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Arizona President Bobby Robbins evaluates Apple TV deal, shares final hours in Pac-12

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos08/07/23


Sitting around an assembly of reporters in June, Arizona President Bobby Robbins put his assessment of the Pac-12’s TV deal in blunt terms.

“Everybody remembers the line from Jerry McGuire: ‘Show me the money,'” he said in Washington, D.C., for Arizona’s Future of College Sports Summit.

Exactly two months after that comment, Robbins gathered media again in Tucson on Monday. Except this time, the Wildcats are officially members of the Big 12. They’ll join the conference for the 2024 season. This will be their last academic year in the 108-year-old Pac-12.

After patiently waiting months for George Kliavkoff to deliver a TV deal, the Pac-12 commissioner underdelivered. Apple‘s initial offer was a five-year deal with an annual base rate of $23 million per school (a subsequent counteroffer lifted it to $25 million), with incentives based on projected subscribers, according to The Athletic.

The deal was similarly structured to Major League Soccer‘s relationship with Apple. Despite the possibility of making more money off larger subscriber counts, the deal did not promise for any games to be broadcast linearly. For a conference trying to attract recruits and compete on a national stage, that was not promising enough.

“The base price – the guaranteed price – the fact that there was no linear and it was subscription base, we were trying to think, ‘Well, it’s going be like selling candy bars for Little League or Girl Scout cookies,'” Robbins said, emphasizing the importance subscriptions would have been to the Pac-12 deal’s payout.

In the Big 12, the estimated payout for Arizona will sit at $31.7 million. It’s not as much as Big Ten schools will make off their seven-year, $7 billion media rights agreement. But it will at least keep the Wildcats in the same zip code.

Arizona was prepared to sign Grant of Rights to Pac-12

For much of last week, many viewed Robbins, a cardiac surgeon, as the most powerful man in college athletics. The former hospital administrator has emerged as a president who wants to win and contribute to conversations about what steps lie ahead for college sports.

Friday’s move to the Big 12 is one of the most consequential in the history of college athletics. Just four institutions remain in the Pac-12. Pressed on Monday about who made the decisive blow, Robbins said Arizona was prepared to sign the Grant of Rights on Friday morning. Oregon and Washington had other plans, though.

“We were showing up together to sign in blood, our Grant of Rights over to the Pac-12 Conference,” the fifth-year president said. “We were notified, I guess they must have split us up. I got called by one of the presidents who said, ‘Look this is tough. But we came to an agreement with the Big Ten, 10 minutes ago and I just wanted to give you a heads-up before we get together as presidents and chancellors. We’ll be we’ll be taking our talents to the Big Ten.'”

What the Pac-12 will do next remains to be seen. California’s Board of Regents has scheduled a call for Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. PST. A closed session, the agenda is a discussion on “UC Berkeley Pac-12 Conference Membership.”

The American Athletic Conference could be open. The AAC is interested in adding as many as all four of the schools, a source told On3’s Eric Prisbell, which would expand its membership to 18.

Brett Yormark aggressions impressed Arizona

By the end of the day Friday, the Wildcats along with Arizona State and Utah had officially been welcomed to the Big 12. Robbins showed excitement about the jump to a new conference in his first remarks after the move.

Along with the rivalry between Utah and BYU reigniting, he has already circled Arizona-Kansas as a basketball rivalry to watch in the revamped conference. The two programs have combined for 20 Final Four appearances. While so many conference realignment decisions have been made based off media partners and football, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has kept basketball a focus.

If the Pac-12 had decided to stick together after Colorado ran to the Big 12, UConn was expected to be the next move by Yormark. A Brooklyn Nets executive for 14 years, he oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey. He negotiated a swath of deals for the Barclays Center, too, bringing UFC and the NCAA tournament to the arena.

His moves have ensured the Big 12 wasn’t lost in this round of realignment. He lunged at the same TV deal ESPN offered to Kliavkoff last summer. And with a few swift moves, he has dismantled the Pac-12

“He’s very engaging,” Robbins said of his new commissioner. “Very aggressive. As a heart surgeon, I like that. He has a set of goals he wants to achieve.”