Big 12 in intense discussions to add up to six Pac-12 teams to Big Ten after USC, UCLA transitions

The Big 12 is locked in intense discussions to add multiple Pac-12 programs to strengthen its membership after USC and UCLA defected to the Big Ten, CBS Sports sources report. At least four teams are being considered, with the potential for the Big 12 to add more if the realignment continues to falter.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah were specifically mentioned as the teams targeted by the Big 12, CBS Sports sources report. It is also considering adding Oregon and Washington to make the Big 12 an 18-team league, the largest in the FBS.

A merger of the Big 12 and Pac-12 in some form is also possible.

“Everything is on the table,” said a Big 12 source.

There is “no question” that the Big 12 need to be aggressive in expanding, another conference source said.

An industry source suggested that the Big 12 should expand quickly with Pac-12 teams and then hit the market early with rights holders to stay ahead of the Pac-12. The Pac-12 deal with Fox and ESPN expires in 2024. The Big 12’s deal with the same networks expires in 2025.

“All of these things have been talked about,” said a Big 12 source.

Adding at least those four schools would further expand the Big 12 into the Mountain Time Zone, creating “travel mates” for the new member of BYU while also adding a rival for the Cougars in the Utes. The Arizona schools are two hours apart and feature Phoenix as a key market acquisition for the conference.

What the Big 12 can’t afford, according to multiple industry sources, is to stay pat. The question still remains as to who even has influence on adding teams between the Pac-12 and Big 12.

An industry source gave the Big 12 what it called a slight tilt by being able to nab teams from the other conference.

The difference in earnings value between the Big 12 and Pac-12 would be “negligible” after this round of rebalancing, but the expansion would at least strengthen the Big 12 while weakening the Pac-12.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah bring an annual average (AAV) that is at least equal to the 12 members of the Big 12 who are expected to remain in the league after Texas and Oklahoma are eliminated in 2025.

That’s one reason why expanding the Big 12 would work in this case, as the conference wouldn’t aim to shrink their slices of the media rights pie. It’s not yet known if the addition of Oregon and Washington will be viewed the same way by the Big 12.

All of this assumes, of course, that Fox, a half-partner of ESPN in both conferences, is even interested in striking a deal with either or both of the restored leagues. If not, ESPN could become the primary rights holder if interested.

There is a relationship with the Big 12 that needs repairing after outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby claimed a conspiracy between ESPN, the SEC and the American last summer. New Commissioner Brett Yormark takes office on August 1st.

The Pac-12’s projected AAV dropped significantly from $500 million per year (about $42 million per school) to $300 million ($30 million) for the remaining 10 teams after the league USC and UCLA had lost, so the San Jose Mercury News.

Navigate, a sports and entertainment advisory group, said in March that members of a 12-team Big 12 would make $52 million by 2029. Other industry insiders have disputed that number.

According to Sports Illustrated, Notre Dame’s “preference” is to remain independent. The possibility of making $80 million to $100 million in the Big Ten might sway that attitude, but Notre Dame has had money on the table before — for decades, actually.

The Fighting Irish have always valued their planning independence and their unique marketing strength. If Notre Dame remains independent, the focus is clearly on the Big 12 and Pac-12 in realignment.

The consolidation of money and power at the top of the SEC’s 32 programs and the Big Ten has sent shockwaves throughout collegiate athletics.

What will a playoff look like in 2026 when a unanimous vote is no longer required to approve an updated structure? Will there even be a playoff?

It’s imperative that 98 schools below the SEC and the Big Ten try to get as close to superconferences as possible. The ACC is tied to its deal until 2036, assuming there are no defectors.

For the Big 12, the flexibility to increase their profitability, media markets and branding are attractive enough reasons to consider expansion.

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