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One day after finalizing the Sun Devils’ move to the Big 12 Conference, Arizona State University President Michael Crow and Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson addressed reporters at a Sun Devil football practice on Saturday.
The Q&A session provided more insight into the decision.
When Colorado decided to leave the conference, was that a warning sign of what the Pac-12 media deal was or was not going to be?
Michael Crow: “There were a lot of forces at work including the overlords of the media empires that are out there that were driving this. The Colorado departure was really an indication that there was great instability within the media market and it created an unstable moment.”
Can you walk us through the last few days and what happened from your vantage point?
Michael Crow: “Lots of energy drink… A number of us have been strongly committed to the maintenance of the Pac-12 conference as a thing; a West Coast conference of schools that have been around for 100 years, playing together in a regional environment and committed to similar objectives about student-athlete success.
“What has happened the last few days is that we were offered a media contract by the Apple Corporation which was a technological, 23rd Century Star Trek thing of really unbelievable capability that we were very interested in; ASU was very interested in. Digitization of all ASU football games, men’s basketball games and all women’s basketball games instantly, available anywhere in the world at a touch of a button from any device anywhere. Digitally manipulatable by the watcher both during games and between games or between multiple games at the same time as well as usable by athletes for recruitment and so on and so forth after the games as an archived thing. We thought that there was some risk but huge opportunity. Several of the schools were committed to that but it created another destabilizing moment of sort of tradition vs. this modern thing.
“The Pac-12 council, the CEOs and the chancellors met many times during the week with a pivotal meeting [Friday] that led to ASU and others joining the Big 12.”
Was the financial disparity between the Pac-12 media rights deal and the Big 12’s media rights deal the deciding factor?
Michael Crow: “No. It’s often the case in the media that the media thinks that the measure of success in our program is the media contract and the share per school. The media contract is a fraction of our revenue relative to ASU athletics — even relative to football. We’ve got lots of revenue sources.
“We were very interested at ASU in finding a way to connect to more people. We have to be in a viable conference to do that. Once Oregon and Washington decided to go to the Big Ten, the conference was no longer viable.You can’t be in a nonviable position for more than a few hours in our mind so we resolved that.”
So was the Oregon-Washington decision the final straw?
Michael Crow: “[Friday] morning at 7 was another called meeting of the Pac-12 presidents and some schools didn’t show up so you might then know that the conference was no longer viable.”
How many didn’t show up?
Michael Crow: “Two.”
How much responsibility do you two feel for the destruction of the Pac-12, or do you feel like it was ripped from you?
Michael Crow: “We were the stalwarts fighting for the Pac-12 to the last ditch. I’m telling you.”
Ray Anderson: “The destruction of the Pac-12 is a very bad description. We had nothing to do with it. We were trying to save it and we stayed in the trenches as long as we could; until it became clear that it was no longer in our control. I take offense, very frankly, to the question, but I hope you got your answer. We were there until the last moment when it became clear that in the best interest of ASU and our student-athletes, it was time to make a decision affirmatively and move.”
Michael Crow: “Just to be clear, at that moment there was no media option. To have two teams not present and no media contract, you’ve got to act.”
Can you discuss some of the benefits that the Big 12 will bring?
Michael Crow: “The fantastic thing about the Big 12 is unbelievable athletic competition with concentrations of athletes in Texas and Oklahoma and Utah and other places where we can have great connections in a regional area We see it as a regional conference with a couple exceptions. We see it as valuable from a competitive perspective.
“We are being admitted as a full founding member [with a full media-rights share]. All of the Pac-12 schools going in are coming in as full members of the AAU. We were just elected to the AAU; the elite research universities of the United States. There’s only one other active AAU member [in the Big 12] so with the four schools going in, it’s an exciting moment for the Big 12 and an exciting moment for us athletically.”
Ray Anderson: “Our biggest concern with all of this from Day 1, particularly when it became clear that we had to explore options, was what was in the best interest of the health and welfare of our student-athletes. It’s not just about football. Think about the other sports.”
“The other options would have taken us across country. I wasn’t excited about taking our soccer team to Syracuse in the middle of fall season if we were going to go to the ACC. [The Big 12] made a lot more sense for the student-athlete experience and competitiveness to get into the Big 12 to preserve Utah, BYU and Colorado and then get a chance to go into that Texas market where we’ve got four new universities. We recruit down there. [Football coach] Kenny [Dillingham] in particular has shown that he can recruit down there.
Michael Crow: “When I met [Friday] for the first time with the commissioner and the president of Baylor, the president of Iowa State and the president of Kansas, the focus was on how to build a solid, tradition based, sports focused, athletes-success focused conference of many, many schools. This is all new. The conferences all used to be small.
“If it was all driven by resources we wouldn’t be in this business because there aren’t enough resources coming to us from all the things we’re doing to cover all our costs in athletics because we have many, many sports that are very expensive and generate no revenue. All of the focus is on the revenue sports: men’s basketball and football and we have a new revenue sport, hockey, and we have a semi-revenue sport, baseball.”
What’s the future of the Rose Bowl?
Michael Crow: “That’s a conundrum because the Rose Bowl, not as a facility but as an event, is owned by the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. You might consider asking people, maybe even in the media business, why did they not want that to be maintained. “
Was there any scenario in which Oregon and Washington had remained in the Pac-12 that Arizona might have left?
Michael Crow: “No. Arizona and Arizona State decided that we wouldn’t split up under any circumstance. You can ask President Robbins about that. We believe that we are strange fraternal twins. Before we went into anything, any uncertainty, we were together. I have spoken to President Robbins 100 times in the last 10 days.”
What would you say to fans eulogizing the Pac and saying this is regionality dying and killing the spirit of college sports?
Michael Crow: “I share that view. We’re moving to a slightly bigger region. What we want to do for our student-athletes is we want their athletic and academic lives to be as successful as possible. We have to find a way to do that and this is the way to go, but there are some huge issues relative to the design of college sports right now.”
How will the distance between schools impact ASU’s teams?
Ray Anderson: “In the Olympic sports you’ve got to try to go to divisions and probably with football as well. It really makes sense for the Olympic sports.”
Was there talk of joining a different conference?
Michael Crow (joking): “The Ivy League turned us down. I was a professor at Columbia and [Ray] was a law graduate at Harvard so we used every kind of influence and they said, ‘no.’
Ray Anderson: “It’s a fair question. You have to examine all the options. We had, at least at some level, conversations with you name the conference.”
How significant will the Big 12 travel costs be compared to the Pac-12?
Ray Anderson: “To be determined. There’s still a lot of work to be done but in my mind, I’m thinking ‘Texas or Oregon State or Pullman, Washington. Oregon or even Seattle.’ I think there’s some potential travel costs savings to be had, depending on how you put it all together.”
A lot of Big 12 schools have publicly reported similar revenue with less sports than ASU. What challenge does that present?
Ray Anderson: “We didn’t get in this business of adding sports to cut sports; at least I did not. We have every intention to continue all of our sports in the Big 12. And remember, all of our sports are not sponsored in the Pac-12.
Some folks ask, ‘Are you going to continue to play the schools remaining in the Pac-12. Absolutely. Particularly in the Olympic sports. That’s great experience and student-athlete welfare is also an important factor.”
Top photo of Ray Anderson and Michael Crow via USA TODAY Sports