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Is the Pac-12 really this bad? Why the league has no TV deal without USC and UCLA

The Pac-12 logo at Rice Eccles Stadium before the Utah-BYU game in Salt Lake City.

(George Frey / Getty Images)

Conversations with two well-placed media industry sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about negotiations exposed some of the Pac-12’s struggle to win gold as unfortunate timing. There are much bigger issues at play than the lack of buzz about Pac-12 football when you take Lincoln Riley and the train of five-star quarterbacks he will bring to LA out of the equation.

First, the country’s better economic situation is causing even the biggest lenders to scrutinize their margins a bit more. In the media space, that’s true too, with Disney telling ESPN it needs to be more selective than it has been in the past. Thus, the expanded College Football Playoff is up for grabs in the years to come. Participating in the marquees is paramount, and saving up for it simply means there’s less to offer for one Pac-12 “After Dark” game a week. As one person said, the Pac-12 is a “nice-to-have”, not a must-have.

Fox can fill its late Saturday slot with Mountain West games on FS1 and not have to spend extra money on the Pac-12.

Kliavkoff has said since he took over as commissioner that the Pac-12 would consider streaming platforms like Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video, but streamers are currently losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year and won’t overpay for the Pac-12. Even if Prime Video or Apple came up with favorable financial results, either would result in an extreme drop in exposure compared to the Pac-12’s peers whose best games are all over the place.

What good are a few extra million a year if recruits and fans don’t have easy access to your product?

There are no easy answers for Kliavkoff, which is why his schools have no choice but to be open to their future conference affiliation.

In the short term, Kliavkoff must ensure that the latest offer he puts forward keeps the Pac-12’s top football programs relevant, even if the money isn’t what he or his predecessor, Larry Scott, promised. That means ESPN or Fox must remain a partner.