AP source: Fox lands rights to Pac-12 title game

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NEW YORK (AP) - The inaugural Pac-12 football championship game is heading to Fox, solidifying the network's college football imprint after losing the Bowl Championship Series.

A person with knowledge of the one-year deal told The Associated Press on Thursday that it is valued at $25 million - $14.5 million for the title game and $10.5 million for additional games that comes with the conference's expansion from 10 to 12 teams starting next season.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because financial details were not made public.

No date has been decided for the game, although the person said it likely will be played on Dec. 3, giving Fox a doubleheader with the inaugural Big Ten title game.

Network spokesman Dan Bell and conference commissioner Larry Scott confirmed the deal, which first was reported by SportsBusiness Journal. The contract only covers one year because the league's current rights agreements with ABC/ESPN and Fox run through 2011-12.

"We made the decision, rather than waiting, to deal with this as a one-off to have certainty and get it established and promoted," Scott told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "We have a relationship with Fox, and this made sense for us."

The Pac-10 will split into divisions beginning with the 2011 football season, when Colorado joins from the Big 12 and Utah from the Mountain West. The division winners will meet for the championship at the home stadium of the team with the best overall conference record.

The title game represents a significant opportunity for Fox, which lost much of its college football clout when it lost the BCS games. Fox had aired the lucrative series except for the Rose Bowl and national title games played in Pasadena from 2006 through last season. ABC/ESPN now has all five games, including Monday night's championship between Oregon and Auburn.

Fox still has rights to the Cotton Bowl and secured rights to the inaugural Big Ten title game through 2016 in part because it is a minority partner in the Big Ten Network. Fox also agreed to a five-year contract with Conference USA this week that includes at least 20 regular-season football games, the championship game, and men's and women's basketball.

Bell would not say whether Fox has begun negotiating with the Pac-12 on a long-term deal, but he did say that it makes sense that the network would be interested.

"On the cable side, as far as the Fox SportsNet regional networks, we've had a long and terrific partnership with the conference," Bell said. "And this is the next step, and we hope on both the broadcast and cable side that we have a long and continued relationship."

Scott said discussions will begin this month on a long-term deal, and that ESPN/ABC and Fox have an exclusive negotiating window. The process is expected to take several months.

"It's pretty much the first half of the year this will occupy us," Scott said. "We'll come out of this period with deals with our existing partners or not, and then we'll be in position to talk to others. We think there will be plenty of interest in our brand."

The negotiations could be complicated by the Pac-12's interest in its own cable network.

The league has been working with outside firm Creative Artists Agency to develop the network, which is expected to draw on elements of the Big Ten's network. The Big Ten airs lower-tier home football games, men's and women's basketball and Olympic sports on its cable channel while reserving marquee games for its broadcast partners.

"We are very interested in it, and we're very far along in planning for the possibility of it. We've done a lot of due diligence," Scott said of a network. "I will stop short of saying we'll definitely have one. We'll go into this negotiating period without any encumbrances."

The Pac-10's current five-year deal with ABC/ESPN for football was valued at $125 million, and its five-year deal with Fox SportsNet for football brought in $97 million. There is also a contract with ABC/ESPN through 2011-12 for basketball that is valued at $52.5 million.

Whatever route the conference takes, the stakes are certain to be high.

"We're going to develop what I think is a unique model," Scott said. "You'll see us interested in what's worked well with the Big Ten, the SEC, and I think we'll come out with something that makes sense for us where we're at."


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