leaders shift their tone. And the next domino to fall, for the betterment or demise of the Pac-12, could very well be in the Grand Canyon State.

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