How A Pac-12, ACC Merger Could Shift TV Network Power Yet Again

Jul 6, 2022, 11:19 AM
ESPN Layoffs...
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05: A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN)
(Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN)

SALT LAKE CITY- FOX and the Big Ten issued a big blow to ESPN and the SEC last Thursday bringing on USC and UCLA in 2024. Essentially, if talk on the street is to be believed, and there is evidence that it should, at least partially, ESPN was busy playing checkers when FOX decided chess would be more fun. Checkmate.

Talk had been that ESPN was already behind FOX even with adding Oklahoma and Texas last summer around $10 million allegedly. With FOX picking up USC and UCLA just last week that number allegedly jumped to around $25 million. What is ESPN to do?

This Is What We Call A Flip

On Tuesday, the talks about what felt like the inevitable possibility that the Pac-12 was soon to be dissolved into some combination of the Big Ten and/or SEC, and Big XII switched to what is sounding like a very strong possibility that the Pac-12 and ACC unite their efforts in some kind of merger deal. Details have still been sparse as to exactly what this might entail, but there has been optimism around an idea that seemed to be on very few people’s conference realignment bingo cards.

John Canzano appeared to be the first to report on the Pac-12/ACC Merger, with John Wilner following suit and Dennis Dodd backing it up further later in the evening. One of the more interesting takes from this new conference realignment direction however, comes from  TrojansWire essentially laying out how such a move would put ESPN and the SEC back in the driver’s seat. In other terms, ESPN may have just turned the chess match into Monopoly and could tic-tac-toe their way in any direction they please. How is that for child’s play?

How A Pac-12/ACC Merger Changes The Game

First, TrojansWire makes it very clear this is in no way what will happen, or is happening, just what could happen if this merger truly comes to pass. This has and will continue to be an important emphasis to put on anything and everything pertaining to conference realignment until there is actually some dried ink on paper and a formal announcement.

The second thing that stood out was their breakdown of why some kind of realignment or merging with the Big XII (the more popular thought process until recently) actually isn’t as great of an idea as it seemed. There are certainly some things that make sense with the Big XII and Pac-12 doing business, as with anything, but what often was glossed over that could be problematic is the Pac’s extreme dedication to the academic front as well as the athletic front. That’s not to say there aren’t good schools in the Big XII because there are, it’s more about how each side goes about their academic business that may not ultimately be the greatest fit.

However, and this is the third part that stood out from TrojansWire’s breakdown, is how in tune the ACC and Pac-12 are both academically (AAU accreditation) and athletically. My personal suspicion, and why I think this option wasn’t really taken that seriously until just the other day is 1) geography and 2) the ACC’s grant of rights (signed in 2016 and goes through 2036) feels rather daunting to deal with to people who don’t work with contracts daily.

However, if said merger comes to pass, contracts are where Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff and even ESPN flourish, which might be why some of the early reporting on this potential move are pegging Kliavkoff as “innovative” and thinking “outside the box”. It’s his realm and doing business with someone under a grant of rights isn’t as scary sounding to him as it is to others. (Larry Scott would never.)

That brings us to what the possibility of a unified Pac-12/ACC does for ESPN and the TV network power struggle.

The biggest selling point here for ESPN is their existing relationship with the ACC. If the Pac-12 somehow merges with them, they are now in control of two power conferences (SEC and Pac-12/ACC). Fox would only be in control of one (Big Ten) which is a significant shift in all of this.

It is also important to look at what we all believe to be the end game here which is maximizing TV dollars for the SEC and Big Ten. If ESPN has the ACC and Pac-12 in their control, that means they can eventually carve things out as they see fit and the Big Ten wouldn’t really be able to do much about it. There is also some thought, according to TrojansWire, that the ACC’s grant of rights isn’t as iron clad as many believe and there would be room for ESPN to move pieces around as they see fit. There are a ton of possibilities with this scenario that TrojansWire broke down.

I think the important thing to understand here is a Pac-12/ACC alliance (with a written and signed contract, obviously) opens a world of possibilities for ESPN that they like and that the ACC and Pac-12 would ultimately be happy with too. Your move, Big Ten (again, assuming any of this actually comes to pass).

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