A month ago, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles announced their departure from the Pac-12 Conference. As of today, only four colleges remain: University of California, Berkeley; Oregon State University; Stanford University and Washington State University.
With college football beginning less than a month away, five schools announced last Friday their departures, just one week after the University of Colorado Boulder jumped ship to the Big 12 Conference. The University of Arizona, Arizona State University and the University of Utah will join UC Boulder. And in 2024, the University of Oregon and the University of Washington will join the Big Ten.
With eight schools gone, PAC-12, the winningest conference with 553 national championships that’s produced the likes of Jackie Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Elway, may be rendered a relic of the past.
The consequences of this major college sports realignment affect more than just Saturday football outings. Remaining PAC-12 universities are now at risk of losing millions of dollars on bowl revenue, ticket sales and the brand recognition that comes with being a part of a nationally recognized conference.
“The amount of coverage and eyes on this, this is going to change the landscape of college football completely. But it’s also going to change the landscape of college: the enrollment, marketing spending and recruiting,” says Ned Caron, vice president of marketing for Gray Associates.
Blows to a football program can leave an immediate impact on an institution’s regular operation. When college football and NFL icon Deion Sanders left the head coaching job at Jackson State University late last year, student applications fell by 17.4%, according to National Student Clearinghouse Data.
How media deals dictate the conference landscape
This recent conference realignment is primarily due to the revenue colleges gain from being part of increasingly attractive media deals. The Big Ten signed a seven-year, $7 billion deal with multiple networks, while the Big 12 signed a six-year, $2 billion deal with Fox and ESPN. These conferences will distribute their revenue, which includes the television money, along to its participating members. In the 2021-22 fiscal year, SEC schools earned $49.9 million on average.
“Tickets are for only eight games, some of these contracts are worth a billion dollars. We’re going from gates of $100 million to TV revenue deals worth over a billion,” says Caron. “Even with an 80,000-seat stadium, you are not coming close to the TV revenue deals and the licensing deals that go along with them.”
While the PAC-12 was working on a streaming deal with Apple, it was not enough to convince its departing members to stay. “I genuinely felt that on Friday morning we would sign the needed paperwork, finalize the deal with Apple, and move the Pac‑12 toward a new and brighter future,” said Kirk Schulz, president of Washington State University, in a statement.
Florida State’s tension with ACC members over revenue
Florida State president Richard McCullough told its board in a public meeting last Wednesday that it was “very seriously” considering leaving the ACC as it continued to slip behind the SEC and Big Ten in annual revenue from its athletics. The university presented numbers that showed that while it brings 15% of the value to its current TV deal, it only gets 7% of the revenue.
“Something has to change because we cannot compete nationally, being $30 million behind every year. It’s not one year. We’re talking about $30 million compounded year after year,” said FSU Athletic Director Michael Alford, according to ESPN.
Much of the gripe from McCullough and Alford derives from the fact the ACC is locked into a more than decade-long deal with ESPN that brings in significantly less revenue than rival conferences.