(TNS) WICHITA, Kan. — The thought of rebuilding the Big 12 without flagship members Oklahoma and Texas has been met with mixed levels of enthusiasm by fans who support any of the conference’s remaining eight schools, but it seems as though Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is willing to explore at least one more exciting path forward for the beleaguered league.
A source confirmed a report from The Athletic that Bowlsby is scheduled to meet with new Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff on Tuesday to discuss realignment options that are mutually beneficial for both conferences.
The source expects the conference leaders’ talk to be mainly exploratory in nature.
So don’t expect a full-on merger that creates the nation’s first 20-team conference by the end of the week. Still, they should have plenty to discuss.
Several fascinating alliance options exist between the Big 12 and Pac-12, if they are willing to navigate the latest round of conference realignment together. As the college sports landscape is experiencing unprecedented change, both leagues are in danger of being left behind by the Big Ten and SEC, which is set to add the Sooners and Longhorns to their ranks at some point over the next four years.
The Big 12 is down to just eight members. The Pac-12 has struggled to keep pace with other conferences in terms of finances and on-field results. Some have suggested the Big Ten may look to poach the Pac-12’s strongest members in response to the SEC’s latest move.
Perhaps the Big 12 and Pac-12 would be stronger together by uniting in some form.
Bowlsby seemed ready to explore that possibility while speaking at a political hearing on the future of college sports in Texas on Monday in Austin.
“I think there are options for us to partner with other conferences,” Bowlsby said, “There may be opportunity for mergers. There may be opportunities to add members. There may be other opportunities that are currently unforeseen.”
A chat between Bowlsby and Kliavkoff could help bring some of those opportunities into focus.
“This is going to make for some very strange bedfellows going forward,” Bowlsby said. “These are unprecedented challenges.”
Neither Bowlsby nor Kliavkoff made any public statements about their conversation on Tuesday, but Kliavkoff sent out a cryptic tweet in the afternoon.
If the Big 12 and Pac-12 are serious about working together, a few options could prove symbiotic.
A merger between the Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences has been discussed since serious realignment first occurred a decade ago, and it has never happened. The Pac-12 was actually first to try and poach Oklahoma and Texas when Larry Scott was the league’s commissioner back in 2010.
So it’s hard to see the two leagues suddenly deciding to come together as a 20-team conference. But crazier things have happened.
Big 12 presidents would be all for it, because a merger would keep their schools in a Power Five conference and allow them to maintain a similar level of TV revenue to what they are accustomed. A merger could also appeal to the Pac-12, because it would give them a foothold into Texas and open up TV slots in the Central Time Zone.
No other conference would have teams located in four different time zones (remember West Virginia), making a Big 12, Pac-12 merger attractive as more than your standard regional conference.
Imagine a world in which Big 12 football teams play the majority of their nonconference games against Pac-12 opponents every year.
That could become reality in the near future if the Big 12 and Pac-12 agree to a scheduling alliance.
It’s hard to project what Big 12 schedules might look like, but under its current format all teams play nine conference games and three nonconference games. Big 12 teams are currently free to schedule those games against any opponents they choose. But a scheduling alliance with the Pac-12 could change that.
Perhaps each Big 12 team will play two games against Pac-12 competition each year, leaving one slot open on its schedule. Such an agreement would create more attractive games for both conferences, enhancing their collective TV value. It would also ease scheduling concerns for individual teams in both leagues.
It wouldn’t be a huge change for some Big 12 teams. Kansas State, for example, will open the season against Stanford this season. It is also set to play Arizona, Colorado and Washington State in future seasons.
Playing those games every single year across both conferences would make for some interesting matchups that wouldn’t necessarily need to be scheduled far in advance.
Regular basketball games between Kansas and UCLA would also be fun.
That all could create more TV value for each conference.
It’s also possible the Big 12 and Pac-12 could choose to pool their TV rights together and sell them to suitors as one big package.
The Pac-12 has its own conference network, though it has never been much of a boon for the conference. The Big 12 has its own pseudo network on ESPN+, called Big 12 Now.
The Pac 12’s current media deal is set to expire in 2024. The Big 12’s TV contract with ESPN and Fox lasts until 2025. Timing could help them form a partnership.
Bowlsby said Monday that Big 12 teams can expect to lose half of their yearly TV revenue (about $14 million) without Oklahoma and Texas. Maybe there is a way to gain some of that money back by combining forces with another conference.
For a conference searching for answers, any and all options are worth exploring.