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Sources: AAC interested in adding the four remaining Pac-12 schools

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell08/07/23


Realignment Autopsy Washington, Oregon, Arizona State Officials Speak Plus Gators, Crimson Tide

The American Athletic Conference is interested in adding any or all of the four remaining Pac-12 Conference schools, sources with direct knowledge of the league’s strategy told On3 on Monday.

If CaliforniaStanfordOregon State and Washington State are looking for a stable new home, the AAC believes it would be an ideal league for the so-called Pac-4. The AAC is interested in adding as many as all four of the schools, a source said, which would expand its membership to 18.

“We would be a good landing spot for those schools given our existing ESPN deal, which has a strong linear component, along with our major cities and institutional profiles,” one source said.

The conversations that are ensuing now are likely between the remaining Pac-12 schools and schools in the AAC, rather than between conference offices. A merger is not said to be in play at the moment; it would entail a variety of complicating factors. Instead, the AAC is focused on potentially adding Pac-12 schools.

Friday’s mass exodus of five Pac-12 schools – Oregon and Washington to the Big Ten ConferenceArizonaArizona State and Utah to the Big 12 Conference – opened a range of possibilities for the remaining Pac-12 schools. And there’s no indication, much less certainty, that the four will act as one bloc.

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.” 

Will Pac-12 schools find landing spot elsewhere?

A merger of some sort with the Mountain West Conference is also on the table, as is Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff moving swiftly to try to poach schools from the AAC and MWC.

Prior to the Pac-12 disintegrating, Kliavkoff was expected to secure a media rights deal for his league and then immediately turn to expansion. The top targets were – and perhaps still are – SMU of the AAC and San Diego State of the MWC. SMU is a much more feasible addition because its $10 million exit fee and 27-month notice would likely be subject to negotiation.

For San Diego State as well as fellow MWC schools Colorado State and UNLV, the price tag to join the Pac-12 next year is $34 million. If those schools wish to join in 2025, the cost drops to $17 million.

All that said, there’s a huge caveat: The Pac-12 was viewed to be attractive to SMU and San Diego State before the league crumbled. One source said that the schools would “crawl over glass” to gain entry into a Power 5 league.

But the landscape has changed dramatically in the last few days. The Pac-12 is in tatters and still lacks a rights deal after July 1, 2024. And now the AAC is looking to add schools from the Pac-12.

As some sources suggested, it may make more sense for the remaining Pac-12 schools to find a landing spot in the AAC or MWC.

In 2019, the AAC secured a 12-year, $1 billion rights deal with ESPN. The lack of a linear TV network component in the Apple TV+ rights deal proposed to Pac-12 members is believed to be among the leading factors that spurred schools to scramble for the exits. The underwhelming Apple proposal fell short in dollars and brand visibility.

The 14-member AAC rallied well after losing UCFCincinnati and Houston to the Big 12. It added CharlotteFlorida AtlanticUABNorth TexasUTSA and Rice from Conference USA.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco is no stranger to realignment dynamics and how swiftly fortunes can change. 

“I’m pretty sanguine about realignments; I’ve been through it so many times,” Aresco, who also was the last commissioner of the original Big East in 2012-13, told On3 during the Pac-12 negotiations. “I don’t know if there’s another commissioner who has been through it as much as I have.”