The commissioners of the Big 12 and Pac-12 will meet Tuesday to talk through the league's next steps together, according to a report from The Athletic.
The meeting is expected to be an "information download" where each side will share intel. The goal will be to see if the conferences can work together for mutual benefit, be it a scheduling alliance, a full-blown merger, or something different altogether.
It's also a chance for George Kliavkoff to get up to speed on the Big 12, having taken over as Pac-12 commissioner on July 1 with little to no college sports experience prior to that.
In reading the report, two things become clear:
1) The Big 12 is fully operating as if Texas and Oklahoma will leave the conference effective July 1, 2025 and not a moment before.
“Time is our friend right now, so it’s not like something has to happen by Sept. 1,” a source told the site. “It’s a matter of starting to work through this and see what it looks like. We’ve got a runway.”
2) The path forward for all Power 5 conferences will be to swap/steal members from other Power 5 leagues, not to extend a ladder to the Group of 5.
In the past 20 years of realignment, only three schools -- Louisville, Utah and TCU -- graduated from the so-called have-nots to the haves. The Big 12 explored expansion in 2016 and ultimately concluded none of the schools willing to join the Big 12 would grow the pie enough to make a move worth it.
Arguably the only school outside the Power 5 that profiles as a Power 5 institution is BYU, with its near $2 billion endowment (West Virginia's is $611 million, for example), its 64,000 seat stadium, a modern day national championship (1984) and a national following.
BYU has been mentioned as a possible Big 12 expansion target, but it's unknown how an alliance with the Pac-12 would effect the Big 12's interest in the Cougars.
The Big 12 and Pac-12's issues are different but connected at the same time.
The Pac-12 is landlocked west of the Rockies, two to three hours behind the rest of the country, making expansion nearly impossible. The Big 12 is right in the middle of the country, making it a target for expansion from all sides.
Together, the conferences would offer the only Power 5 football west of Austin, Texas.
One important trait the leagues share is a relationship with arguably the biggest wildcard in the entire college sports industry moving forward: Fox.
Fox has invested heavily in college football in recent years, with great success. The Big 12 is publicly at odds with ESPN right now, leading one to wonder if the Big 12 and Pac-12 pool their rights to go all-in with Fox. The Big Ten could have the Big Noon Kickoff window to itself, and Fox could then spend the remainder of its fall Saturdays attempting to become the Official College Football Channel of the western half of the United States.
The Pac-12's deals with ESPN and Fox expire in 2024, while the Big 12's end the following year. The Big 12 tried to enter into talks to renew both deals early, but both ESPN and Fox declined.
That was when the league thought the Red River Rivals were happy campers; now we know differently. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Monday Texas and OU generated 50 percent or more of his league's TV value, so it's possible Fox will be even less interested in future Big 12 rights than it was before. Then again, maybe Fox is feeling the same heat everyone else not named ESPN and the SEC is. With Texas and OU heading to the SEC, maybe Fox executives feel pressured to do something.
Of course, it's possible nothing comes of the meeting as well. The Pac-12 formed a scheduling alliance with the Big Ten in 2011, but it was scrapped eight months later.
That was a different time, though, when neither conference was staring into the dark abyss of irrelevance. In these different times, perhaps new bedfellows emerge.
Update: The meeting happened. That's all Bob Bowlsby would like to say about it.