There are distinct forces threatening to pull apart the Pac-12, which is staring at the reality that the 2023-24 season may be its last after more than a century of existence.
A few months ago, landing a stout television deal and banding together for the future would have been considered a Houdini act for Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff. And while that remains true, at this point it would also require some 11th-hour theatrics.
Outside of Colorado, the feeling in the Pac-12 has remained the same for months: The preference of the Pac-12 presidents is to remain in a West Coast league.
But is the TV deal Kliavkoff presented -- primarily Apple with ambiguous financials because of the unknown incentives -- enough? The only certainty as of Thursday morning is everything is fluid.
"Hopefully there's resolution in the next 24 hours," said an industry source. "But I honestly don't know where that resolution is going to be."
The Pac-12 presidents are expected to meet again on Friday to discuss the deal again. Myriad options are possible by then.
The powers at work here should be considered in separate tiers. The first and strongest is the Big Ten, which sources tell ESPN had a president's meeting on Thursday morning that authorized commissioner Tony Petitti to explore expansion and bring back more information on Oregon and Washington. No vote was taken, nor has an offer been made. The league is still operating with a hesitancy to completely gut the Pac-12 a year after taking USC and UCLA.
If the Big Ten ends up making those schools an offer, which is expected to be low, and it's accepted by both, then there will be some clarity -- everything will likely fall apart for the Pac-12. Those are the forces of conference gravity: You can't compete with the Power Two.
Oregon is now viewed as charting the course for the Pac-12's future. If the Ducks are comfortable with a Big Ten offer, Washington would follow. But there's also a chance Oregon may be comfortable with the ambiguity of the Pac-12's deal, stay put, and try to dominate the Pac-12.
Still, the Big Ten is ultimately a goal for both Oregon and Washington. And a transitory financial phase for a multi-generational decision would seem to make sense. But they could stay in a more geographically sensible league and enjoy clearer access to the College Football Playoff. And there remain forces working against Oregon and Washington's additions, both from the West Coast and the heartland.
There's a sense the Big Ten's decision could be tied to what the three remaining Four-Corner Schools -- Arizona, Arizona State and Utah -- end up doing. But there's also the idea those schools want to wait and see what Oregon and Washington end up doing.
The fascinating dynamic of hoping someone else goes first underscores one of the concerns that has loomed here -- no one is eager to pull the plug on the Pac-12. But everyone is also scrambling so they don't get left behind. That leaves a landscape filled with paranoia, fake hustle, lies and hopes. Sounds collegial, huh?
Here are the three biggest questions -- on everything from Arizona's next move to the Big Ten's pursuit of Oregon and Washington to the Pac-12's path to survival -- in a week of potentially landscape-altering news.