Rick George offered a sobering counterpoint for those expecting the pending demise of the Pac-12 Conference following the defection of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten.
For the premier collegiate athletics conference on the West Coast, that means no more USC football. No more UCLA men’s basketball. And no further direct windfall from the Los Angeles media market.
Still, Colorado’s athletic director is preferring a point of view best described as glass-half-full for the 10 schools still standing.
“So everybody is clear, we didn’t lose any team that has appeared in a CFP playoff game,” George said.
On Wednesday, George met local media members for the first time since the stunning announcement from USC and UCLA two weeks ago. Of course, the fact that the Pac-12 has produced exactly two entrants in the College Football Playoff since its inception for the 2014 season — and none since Washington’s semifinal-round loss following the 2016 season — is a big reason why the conference finds itself at a critical crossroads.
In the past two weeks, George and his fellow ADs and school presidents across the Pac-12 have conferred on an almost daily basis. George reiterated his belief on Wednesday the remaining 10 teams are presenting a unified front as they begin assessing what comes next.
“Our focus is going to be on keeping our conference aligned,” George said. “We still have the strength of our conference with the 10 schools. I feel really good about George (Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 commissioner) and what he’s doing. I can tell you the ADs are aligned on where we think this needs to go. We’re bullish on the future. We think there’s a lot of strength with the 10 schools. We’re really just focused on staying aligned and moving forward with the 10 schools we have. I think George has done a really good job collaborating with us. We’ve met consistently for the past 10 days, 11 days.
“I feel like we’re in a really good place. Our thing is we’ve got to keep our conference stable. We’re doing that and the ADs are committed to making sure the 10 of us stay together and we’ll see what the future brings in the days and weeks ahead.”
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement from the Los Angeles schools, all sorts of rumors and conjectures flooded the collegiate media landscape surrounding the Pac-12’s answering move. At one point the “Four Corners” schools — CU, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State — were linked to a move to the Big 12. Some type of alliance or even merger with the Big 12 or ACC also has hit the rumor mill.
George said on Wednesday no decision is likely to be announced until the league completes negotiations with ESPN and Fox, the current media rights holders for the Pac-12, over the next month. ESPN and Fox have an exclusive 30-day window to negotiate, which was activated last week, and George doesn’t expect any news on potential mergers or Pac-12 additions to surface until the 10 remaining schools get a grasp on the financial numbers offered by potential media partners.
As for the solidarity of the league, it would only take a phone call from the Big Ten to Oregon and Washington to put that unified front into question. Like his fellow ADs, George essentially has been rolling with the punches since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago. The league is standing together, at least until it’s not. And if that solidarity crumbles, George expects to roll with those punches as well.
“We’ve had so much happen in the last three years,” George said. “We’ve had so much hit us, you’ve got to be nimble and you’ve got to be able to move forward regardless of what happens out there. Do I feel confident in our 10? Yes. Could something change? Yes. When something changes, we’ll react to it. But we’re not going to react to rumors or innuendos that are out there. We’re going to react to the real life things that are going on. If something else happens, we’ll be able to meet that challenge, whatever it is.”