Column: Oregon and Washington joining the Big Ten seems inevitable

With so much money at stake, how could it not be?

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Every day a new report surfaces on the Pac-12’s media rights negotiations and the future of the conference. Scoops, opinions and predictions are flying like water out of a fire hydrant. 

George Kliavkoff has lost control of the narrative

Pac-12 president: Expect a deal to come in mid-March

The Big 12 wants to add the Pac-12’s four corner schools

The more I read, watch and listen brings me to the conclusion that administrators at Oregon and Washington hold all of the cards when it comes to what’s next for the Pac-12. 

They’re in this position because they are attractive expansion candidates for the Big Ten. 

The Action Network’s college football insider Brett McMurphy went on The Solid Verbal College Football Podcast earlier this week and said the following about the Ducks and Huskies:

“From the people I talk to, they tell me that expansion is not dead. Now does that mean the Big Ten is going to add somebody next week or next month? No. But I think within the next two or three years or sooner, that they will. The future of the Pac-12 is largely dependent on how aggressive the Big Ten gets. I think they’re going to be very aggressive because I still think their plan never was just add UCLA and USC and leave them on an island. They want to bring in more Pac-12 schools.”

The Big Ten’s new media rights deal with Fox, CBS and NBC is for seven years and worth more than $7 billion. It begins on July 1. In the first two years of the deal, schools are expected to earn around $62.5 million each. That number will jump up to between $80 million to $100 million once USC and UCLA join and CBS begins to air more of the conference’s games. 

In an article published on Wednesday, Mercury News writer Jon Wilner, who is as plugged in as anyone when it comes to reporting on the Pac-12, predicted that schools in the conference will receive around $29.7 million per year in the Pac-12’s next rights deal.

Even though the presidents and chancellors from Oregon and Washington signed off on the Pac-12 unity statement last month, is it really in the schools’ best interest to stay in a conference that will pay substantially less money annually?

It’s complicated. 


Here’s ESPN writer Pete Thamel’s reporting regarding the best possible outcome for the Pac-12:

“The television contract numbers that [Pac-12 commissioner George] Kliavkoff delivers in the upcoming weeks are paramount to the league’s survival. If the numbers are decent, some sort of temporary solution can be constructed with a deal expected to be in the five-year range.”

The key word there is “temporary”. Barring a Hail Mary situation where the Pac-12 and ACC find a way to team up to increase value, there is nothing the Pac-12 can do to that will give Oregon and Washington anywhere close to the money they’d get in the Big Ten. 

“The issue with Oregon and Washington and the Pac-12’s future is that the long-term path appears fraught,” Thamel went on to write. “If there’s a decent deal available to the Pac-12 in the upcoming weeks and if Oregon and Washington want to sign a grant of rights to be part of that deal, it will be a short-term deal…This means in another three years, the same issues of whether the Big Ten has the appetite to consume them will remain.”

Unequal revenue sharing has been brought up in the past to try and appease Oregon and Washington. While that of course would help the two schools, there most likely won’t be enough money available to make it worthwhile even if the smaller schools in the Pac-12 agree to it.

The ACC is currently looking at unequal revenue sharing among its members to try and keep the bigger schools happy. The conference is running into the same issue the Pac-12 would have — unequal revenue sharing doesn’t make a big enough difference to compete with the Big Ten and SEC.

According to an ESPN article on the ACC’s current situation: “Even the most seismic shifts in distribution don’t exactly paint the picture of a financial windfall for power programs like Clemson and Florida State. Estimates shared by sources with knowledge of the discussions suggest a net shift of between $250,000 and $3 million annually — “pocket change,” as one AD called it — leading some administrators to wonder if it’s worth all the trouble.”

There are two other factors that Wilner touched on that will be important to pay attention to regarding Oregon and Washington’s future and why they could choose to stay in the Pac-12, at least for now.

Whether it’s with Apple or Amazon, or both entities, the Pac-12 will almost certainly sign a new media deal that will include a streaming only partner. That union, at least at first, will be viewed more favorably by Pac-12 presidents than the general public, according to Wilner. That’s the first factor:

“We should also point out that it’s difficult for fans in other regions to grasp how entrenched Apple and Amazon are in the culture and economics of the West Coast. Washington president Ana Mari Cauce is the chair of the Pac-12’s Board of Directors. Her office is 3.5 miles from Amazon’s headquarters. Stanford president Marc Tessiere-Lavigne is on the board’s agenda-driving executive committee (along with Cauce and WSU’s Kirk Schulz). His office is 14 miles from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. Our sense is the presidents don’t look at the streaming giants with the wariness that might exist in other conferences. They would view partnerships as enhancing deeper connections than mere broadcast agreements.”

Would partnering with Amazon and/or Apple to “enhance deeper connections” between the companies and the universities really be worth it for Washington and Oregon? 

I’m skeptical. It still looks to me like those schools would be missing out on millions of dollars if that’s the reason they choose to stay with the Pac-12.

The other factor that’s important to keep in mind is just how involved Cauce is with the Pac-12 negotiations and the fact that Oregon currently has an interim president in Patrick Phillips. 

As chair of the Pac-12’s board of directors, Cauce is the top ranking official in charge of guiding the board and presenting media proposals to the Pac-12 CEO group

It obviously wouldn’t be a good look to present media deal proposals to the Pac-12 CEO group one day and then jet for a new conference the next. 

Plus, would Oregon really jump ship with an interim president leading the way? That seems unlikely too. 


I think the Pac-12 will stay together in the short term. The Big Ten currently doesn’t have a commissioner and even though the Pac-12’s grant of rights is up in 2024 and Oregon and Washington could jet to the Big Ten for nothing in the summer, the timing isn’t ideal, as I mentioned above.

I put a lot of stock into Thamel’s reporting on a short term five-year media deal for the Pac-12.

If the money is close to what the Big-12 got, $31.7 million annually, I can see Oregon and Washington signing the grant of rights for five years and then planning for a move to the Big Ten either when the grant expires or even a year or two before.  

To me, Oregon and Washington joining the Big Ten feels inevitable. With so much money at stake, how could it not be?

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