Pac-12 facing uncertain future after losses to Big Ten

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pac-12 can make a case as the most successful conference in collegiate athletics, amassing more than 500 NCAA championships while leading the nation in titles 56 of the past 62 years.

But when it comes to the biggest moneymakers, football and men’s basketball, the “Conference of Champions” has come up short for years.

The lack of success, particularly in football, combined with the conference’s media rights missteps have put the Pac-12 on shaky financial footing, opening the door for two of its marquee schools to jump ship.

Now, with the loss of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten in 2024, the conference and its remaining member schools face an even more uncertain economic future.

“You have exploding costs on one end and your revenue sources are being decimated, which is a tremendous pressure,” Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist said. “On the other hand, what do you do? Well, something pretty radical I think is going to have to happen.”

The Pac-12’s dilemma has been building for years.

Once a powerhouse football conference, the Pac-12 has been a bit player in the national championship conversation of late.

Since Oregon was blown out by Ohio State in the 2015 championship game, the Pac-12 has had one team play in the College Football Playoff: Washington in 2017. Oregon has fallen off since Chip Kelly left for the NFL in 2013 and Southern California, once the conference’s marquee program, never fully got back on track after the NCAA sanctions of the Pete Carroll era.

The Pac-12 has been just as quiet in men’s basketball, getting two teams – Oregon in 2017 and UCLA in 2021 – through to the Final Four.

The lack of success made the Pac-12’s football games maybe-watch TV, which in turn has made it more difficult to lure top coaches and recruits away from rival conferences – particularly the football juggernaut SEC.

“In the old days, USC and UCLA would be right up there at the top of the national football heap every year, and they’ve fallen way down,” Zimbalist said. “And so you need some fill up, some boost to get them to a point where they can really be a strong, strong franchise again – and I just don’t see that.”

The Pac-12 drop-off was compounded by its media rights deals.

As TV packages began to bulge, former Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott pushed for the conference to build its own network instead of partnering with ESPN, Fox or another network. A self-sustained network would allow the Pac-12 to control programming, showcase its highly successful Olympic sports and reap all the financial rewards.

The Pac-12 Networks never soared like Scott envisioned, bogged down, in part, by an inability to reach an agreement with DirecTV, which prevented the conference’s sports from reaching millions of homes.

The Pac-12 did work out a lucrative deal to have some of its games shown on ESPN and Fox, but the networks often wanted those to fill late-night time slots on the East Coast.

The deals left the conference in a “Pac-12 After Dark” hole. The Pac-12 had the lowest distribution number among Power Five schools, paying its member institutions $19.8 million in 2021.

By contrast, the SEC distributed $54.6 million to each of its member schools in 2021 and the Big Ten $46.1 million.

Finances mean stability in the world of college sports, so the lure of more money was a big driver in the departures of USC and UCLA, which said it faced cutting sports if it didn’t leave for the Big Ten.

The moves in turn will hurt the Pac-12’s bottom line; not only did the conference lose two big programs, its foothold in the nation’s second-largest media market is going away.

“When you see the rich get richer, people are going to grab for their share,” said Tom McMillen, president and CEO of Lead1, which represents Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors and programs.

The loss of UCLA and USC puts the Pac-12 at a crossroads.

The conference announced last week that it is pursuing all expansion avenues and pushed up negotiations for its next media rights deal; the current one is set to end in 2024.

The Pac-12 could form a partnership with another conference in need of a lift, like the ACC, which would possibly cause travel problems for smaller sports. It also could add members from a smaller conference like the Mountain West or convince schools from the Big 12 to defect, like Colorado and Utah did in 2011.

The conference also may have its hand forced if several schools bolt for another conference to find stability, perhaps to the Big 12 to form another superconference with the SEC and Big Ten.

“I think you’ll see more consolidation,” McMillen said. “This is not new. This is economics 101. There’s a lot of efficiencies. Think about all this: we have 32 conferences. There’s probably $1 billion of overhead and when you merge conferences, you’re obviously streamlining some of that.”

More conference realignment is coming. The fate of the Pac-12 is still to be determined.

Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd agrees to 5-year extension

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TUCSON, Ariz. ⁠— Arizona basketball coach Tommy Lloyd has agreed to a five-year contract extension through 2027 following a successful first season in the desert.

The Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday approved the contract, which gives Lloyd a $1 million raise next season and includes $19 million in total compensation.

The contract increases Lloyd’s base salary from $1.9 million to $2.9 million in 2022-23. He also will receive $100,000 escalators each year after that.

Lloyd will continue to get $700,000 per year in additional duties compensation.

A former longtime assistant to Mark Few at Gonzaga, Lloyd had a successful first season at Arizona, earning Associated Press national coach of the year honors after leading the Wildcats to a 34-3 record and a trip to the Sweet 16.

Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament and was the first team in league history to win 18 conference games. The Wildcats reached No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd to get 5-year contract extension

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd will get a $1 million raise next season in a proposed five-year contract extension through 2027 following a successful first season in the desert.

The extension must be approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.

The new contract would increase Lloyd’s base salary from $1.9 million to $2.9 million in 2022-23. He also will receive $100,000 escalators each year after that.

Lloyd will continue to get $700,000 per year in additional duties compensation.

A former longtime assistant to Mark Few at Gonzaga, Lloyd had a successful first season at Arizona, earning Associated Press national coach of the year honors after leading the Wildcats to a 34-3 record and a trip to the Sweet 16.

Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament and was the first team in league history to win 18 conference games. The Wildcats reached No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA’s Singleton to stay, Johnson leaving Bruins

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard David Singleton is returning for a fifth year with the Bruins, while center Myles Johnson is leaving the team to finish his graduate degree in electrical engineering.

Both players announced their plans on social media Thursday.

Singleton is taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility, which the NCAA granted to athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The opportunity to have one more chance to play for this great institution, to represent the four letters, to go down in history, it’s an opportunity I just can’t pass up,” he wrote. “It’s one more chance at the Big Dance. See you back in Pauley, next season.”

Singleton averaged 4.8 points and 1.5 rebounds while playing in 33 games. He led the Bruins in 3-point shooting at 45% and frequently provided an emotional spark off the bench.

“David has been a big shot maker through the past four seasons and his return is a major boost for us,” coach Mick Cronin said.

Johnson decided not to use a fifth season of eligibility and instead will focus on completing the second year of his master’s program. He averaged 3.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks playing in all 35 games, including 15 starts, as a redshirt senior last season.

He transferred to UCLA last year after earning an undergraduate degree at Rutgers.

“Since the pathways of my other passions in engineering and philanthropy have moved to the forefront, I have decided to pursue those endeavors,” Johnson wrote. “They are just as meaningful in my life.”

Guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. already said he will return next season, and guard Tyger Campbell is expected back, too.

The Bruins have three highly touted recruits arriving this fall: guards Dylan Andrews and Amari Bailey and forward Adem Bona.

Guards Johnny Juzang and Peyton Watson declared for the NBA draft and hired agents. Guard Jules Bernard also declared for the draft, but didn’t hire an agent, leaving open the possibility of returning to Westwood. Guard Jake Kyman is transferring.

UCLA doesn’t expect to have center Cody Riley back for a sixth season. The redshirt senior from Kansas City, Kansas, averaged 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds while starting 20 of the 26 games he appeared in last season.

Riley was suspended his freshman season after being arrested for shoplifting during a team trip to China, along with LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill. Riley had his best season as a junior, when he averaged 10 points and started all 31 games in the Bruins’ run to the Final Four.

UCLA’s Jules Bernard to enter NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jules Bernard has declared for the NBA draft, although the senior won’t hire an agent to preserve his eligibility.

He announced his plans Tuesday on his Instagram account.

Bernard has one year of eligibility remaining after the NCAA allowed an extra year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He averaged 12.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists playing in all 35 games last season.

“We are supporting Jules every way that we can, and we are excited for him to go through his evaluation and workout process over the next month,” coach Mick Cronin said. “Should Jules decide to play as a super senior, we would be absolutely thrilled to have him back in Westwood.”

Bernard is the second Bruins player to enter the draft. Freshman guard Peyton Watson hired an agent, ending his college eligibility.

The Bruins also lost reserve guard Jake Kyman, who said he is transferring.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. said he will return for his senior year.

UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. to return for senior season

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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LOS ANGELES — Jaime Jaquez Jr. will return to UCLA for his senior season, keeping him in Westwood for the debut of his sister Gabriela with the women’s basketball team.

A slickly produced video posted to his social media accounts concluded with Jaquez slipping on his team jersey and saying, “I’m coming back.”

The video featured highlights of his first three seasons and images of John Wooden, who guided the Bruins to 10 of their record 11 NCAA titles.

“I want to hang banner No. 12 at Pauley Pavilion,” Jaquez said.

The guard-forward from nearby Camarillo earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Jaquez has averaged 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 97 games over three seasons.

“Jaime has a chance to go down with so many other great Bruins in UCLA history who have played four seasons in front of the Pauley Pavilion faithful,” coach Mick Cronin said in a statement.

Jaquez’s sister is a 6-foot forward who averaged 34.2 points as a senior and led Camarillo High to a 30-3 record. She scored 52 points in a playoff game, second most in Ventura County history.