And Utah makes 10: How every departing Pac-12 school drove a knife into the conference

It takes a lot to kill a pillar of college sports; in this case, it took 10 schools

There is no single person to blame for the Pac-12’s demise. It was a conspiracy of the illiterate and uninformed.

Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff, the two commissioners, have plenty of blood on their hands; both made a series of grave strategic errors. They are the first to be rounded up and cuffed when we are identifying suspects.

But, as in Murder On The Orient Express, there are many collaborators in the demise of a 108-year-old college sports institution — a demise that began before USC and UCLA bolted for the Big Ten in June 2022 and the Pac-12 entered its media rights negotiations in a vulnerable state.

In fact, each of the ten outbound schools drove a knife into the body.

In a way, Utah was the lone holdout — the only school out of ten that did not have fingerprints on the murder weapon. However, a report this week identifying president Taylor Randall as the driving force behind the outrageous $50 million per school counteroffer to ESPN completes the circle.

(Only Oregon State and Washington State can be ruled out as potential suspects. However, in the cruelest realignment twists, the innocent are left to bear the burden and absorb the punishment.)

Allow the Hotline to act as Hercule Poirot, the fictional detective in Agatha Christie’s famous murder mystery about a group killing aboard a trans-European train, and connect each of the ten departing schools to the crime.

(In order of involvement, in chronological order.)

Arizona State

President Michael Crow was instrumental in hiring Scott in 2009, negotiating his outrageous contract, and enabling Scott’s misguided strategies and divisive management style.

No president gave Scott more support, more cover than Crow, who bears enormous responsibility for the Pac-12’s decade-long downward spiral. Despite this, he never saw it coming.

Crow defended Scott and waxed poetic about the Pac-12 being far “ahead” of its competition in the late 2010s, when Scott’s failings were obvious to the known universe and the Pac-12 was hurtling toward the cliff.

Crow gives the Pac-12 a cup of tea without realizing it’s laced with a sedative that will render the conference incapable of repelling the assailants to come in our version of Orient Express.

California and Stanford

The schools in the Bay Area are not as innocent as they appear. Why? Because the collective decline of the two football programs in the nation’s sixth-largest media market posed a serious problem for the Big Ten once USC and UCLA agreed to join.

If either school had been nationally relevant, as Cal was in the 2000s and Stanford was in the 2010s, the Pac-12’s overall media valuation would have been higher and its 10-team negotiating position would have been stronger.

Instead, the conference’s most populous state was effectively turned into a black hole by the twin departures in Los Angeles and complete irrelevance in the Bay Area.


Given her opposition to adding Big 12 schools in the summer of 2021 — expansion would have fortified the conference at that point — and the decision to leave for the Big Ten a year later, USC president Carol Folt not only sliced open the Pac-12, but she methodically described the act in real time without a hint of regret or remorse.

Some fans may be tempted to arrest the Trojans for murder, toss the key into the Pacific, and ignore the other conspirators.

However, the circumstances that led to USC’s actions had been building for years and were the result of an upside-down culture in which Arizona State and Oregon State had more clout in the boardroom than the L.A. schools. (Imagine Purdue and Minnesota, rather than Ohio State and Michigan, dictating Big Ten policy.)

If the Trojans had been properly managed prior to the fateful expansion decision in August 2021, internal alignment would have been much stronger and the outcome would have been much different.


The Bruins and USC both left on the same day, giving Fox exclusive access to the Los Angeles market. However, because of the public school component and their direct link to a conference peer (Cal), their decision never made as much sense.

UCLA could have stayed behind, wished USC luck, and served as the conference’s anchor for years to come. Instead, the Bruins became a collaborator.

Do we hold them responsible? Nope. It is naive to blame any participant in the realignment game; each school ultimately does what is best for its future, regardless of its conference partners.

But make no mistake: the Pac-12 would still be alive and well today if the Bruins had stayed. UCLA was arrested with blood all over its face.


The exact timing is unknown, but the Pac-12 received an offer from ESPN in the late summer or early fall of 2022 that would have distributed $30 million to each school per year.

The presidents not only declined, but a small group of them pushed Kliavkoff “to negotiate hard” — specifically, to make a $50 million counteroffer per school.

According to a report published this week by, the man behind the exorbitant asking price was Utah’s Taylor Randall.

At least one president backed the position, while many others were neutral. However, Randall was the primary motivator. Kliavkoff returned to ESPN with a $50 million offer, the network declined, and the Pac-12 entered the market just as the economy began to deteriorate.

What about you, Utah?


As the University of California Board of Regents debated whether to approve UCLA’s move to the Big Ten in the fall of 2022, the Pac-12 devised a strategy: Kliavkoff would offer the Bruins a disproportionate share of the conference’s annual revenue in exchange for changing course.

That sum is $52 million. Kliavkoff needed unanimous approval from the board of directors before he could close the deal. According to multiple sources, Oregon’s Patrick Phillips, who was serving as an interim president, refused.

“The regents said to George, ‘If we can get to $52 million, we’ll send them back,'” said a person familiar with the matter. “However, Oregon stated, ‘There’s no way we can be in a conference where UCLA makes more money than (we) do.’ As a result, (Phillips) shot it down.”

If Kliavkoff had secured the $52 million, would the regents have kept their word and forced UCLA to stay? We’ll never find out. But one thing is certain: The Pac-12’s task was far more difficult without UCLA and the Los Angeles market.


As the negotiations dragged on through the winter, spring, and summer, the presidents set a July 31 deadline for final bids from media partners.

Colorado, however, was under intense external (Big 12) and internal (coach Deion Sanders) pressure and decided not to wait.

“We told them to hang on,” a person familiar with the matter said, “but (athletic director) Rick George said, ‘Like we’ve been told to hang on over and over?'”

According to sources, the Buffaloes announced their departure on July 27, shocking the other presidents and prompting one of the Pac-12’s potential linear partners to withdraw from the negotiations. (ESPN is thought to be that partner.)

What if Colorado had held out for four more days after a 13-month wait? The conference might have survived.

CU, like so many other examples mentioned here, delivered a crippling but not fatal blow.


The Wildcats were not the only school to secure a lifeline to the Big 12 Conference. But, unlike his counterparts at Utah and Arizona State, Pac-12 president Robert Robbins formally applied for membership in the middle of that fateful first week of August, before Oregon and Washington rejected the Pac-12’s grant-of-rights agreement.

According to a source, the Big Ten was made aware of Arizona’s application to the Big 12. “So (Big Ten commissioner) Tony Petitti tells his presidents, ‘We aren’t the ones,'” a person familiar with the matter said. “They felt like they weren’t the ones to fire the kill shot.”

That prompted the Big Ten presidents to approve membership for Washington and Oregon without hesitation, and the Pac-12 prepared to die.


On August 4, darkness descended at dawn.

Seven of the nine remaining schools had awoken believing that everyone was committed to signing the crucial grant-of-rights agreement.

However, Washington was deeply dissatisfied with the proposed media agreement, which guaranteed only $25 million per year from Apple — with incentives to increase the figure to $30 million — and did not guarantee exposure on linear television.

Although Oregon was portrayed as the Pac-12’s linchpin, sources say Washington was the primary mover in the Pacific Northwest during those critical overnight hours.

“The schools were a ‘yes’ on Thursday night,” according to a source. “But once Washington flipped, Oregon had to leave.”

That was the end of it.

You can either blame them all or none of them. It takes more than one school or individual to bring down a century-old conference.

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