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Arizona Wildcats HBO Hard Knocks series was nixed by Pac-12


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame has its own version of NFL Hard Knocks coming to Showtime this fall, and the Arizona Wildcats nearly followed in its footsteps. Unfortunately, the plan was scuttled. Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star has more.

HBO, which established the template for a reality TV sports series with "Hard Knocks," an unvarnished look inside NFL teams (Houston Texans this year), also hoped to tap into the college football market.

In fact, driven by a global media distributor WME-IMG, the inaugural season of HBO’s college football reality series was set to feature the Arizona Wildcats, narrated by "Hard Knocks" voice Liev Schreiber and a small army of about 30 videographers and HBO-related personnel.

It would have been priceless exposure for Rich Rodriguez and his emerging football program. But before HBO could move its people to Tucson, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Pac-12 Networks president Lydia Murphy-Stephans scuttled the deal.

On one hand, this has to stink for the Wildcats, who made a bold move to try and get ahead in the college athletics arms race. Being on HBO these days is the best place to be. It could definitely make Arizona feel like a destination school and give the Pac-12 another marquee name aside from UCLA, USC, Oregon and Stanford.

That being said, I can see why the Pac-12 didn't allow Arizona to go ahead.

  • Arizona would gain a huge recruiting advantage and tons of national exposure. Unlike Notre Dame, Arizona is in a conference and they share revenue. This show would probably lead to equal revenue sharing, but the Wildcats would gain significant advantages with the HBO exposure that other schools wouldn't enjoy. The Pac-12 could not be okay with this, as fairness and equality are a huge reason the conference was able to partner together in the first place.
  • It would seriously offend UCLA and USC to see Arizona get first crack at its own premium series. Remember, USC and UCLA took a serious cut in their worth to agree to equal revenue sharing in all conference profits. Arizona would have gained huge exposure advantages through a deal with HBO and gotten a solid leg up.
  • Yes, the Pac-12 wants to consolidate its own properties like the Drive (its own version of Hard Knocks). But I seriously doubt they would have been against a Hard Knocks series on HBO if it allowed for every representative of the conference to get equal time. The conference could use plenty more exposure whereever they can get it, but it needs to come on a balanced field.
The NFL obviously has an arrangement where they rotate based on teams, but recruits have the choice to choose their college teams in the way draft picks do not for their professional squad. It would be a huge tool for Arizona that could not sit well with rivals Arizona State and the rest of the Pac-12. I'd imagine there were strident objections that would have prevented this show from getting off the ground.