On Thursday morning, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he was walking off the job, or shall be, just as soon as the Conservative Party has selected a new boss. Per U.K. bookmakers, the leading candidate to move into 10 Downing Street once Johnson has packed it in for good is someone named Ben Wallace, who happens to serve as Secretary of State for Defense—a particularly diverting detail if you’re a Detroit Pistons fan. (No truth to the rumor that Rip Hamilton is up for chief whip, but don’t sleep on Rasheed Wallace for a spot on the Technical [Foul] Advisory Board.)
In keeping with the spirit of the times (and his own brand of calculated dishevelment), Johnson’s resignation was at once shambolic and composed. “I want people to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world. But them’s the breaks,” he concluded, reaching for an Americanism that perplexed and horrified England’s native population of snobs, yobs and armchair grammarians. In signing off with a humble idiomatic expression smuggled in from the Colonies, Johnson subtly confirmed what many political junkies have long suspected, which is to say that he’ll be joining the Big Ten.
The speed and sloppiness that characterized the overseas collapse are also the defining features of college football’s ongoing realignment/bloody-minded consolidation. As events accelerate, the facts begin to take on a willful slipperiness; even the most elementary definitions can be manipulated and twisted to suit one’s own needs. In the case of the raid on the Pac-12, the meaning of “deep discussions” as it relates to reported meetings between the Big 12 and representatives from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah is, to borrow from another cunning pol, the new “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
For what it’s worth, at least one Power Five athletic director says the talk about these meetings is completely overblown. Another person with ties to one of the ten extant Pac-12 programs likened the discussions to “a drive-by sniffing out,” which in itself brings up a lot of questions about what sort of things go down in West Coast dog parks. The same source clarified that no meatspace meeting had taken place as of Thursday morning.
One development that has been confirmed—if it can be said that provisional confirmation is a thing; again, feel free to define “is” at your leisure—is a quiet exploration of an alliance between the ACC and Pac-12. (Speaking of semantics, the word “alliance” arguably should be handled like a radioactive snapping turtle, given the sheer meaninglessness of the term as it relates to the Pac-12’s year-ago good-faith efforts. While there have been some exploratory conversations between the two conferences, which may look to join forces in a bid to stave off the duopolistic ambitions of the Big Ten and SEC, it’s so early in the game that the woodwinds section of the marching band is still loitering on the field.
Certainly, the prospect of a cross-country coalition looks extremely attractive to the Pac-12, which on Tuesday announced that it would “immediately begin negotiations for its media rights agreements.” The current TV package with Fox and ESPN expires at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, and while the Pac-12 wasn’t expected to begin negotiating in earnest until this fall, the thinking is that a formal offer or two might serve as a means to hold off any further defections. At the moment, none of the usual suspects have taken up the Pac-12 on its offer to talk turkey, although given the uncertainty surrounding the conference’s future ontological status, relative urgency is in short supply.
As the Pac-12 begins setting the table for its upcoming rights haggle, the mere suggestion of a possible ACC tie-up seems to be helping some members cope with the loss of the Los Angeles market. Although nothing close to a formal proposal has been worked up, a partnership would go a long way toward compensating for the loss of 5.74 million TV homes. Among the home media markets the Pac-12 would pick up by way of the ACC schools include New York (courtesy of faraway Syracuse), Atlanta, D.C. and Boston, which boast a combined reach of 15.2 million TV households. Throw Orlando, Miami, Charlotte and the other top ACC markets into the mix and the Pac-12’s base will expand by more than 28 million homes.
With Los Angeles out of the picture, the Pac-12’s reach will be down to some 12.4 million homes, if the current 10-school alignment sticks. How far the partnership concept extends out into reality would seem to depend on the particulars of the ACC’s Grant of Rights agreement, which expires in August 2036.
In the meantime, some of the more vocal Pac-12 boosters are expending as much energy on looking back as they are keeping tabs on what lies ahead. Former commissioner Larry Scott got the worst of it on Twitter this week, as fans with long memories and endless reserves of resentment blamed him for “destroying” the Pac-12. One of the more legitimate beefs tossed around has to do with Scott’s ill-fated decision to build an in-house network without any assistance from the likes of ESPN or Fox.
In 2018, the Pac-12 rejected an offer from ESPN that would have ceded control of the networks to Bristol in exchange for an extension of their current rights deal. (Under terms of the proposal, ESPN and the Pac-12 would have remained linked beyond the year 2030.) The Pac-12 Networks right now serve some 16 million cable and satellite-TV homes, a fraction of the 53.4 million subs that receive the Big Ten Network.
When raging against the departed Scott, many Pac-12 loyalists lamented the state of college football, as if the king-making power of TV money was some sort of recent development. As for the people less inclined in throwing lightning bolts, i.e., those who have an actual say in the future of the conference, their support for Scott’s replacement, George Kliavkoff, is unequivocal—for now, anyway. Much of the expressed enthusiasm for Kliavkoff has been voiced in the wake of the chatter about a potential ACC arrangement.
Of course, the sports world will immediately shelve its fascination with the Big 12 saga if and when Notre Dame decides to surrender its idiosyncratic independence, either to formally move into its basketball crash pad (the ACC) or align itself with the Big Ten’s bold vision of gridiron Manifest Destiny. Say what you will about our hyper-accelerated news cycle, but it sure goes a long way toward dispelling the summer doldrums. In terms of sheer fascination, TV’s berserker-mode restructuring of the college football space is right up there with the most powerful man in England having to quit in disgrace (in some measure, anyway) because an underling named “Pincher” drunkenly groped two constituents at a posh social club.