08 August, 2023
Three more Pac-12 institutions have transferred to the Big 12.
The Big 12 announced late Friday that Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah will join the conference in 2024.
The Big 12 would have 16 members in 2024 with the three additions. Colorado previously left the Pac-12 for the Big 12, which added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF when Oklahoma and Texas left for the SEC.
“We are thrilled to welcome Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah to the Big 12,” stated Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark. “The Big 12 is gaining three premier institutions, both academically and athletically, and the entire conference looks forward to working alongside their presidents, athletic directors, student-athletes, and administrators.”
In a meeting Thursday night, the Arizona Board of Regents — which governs both Arizona and Arizona State — supported the transfer to the Big 12, clearing the door for the Big 12 to accept formal applications from those two schools. Utah submitted its own application on Friday afternoon, and its board of directors convened hours later to decide on the move.
The Big 12 executive committee met on Thursday to approve Arizona’s application to join the league. Arizona State and Utah were less enthusiastic about leaving the Pac-12, but that changed on Friday when Oregon and Washington were invited to join the Big Ten.
Arizona and Arizona State have been Pac-12 members since 1978. Before leaving to become the Pac-10, they were founding members of the former Western Athletic Conference. After 45 years, the two are planning another conference move together.
“Arizona Athletics is well positioned for long-term success,” Arizona president Robert Robbins said. “Our goal has always been to secure a bright future for our student-athletes, fans, and the entire university community.” “By increasing visibility, expanding our reach across the country and around the world, expanding our pool of prospective students, providing more resources to support our student-athletes, and presenting them with greater NIL prospects, our move to the Big 12 conference will continue to raise the University’s profile.”
“We are excited for this new chapter, a move that is necessary to remain competitive in top-tier Division 1 athletics,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We are joining a premier athletic conference, bringing up-and-coming programs, our rich traditions and history, and the metro Phoenix media market with us.” We’re in a terrific situation, and we’re excited to be moving with Arizona and Utah.”
Meanwhile, Utah is changing conferences for the second time in 12 years. Utah, like Arizona and ASU, was a founding member of the WAC and remained a member until 1999. The Utes then competed in the Mountain West before joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
“I am very optimistic about the future of the University of Utah in the Big 12.” Joining our Pac-12 and AAU colleagues from Colorado and Arizona is vital to our purpose and makes sense, as does reviving our historic in-state rivalry with Brigham Young University,” said Utah president Taylor Randall. “Being a Pac-12 member has elevated the University of Utah and demonstrated our student-athletes’ ability to compete at the highest levels on and off the field; our move to the Big 12 will not change that position.”
Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah will be the Pac-12’s sixth, seventh, and eighth schools to leave in the last 13 months. UCLA and USC accepted invites to the Big Ten in July, beginning in 2024. Colorado then led the next round of realignment last week, with Oregon and Washington joining the Big Ten on Friday.
With the Pac-12 on the point of collapse, the three institutions chose the Big 12 for its stability.
Since the departures of USC and UCLA, the Pac-12 has been on uncertain ground. For the past year, the conference has been feverishly trying to negotiate a new media rights deal. Meanwhile, the Big 12 has aggressively pursued expansion prospects, having already extended its broadcast rights arrangements with ESPN and Fox through 2031.
As of last week, Pac-12 presidents and chancellors have yet to see any financial data from commissioner George Kliavkoff on a new media rights deal. The uncertainty became too much for Colorado to bear, and the institution chose the Big 12 for its security.
On Tuesday, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors were finally given the specifics of the media rights agreement. The streaming platform Apple was named as the major rights holder, with potential sub-licensing prospects for linear television companies such as ESPN and Fox. The Pac-12’s existing television agreement with ESPN and Fox expires in July of next year.
When Colorado officially announced its departure, school officials cited the Big 12’s TV arrangement as a superior choice. The Big 12 agreement would also provide a higher revenue share than the Pac-12 agreement.
“We want to be aligned with Fox and ESPN,” Colorado AD Rick George told reporters last Thursday at a news conference in Boulder.
The Big 12 would also bring “more favorable time slots” and “greater national exposure” than continuing in the Pac-12, according to George.
Utah President Mark Randall stated on Friday that “stronger forces” in collegiate athletics and a “greater media landscape” finally led to the Utes’ decision to leave the Pac-12.
“I am grateful for all of the hard work my Pac-12 conference colleagues put in to keep the conference together and provide a path forward for all of our students, fans, and communities.” Stronger dynamics inside national collegiate athletics and the larger media scene ultimately led to today’s decision. “I am hopeful that the Pac-12 relationships we have built over the last 12 years will remain strong,” Randall added.
“After very thorough and comprehensive efforts to preserve our current conference affiliation in the aftermath of the announced departures of UCLA and USC last year, we have explored all options and determined that the right path for Utah to continue to build on its tremendous growth trajectory is to accept an invitation to join the Big 12 conference,” said Utah athletic director Mark Harlan.
Because of the media rights situation, the Pac-12 has shrunk to four schools: Cal, Oregon State, Stanford, and Washington State. Needless to say, the future of the league is in jeopardy.
“Today’s news is incredibly disappointing for Pac-12 student-athletes, fans, alumni, and staff who cherish the Conference of Champions’ over 100-year history, tradition, and rivalries,” the Pac-12 stated in a statement Friday night. “We remain committed to ensuring the best possible future for each of our member institutions.”
According to Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellenger, leaders from the Pac-12’s remaining four institutions have explored a possible merger or alliance with the Mountain West. The Mountain West has a $34 million departure fee to leave the Pac-12 before the 2024 season, so reconstructing the Pac-12 with MWC expansion candidates is improbable, but a collaboration of some kind may be a plausible alternative.