No one can figure it out. Not industry sources, who for years have been deep in the weeds of similar media rights negotiations.

Not even administrators and coaches in the Pac-12.

What’s up is down, what’s wrong is right in the everlasting drama that is the Pac-12’s fight to stay alive with a new media rights deal. Their options are limited, and the money doesn’t look like it’s there — but that, apparently, hasn’t stopped commissioner George Kliavkoff from striking a deal.

Just not (yet) a money-based deal.

John Canzano on Wednesday reported that the Pac-12 has finalized the Grant of Rights, an agreement that would contractually link the 10 schools to each other for the length of the new media rights deal. Canzano also reported that the Pac-12 has figured out a revenue sharing plan and sponsorship rights, and all 10 schools are “ready to sign.”

One problem: There’s still no media rights deal.

“It’s the exact opposite of how every media rights deal is negotiated,” an industry source told Saturday Out West. “First you get your deal, then you have everyone agree on the deal — and then you sign the Grant of Rights because everyone is happy with the deal and wants to stay together.”

Happy and together isn’t the most appropriate was to describe Pac-12 negotiations.

In the past 2 months alone, soft deadlines from Pac-12 presidents to Kliavkoff for the framework of a new media rights deal have come and gone, and the conference is no closer to a deal that not only secures its financial future but keeps its member institutions from leaving for higher financial ground.

The major linear television players, for the most part, are out of the conversation. Fox, CBS and NBC are focused on their new agreement with the Big Ten and Big 12, and ESPN is moving forward with the SEC, Big 12 and ACC.

That leaves the Pac-12 searching for partners, and more than likely, using streaming services (see: Apple) as their main partner or to supplement. In the past few months, potential linear television partners have been floated, including ION and USA Network.  

An industry source told Saturday Out West that ESPN would be interested in “a piece” of the new Pac-12 deal: the late Saturday night window — but not nearly for the money the Pac-12 wants.

“For the right price, (ESPN) would definitely be a buyer in that late window,” the industry source said.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 is ready to pounce, and has already spoken to numerous Pac-12 schools, most prominently Colorado and Arizona. If the Pac-12 can’t land a media rights deal that competes with the Big 12’s new deal, it’s not that far of a stretch to think Colorado and Arizona won’t be the only schools jumping to the Big 12.

Another industry source believes the Big 12 can produce — through football, increased NCAA Tournament units and the new 12-team Playoff — a $35-40 million per team payout. Last year, with USC and UCLA, Pac-12 schools received $36 million from the current media rights deal that ends after the 2023 season.

But USC and UCLA leave for the Big Ten in 2024, leaving a giant hole in what the Pac-12 is selling — some in the industry believe as much as a 50% drop from last year’s payout. There are legitimate concerns that the Pac-12 can’t reach the Big 12’s number for 2024.

If it can, Kliavkoff will keep the league together. If it can’t, and the new media rights number is significantly less than the Big 12 (as many in the industry believe it will be), it could begin a chain reaction of schools leaving the conference.

The Big 12 is interested in the “Four Corners” schools — Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State — and the Big Ten still has its eye on potential moves West to help ease travel issues for not only USC and UCLA, but the entire conference.

A Big Ten source told Saturday Tradition last month that the conference is waiting on any potential move because it doesn’t want to be seen as a “facilitator” of schools leaving the Pac-12. Washington and Oregon are prime candidates for Big Ten expansion (and to a lesser extent, Stanford and Cal) should the league fall apart because of a new (and undervalued) media rights deal.   

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported last week that the Big 12 has had “substantive” conversations with Colorado. By adding Colorado and Arizona (and the Four Corners schools), the Big 12 can tap into the late window market — the same window that is attractive to ESPN for Pac-12 games.

“We had a great discussion about expansion, and have a plan,” Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said during last week’s spring meetings. “We have an appetite to be a national conference.”

Just how big depends on the Pac-12’s ability to land a competitive media rights deal.