“Hindsight is 20/20.”
You hear it all the time, and yet, people always seem to dwell on the past and wonder what could’ve been had they made a different choice, now knowing the outcome.
I’m quite certain that’s exactly what George Kliavkoff, and several other Pac-12 officials, are thinking this week.
After Colorado succeeded from the conference at the end of July, the Pac-12 saw five more schools leave for greener pastures in the first week of August.
Now, with just four schools remaining, the Pac-12 is barely a shell of its former self, and will likely totally dissolve once the remaining four find a new home.
To make matters worse, this was an avoidable situation, but hubris and major strategic errors provided a sudden and impactful fall for the now-dead conference.
In October of 2022, the Big 12 jumped ahead of the Pac-12 to secure a media rights deal with ESPN which, in hindsight, was the death knell for the Pac-12.
The deal was struck just a couple of weeks after the Pac-12 took its media rights to the open market when their exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and FOX closed without a deal.
The Big 12 is set to make $31.7M per school under the new deal with ESPN and FOX, but the Pac-12 had something very similar on the table, according to John Canzano.
“The Pac-12 got an offer of $30 million per school from ESPN in the fall of 2022,” Canzano wrote on Friday. “It included all the conference’s media rights, including the Pac-12 Network. But the conference presidents and chancellors believed they could do much better.
“The board instructed Kliavkoff to reject ESPN’s proposal and make a lopsided counter-offer. The commissioner should have pushed back and managed expectations in the room. He should have been more tuned into the eroding media landscape. Kliavkoff followed the order and the consequences were grave.”
Canzano then went a little deeper into the discussion with the Pac-12 source last fall, showing just how incredibly awful this went for the conference.
Source to Canzano: “You know what we told ESPN after their $30 million per-school offer?”
Source: “We said we want $50 million per school.”
Canzano: “What was the ESPN response?”
In what world could the Pac-12, minus USC and UCLA, believe it was worth $50M per school? Heck, looking back, $30M per school was a generous offer at the time.
FOX played a part in the Pac-12’s demise as well, according to Canzano’s sources, who said the conference’s former television partner became a powerful “force” in the weeks preceding the Pac-12’s final descent.
Once Colorado peeled away from the Pac-12, and was guaranteed a full share of the Big 12’s $31.7M per year, the Big Ten, another partner of FOX, got involved by nabbing Oregon and Washington.
“Fox obviously screwed us and I would argue that after that initial ESPN offer in the fall that ESPN was no friend,” a source told Canzano.
In the end, the fall of the Pac-12 is squarely on the shoulders of its leadership, with both Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff playing key roles in the conference’s demise. With distrust, arrogance, and plenty of missteps, the Pac-12’s leaders sent the conference right over the cliff, and thus ended the era of the “Power Five.”