By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
In a crushing blow to the Pac-12, the Big Ten has cleared the way for Oregon and Washington to apply for membership and join the conference, four people with familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Friday.
The Ducks and Huskies still must officially apply for membership and the Big Ten presidents, who met Friday morning to discuss expansion, need to officially approve any moves. But the people who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the details are not being released publicly say the door is open; two of the people said the applications are expected to be approved unanimously.
The Big Ten’s coup comes a little more than a year after it landed Southern California and UCLA from the Pac-12 and the move, when approved, will give the sprawling conference 18 member schools and four on the West Coast. The Big Ten will be the largest conference in major college sports, spanning 15 states from New Jersey to Washington.
Former Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren had encouraged member schools to strongly consider adding Oregon and Washington after the conference landed the two Los Angeles schools last summer, the blow that has sent the Pac-12 reeling for more than a year. Just last week , Colorado announced it would leave for the Big 12 next year and that league may not be done.
It has all left the storied West Coast conference that dates back more than a century on the brink of extinction.
Pac-12 leaders met early Friday to determine if the nine remaining schools, which at the time included Oregon and Washington, would accept the potential media rights deal with Apple that Commissioner George Kilavkoff delivered to the group earlier this week, according to a person familiar with that meeting.
One of the people familiar with the negotiations said that late Thursday night Oregon was leaning toward staying in the Pac-12, boosting the possibility that most others would follow. Instead, Oregon officials notified the Pac-12 on Friday they were still uncomfortable with the Apple deal and the school would be re-engaging with the Big Ten.
The Pac-12 and Kliavkoff have made no public statements since Colorado’s announcement last week.
“We are disappointed with the recent decisions by some of our Pac-12 peers,” Washington State President Kirk Schulz and athletic director Pat Chun said Friday, “While we had hoped that our membership would remain together, this outcome was always a possibility, and we have been working diligently to determine what is next for Washington State athletics. We’ve prepared for numerous scenarios, including our current situation.”
Less than two weeks ago, new Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti said his presidents and chancellors wanted to him to focus on USC and UCLA’s transition to the Big Ten and not more expansion. Now, the Pac-12’s two biggest remaining brands and perennial football powers are heading for a new home. Their closest conference neighbor, the University of Nebraska, will be more than a 1,600-mile drive away.
Oregon and Washington are expected to enter the conference with a reduced payout compared to current Big Ten members, and USC and UCLA, who are projected to receive more than $60 million each in media rights revenue from the league, starting next year. The framework of a deal that would pay the Ducks and Huskies about $40 million and possibly draw on future earnings when they first enter the Big Ten has been discussed, two people familiar with the negotiations said.
Washington was a charter member of the Pacific Coast Conference in 1916, the organization that eventually became the Pac-8, then 10, then 12. Oregon joined what was then the Athletic Association of Western Universities in 1964. USC’s history in the league dates to 1922, UCLA’s to 1928.
The Pac-12 is in danger of soon being down to four members: Stanford, California, Oregon State and Washington State.
Arizona has been in serious talks to leave for the Big 12 and join Colorado. It was unclear if in-state rival Arizona State will join the Wildcats. The Arizona Board of Regents met Thursday night to try to get the schools on the same page.
The Big 12 also has been targeting Utah, which might have no choice but to join. The Big 12 is trying to get to 16 teams for next season in a conference that could also extend through 10 states and all four time zones.
While the USC and UCLA decisions to leave started the Pac-12’s demise, last fall’s move by the Big 12 to get an early extension of its media rights deals with ESPN and Fox was key. That left a thin market for Kliavkoff and the Pac-12, which ended up with the streaming-heavy proposal with Apple that would have left its schools lagging behind other Power Five conferences in revenue.
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