June 8, 2023

Arizona president says realignment talk premature until Pac-12 has hard numbers on TV deal

The Pac-12's current deal expires after the 2023-24 school year.

UA Athletics View from the north end zone at Arizona Stadium.
AC Swedbergh, AZPM

University of Arizona President Robert Robbins says until Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff gives the conference's leaders hard numbers on a future media rights deal, any talk about schools leaving the league is premature.

Robbins spoke to a small group of reporters Wednesday, the day before the university hosted a Future of College Athletics Summit not far from Capitol Hill.

Robbins was cautious about providing a timetable for when the Pac-12 schools would be presented with a new television contract, saying only he expected Kilavkoff to deliver a deal “soon.”

The Pac-12's current deal expires after the 2023-24 school year.

“We have not seen a deal,” Robbins said. “If we see a working document that gives us numbers, that’s what we don’t have. Until we have it, nobody can make an informed decision because we will not have been informed.”

Robbins called the steady drum beat of speculative media reports that have the Pac-12 on the verge of falling apart “propaganda." He acknowledged that he has spoken with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark, just not recently.

Yormark has said he would like the Big 12 to expand West and include more schools in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

“He’s aggressive. He has big plans for the Big 12. I wish him well. All 10 of us are focused on the (media rights) deal,” Robbins said.

The Big 12 jumped ahead of the Pac-12 and agreed to a six-year extension to its current deal with Fox and ESPN late last year, though that has also not been officially announced by any of the parties.

Earlier in 2022, the Big Ten landed a landmark set of deals with three networks — CBS, NBC, and Fox — that will be worth more than $7 billion over seven years. The Southeastern Conference has contracts with ESPN that are worth upward of $7 billion over 10 years.

“We’re not going to get a Big Ten deal. We’re not going to get an SEC deal,” Robbins said. "But if we finish third in this sweepstakes ... I’ve never thought that winning the bronze medal was a great aspirational goal. But if we win a bronze medal, I think we’d all declare victory.”

Robbins said his preference, and the consensus among his colleagues in the Pac-12, is to keep the current 10 schools together.

Robbins said he was “cautiously optimistic.”

Whether the Pac-12 expands is dependent on whether a new television deal will include an equal share for potential new members and not cut into what the existing members receive, Robbins said.

Robbins said the Pac-12 having a presence in Southern California, following the departures of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten in 2024, would be desirable. He mentioned San Diego State as a possible fit, along with maybe expanding to Texas. Kilavkoff visited SMU, located in Dallas, earlier this year.

Recent reports suggest Colorado could be the first Pac-12 school to jump at the Big 12's overtures. But Robbins said — taking a line from the movie “Jerry Maguire” — until Kilavkoff can show the Pac-12 presidents the money in a new television deal, any further conference realignment at the top-tier of college football is likely on hold.

“Each of us will make our own independent analysis,” Robbins said of the Pac-12 schools. "My prediction is that we’re all going to stay together as a Pac-12. There’s 10 of us right now. I’m hopeful that the deal is going to be good enough to keep us together.”

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