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May 25, 2010

Big 12 and Pac-10 appear to be inching closer to TV deal

It appears the Big 12 and Pac-10 are inching closer to a football scheduling alliance for television similar to the basketball Hardwood Series the two leagues currently have.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott told Orangebloods.com on Monday that he and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe have had discussions about creating a football television package of non-conference games between the two leagues that could create "the kind of scale, national exposure and financial growth both conferences are looking for in our next round of TV deals."

"It certainly makes some sense to look at," Scott said. "Our analysis is looking at a few different options on parallel tracks and one of those would be a strategic alliance, the core of which would be a TV pooling joint venture with the Big 12.

"(Big 12 commissioner) Dan Beebe and I have had discussions about that since last September. Initially, we even included the ACC in those discussions. Although, they are on a different timetable in terms of their TV rights and just extended their package with ESPN. But we at the Pac-10, along with the Big 12, have major TV packages coming up for renegotiation next year."

Beebe couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. The cable portion of the Big 12 football TV contract expires in 2012 and is up for renegotiation in 2011. The Big 12's network football contract with ABC/ESPN runs through 2015.

Started in 2007, the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series became a way to guarantee top flight competition for both conferences and garner more recognition for the level of play of both leagues in basketball. The series mirrors the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and was renewed in 2009.


THE PAC-10 NETWORK?

Scott said the Pac-10 is "seriously exploring the idea of a Pac-10 Network going forward." Scott hired former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg as the league's new chief operating officer. Weiberg, 53, spent 18 months helping launch the Big Ten Network, which will earn the conference $2.8 billion over the next 25 years and helps expose nonrevenue sports. Getting more attention for Olympic sports is a top priority for Scott in the Pac-10.

"We're seriously exploring the idea of a Pac-10 Network going forward," Scott told Orangebloods.com. "We are intrigued by the idea from a few different perspectives. First of all, the Big Ten has shown it can be very profitable, and the schools are able to have equity in something like that, which makes a lot of sense from our perspective.

"We also think our conference is particularly well laid out for a network. We've got natural rivals in five different markets across our four states. So there's a lot of loyalty that fans have in these markets and a lot of significance our schools have in the markets we're in, including some of the biggest media markets in the country like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle. So we're very well laid out when it comes to a network.

"We also take a lot of pride in our Olympic sports. Women's sports is a source of pride. The Pac-10 wins more national championships than any other conference perennially. You've got schools like Stanford dominating the Director's Cup every year.

"We haven't had the exposure for some of those Olympic sports that we'd like to have as well. Obviously, a conference network is one way to gain more exposure for Olympic sports that you're proud of and you want to showcase as well. So that's something we've seriously looked at."


A BIG 12/PAC-10 MERGER?

There has been speculation that Texas and some members of the Big 12 could join up with the Pac-10 if the Big Ten's expansion causes the college landscape to change significantly.

Texas has indicated it would like to start its own network. But that would not fit in with the Pac-10 if it pursues a conference network. Scott said the only way a conference network would be viable is if the schools commit all of their TV rights.

"If you want to command a premium; if schools want to significantly ramp up the amount they're getting from their media revenues, it's got to be an all-in strategy because exclusivity and having a comprehensive programming approach is what the networks are going to pay a premium for," Scott said.

"To the extent it's a fractured environment, where schools are off doing their own thing, and the conference is trying to maximize revenues from the center, it's going to be dilutive, and you're not going to command the same amount of money for the schools."


STAYING COMPETITIVE

Scott said the current "anxiety" in college athletics about realignment is being driven by the Big Ten.

"As I'm looking at the national narrative here, it looks like the Big Ten has thrown down the gauntlet," Scott said. "We at the Pac-10 have been talking about expansion from the moment I arrived last summer. From my perspective, it was a very logical thing to look at.

"As you're coming with a fresh set of eyes and looking at a conference that hasn't changed very much and getting ready to enter the market for a major TV renegotiation it was a very logical thing. But it certainly didn't create the ripple effects nationally that the Big Ten's discussion has because there's a perception there may be a raiding of multiple conferences involved.

"It's certainly created a lot more anxiety than our discussion has. So I think it's fair to say what the Big Ten's talking about is a sense of 'game on,' and everyone's looking at different options."

Even though the Pac-10 is looking at possible expansion, a football television alliance between the Big 12 and Pac-10 might be the extent of any collaboration between the two leagues.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told The Dallas Morning News he thinks the Big 12 could survive with 10 members if two schools were to leave for the Big Ten (most likely Missouri and Nebraska).

"If two teams come out of the Big 12, I don't think it changes our world that much," Dodds told the Morning News.


NO ANNNOUNCEMENT FOR 'MONTHS'

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany
said last week his league will not announce any expansion plans ? if any ? for "months." Scott said the Pac-10's research and analysis about any possible expansion will be concluded by the end of the year.

"This issue of staying competitive is really what's at stake here," Scott said. "The Big Ten and SEC have scaled to another level based on the success of their media deals. That's why we've got a laser-like focus on figuring out how we're going to optimize our value going forward and putting everything on the table, including the possibility of expansion.

"The Pac-10 and Big 12 are at very similar levels in terms of the current payouts in television revenue per school (about $9 million). There is a significant gap that's established. Some of that is timing related. We will do better in the next round of negotiations. The question is how much better?

"Are we going to be able to close the gap that exists with the Big Ten (roughly $22 million per school) and SEC (roughly $17 million per school)? Or even do better? That's the challenge we've got. These have tended to be long-term deals.

"So whatever gets done is likely to set the competitive landscape for quite a while to come. And that's why these discussions that are going on right now are of such critical importance and you've got to be prepared to look at everything."

Scott said it's too early to put odds on whether the Pac-10 will expand.

"We've just hired a media adviser, Creative Artists Agency, the Los Angeles-based entertainment agency," Scott said. "They are helping us analyze different models. We are just at the point where we're bringing some more granularity to the analysis.

"I couldn't predict yet. We are going to figure it out by the end of the year because we do enter our TV negotiation period in early 2011. So we're hard at work looking at it, but it would be too early to make a prediction."


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