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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: Big 12/Pac-12 ‘dance’ has massive implications, right down to Fort Worth and Dallas

Logos for several Big 12 schools are seen during Big 12 media days July 12 in Arlington, Texas.  (Tribune News Service)
By Mac Engel Forth Worth Star-Telegram

ARLINGTON, Texas – A Big 12 source said that they felt that the chances of Arizona leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 12 are about “80%.”

If Arizona follows Colorado to the Big 12, you would need a Writer’s Guild member to script a scenario in which Arizona State remains in the Pac-12.

The University of Arizona board manages both UA and ASU.

The University of Arizona board scheduled an impromptu meeting, after the Pac-12 held a meeting of its own on Tuesday; the Pac-12 reportedly delivered its potential options for a media-rights deal that has become one of the biggest talking points in major college athletics.

Apple TV+ is reportedly involved, which means … something. We aren’t sure what, which is consistent with a lot of the “news” surrounding college athletics realignment.

Reading the various reports on the specifics of what Apple TV+ has offered the Pac-12, and it could be what the future of media rights look like for a lot of sports. Apple TV+ offers MLB and MLS games; a jump into college sports is logical.

We really don’t know anything other than the following: The Big 12 continues to pursue Pac-12 schools, and the Pac-12’s future looks as stable as a bowl of pudding.

With Colorado headed to join the Big 12 in the summer of 2024, there will be 13 member schools in a conference named the Big 12. Only in a world created by the 14-team Big Ten is this all logical.

A Big 12 source said they feel confident the conference will add one to three more teams in the next month or so. One or three more gives the Big 12 an even number.

As to which schools, believe whatever your heart desires (just as long as your heart doesn’t include Notre Dame).

The most frequently discussed combination includes Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.

It will be another Pac-12 school or two, or three; or, a Pac-12 school with a school from the Mountain West Conference, or American Athletic Conference. If it’s from the latter, that school will not be SMU.

Everybody got all this?

While school officials from TCU and SMU want to maintain their long rivalry, no one from TCU is pushing Big 12 officials to add SMU.

TCU’s success in athletics, and its spot in the Big 12, has created a way to elevate its reputation beyond that of a “poor man’s SMU.” SMU ranks 72nd in the U.S. News World Report “Best National Universities.” TCU ranks 89th.

These antiquated rankings shouldn’t matter that much, and yet they still do.

TCU’s success in athletics, among other improvements, gives it a way to compete with SMU it previously never enjoyed. For TCU’s long-time rival, all of this constant movement, and poaching of the Pac-12, puts SMU in a weird spot. Would it even want to join a Pac-12 that may not look like the Pac-12 much longer?

Over these past several months, both SMU and San Diego State were thought to be the top candidates to leave their respective conferences to join the Pac-12.

SDSU went so far as to announce its intentions to leave the Mountain West Conference, only to walk that back shortly thereafter. SDSU was going to have to pay an exit fee that the MWC was not in a hurry to waive.

SMU wisely didn’t go that far with the AAC.

SMU has privately made it no secret that its desire is to join the Pac-12. Sources said university officials went so far as to promise $5 million to the conference, as well as covering certain expenses in order to secure an invitation.

It was also willing to waive full-membership benefits beyond the norm.

Sources said that officials from Pac-12 universities expressed concerns about potentially adding SMU, and specifically whether the university would add value to a media-rights contract.

When conferences evaluate potential additions, they often hire consulting firms to conduct the research. SMU would score well on location, time zone, facilities and coaching salaries. Dallas is attractive, as is the Central Time Zone.

One of the biggest challenges the Pac-12 has faced in recent years is having zero presence in early afternoon kickoff slots.

The football team has posted winning records in four consecutive seasons, the longest stretch since the mid-1980s.

“I do think we are well positioned at SMU in this climate of college athletics to compete, the right way, at a high level,” SMU football coach Rhett Lashlee said in an interview at AAC Media Days in Arlington. “From our school, to our city, from the transfer standpoint. We do get a lot of kids who want to transfer to Dallas.

“And in the NIL space. There is a lot of opportunity in Dallas, and a lot of alumni that have opportunities. It’s an area that helps us. The reality of it is, TCU just played for the national title and there is no player there who is going to go to SMU unless that is what they want to do.”

Where SMU scores poorly is that it’s a private school with an undergraduate enrollment of about 7,000 (12,000 overall), in one of the biggest cities in the United States. It has an alumni base of about 125,000.

By comparison, Colorado has an enrollment of 36,000 and an alumni base of 450,00. That’s what conferences want more than Deion Sanders.

It’s not a lack of funds, or effort, on the part of SMU or some influential alums. The school is in the same spot as a handful of other ambitious universities that are playing a dirty, exclusive game that doesn’t even try to pretend it’s fair.

It can only wait and watch, and now the invite it coveted could be to a conference named the Pac-12 that doesn’t look like the Pac-12.