On Monday night, after a Pete Thamel report said merger talks between the Pac-12 and Big 12 had “officially ended,” I texted a high ranking WVU official.
“So, I see the merger idea is dead,” I wrote.
“No idea is dead,” came the reply.
Thamel, though, a fine reporter, said “officials from the Big 12 told Pac-12 officials on Monday they’re no longer interested in exploring the partnership” for “a multitude of reasons.”
Apparently, there were at least three Zoom calls between top league officials which discussed pooling TV rights, a scheduling concept or fully combining the conferences. This, you may know, came about because Oklahoma and Texas are jumping from the Big 12 to the SEC and USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten.
To me, it would only make sense for the Big 12 – WVU’s conference – and the Pac-12 to join forces. Unless, that is, the Big 12 thoroughly raids the Pac-12 – or vice versa.
As one who follows WVU, I’ve wondered if the USC-UCLA jump came at exactly the wrong time, with a new Big 12 commissioner – Brett Yormark – not even on the payroll yet.
Yormark, however, has maintained the Big 12 is “open for business.”
So I rang up WVU athletic director Shane Lyons and asked him what’s up.
“As a conference we’re on offense and looking at all different options to continue to strengthen the conference for its future,” Lyons said Tuesday. “The hiring of the new commissioner… He’s working very hard and diligently to see what options are there. I believe the conference is in good hands and that we’ll continue to be a strong, viable conference in the future.”
Then Lyons dropped a little news regarding Big 12-Pac-12 talks.
“I don’t know much about these, to be honest,” Lyons said. “That’s something [Yormark is] dealing with. I know there were discussions. But there were discussions last year about it. It’s not anything new. There weren’t options last year that made sense for us to merge. The two conferences couldn’t work anything out and it’s the same now that the Pac-12 has realignment issues. We couldn’t work anything out and it remains that way. It’s not beneficial to either league.”
A problem appears to be that the leagues’ media rights deals expire at different times. The Pac-12 is negotiating now – although without the Los Angeles media market – while the Big 12 can’t do so until 2024.
“It’s just part of what we’re dealing with now as an association as a whole,” Lyons said. “Money is driving this from a television partnership standpoint. Until the grant-of-rights issues are settled and work themselves out, we’ll be dealing with this. It’s turbulent times.”
I’m sure there are ways to work around the expiring TV deals if the leagues truly wish to merge. And I wonder if job security of the commissioners and league staffs might get in the way. It seems school presidents and chancellors should be driving any idea of merging.
Yet here we are. Once again WVU’s proud athletic program is squarely in the “turbulent times.” Before joining Wheelhouse Creative marketing, I covered WVU’s move into the Big East – first in football and then all sports – as well as the move to the Big 12 as a writer. Those times were not only turbulent, but tense, stressful.
Lyons went back before that, to the days when WVU was in the Southern Conference, etc.
“This has been going on for years,” he said. “But I think once the TV contracts are done it will settle down a little bit. We’ll just have to continue to monitor the landscape.”
Lyons has certainly worked to put infrastructure, etc., in place for WVU to remain competitive.
“We’ve been very resilient over the years,” Lyons said. “We have a very strong brand across the board in all sports and we continue to set ourselves up to prosper. That’s what we have to continue to do.”
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.