UW president says Big Ten move ‘about stability’

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce said Saturday that the program’s departure from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten alongside Oregon was “not just about dollars and cents” but rooted in myriad factors, one being that the proposed TV rights deal between the Pac-12 and Apple did not provide the long-term stability the school was seeking.

“When you have a deal that people are saying that one of the best aspects are that you can get out of it in two years, that tells you a lot,” Cauce said in a conference call with news media. “This was about national visibility for our players, being on linear TV so they can be seen, so they could have the national exposure. It was about stability. It was about having a future that we could count on and built towards.”

Cauce went on to say that the TV deal the Pac-12 presidents had been discussing a few days before was not the same one that was on the table at the end, and that the opportunities and stabilities provided by the Big Ten were “simply unmatched.”

“I have to say this was heart-wrenching,” Cauce said. “For more than a year, all of us worked really, really hard to find a viable path forward that would keep us together.”

Arizona State President Michael Crow, who also spoke to the media Saturday in the wake of ASU’s departure to the Big 12, had a different outlook despite also leaving the conference. According to Crow, ASU was heavily interested in the Apple deal, which would have allowed for instant digitization of ASU football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games and could also have enhanced the viewing experience as well as the athletes’ ability to use game tape for their own purposes.

“There was some risk but huge opportunity,” Crow said. “Some of the schools were committed to that but it created this another destabilizing moment of sort of tradition vs. this modern thing, so a lot of back and forth.”

Cauce and Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen were clear in their media availability that they were not in favor of the Apple deal, which they had expected to be one of several potential TV agreements to assess, not the only one as it turned out to be.

“I have every reason to believe that offers fell apart because of factors beyond [commissioner George Kliavkoff’s] control,” Cauce said. “There was enough uncertainty [with the Apple deal]. We had been living in uncertainty for too long to continue in that level. It makes it very, very hard to build.”

The sudden departure of Oregon and Washington seemed to prompt those schools on the fence, such as ASU, to decide on their own futures as well. When Crow showed up to a pivotal meeting between Pac-12 presidents at 7 a.m. PT Friday, he noticed two schools were absent from the call. That told Crow all he needed to know.

“You might know there then that the conference is no longer viable,” Crow said. “We were interested on finding a way to connect to more people, but we have to be in a viable conference to do that.”

According to Crow, while Colorado’s decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 last week was not fully responsible for ASU’s eventual move, it did create an unstable moment that put the conference and its remaining members on notice. Once Oregon and Washington made their decision, Crow said the school was forced to act and seek a viable conference — in its case, the Big 12 alongside Arizona and Utah.

“There are a lot of forces at work, including the overlords of the media empires that were driving a lot of this,” Crow said. “[ASU] was one of the stalwarts fighting for the Pac-12 until the last moment.”

ASU athletic director Ray Anderson said the program was trying to save the conference and remained “in the trenches” for as long as possible until it became clear that staying was no longer an option.

Cauce and Cohen seemed to arrive at that point earlier, along with Oregon’s leaders, and on Saturday, they expressed a combination of melancholy for leaving the Pac-12 and excitement as they discussed the sudden move the Huskies are making.

“I’ll be the first to say this is not perfect,” Cohen said. “There will be challenges. This does require a lot of change in adaptability. Part of the decision was that we felt very confident in the agreement we had with the Big Ten to have the resources to adapt to the challenges, including travel costs and additional resources, that our student-athletes are going to need to have a successful experience in the Big Ten.”

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