April 15, 2024

Arizona president Robert Robbins, key figure in conference realignment, stepping down from post


Arizona president Robert Robbins, a major figure in athletics and conference realignment, will resign at the end of his current term. Robbins’ contract expires in 2026, but he expressed openness to moving on sooner if the board appoints a successor. A national search for his replacement will begin immediately. 

Robbins was one of the most vocal figures during the collapse of the Pac-12; Arizona was one of four schools to depart the dying league for the Big 12 in 2024. After details of a proposed contract with Apple TV came to light that created commissions based on subscription numbers, Robbins compared the deal to selling “girl scout cookies.” 

After Colorado announced its intention to join the Big 12 one week earlier, Arizona followed after a disastrous meeting during which former Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff presented the Apple TV deal. Four other schools left for the Big Ten, while two headed to the ACC. Only Oregon State and Washington State remain without a long-term conference home. Arizona had been in the Pac-12 Conference since 1978. 

“The past 18 months have been difficult for our university, but I am confident that our passion and commitment for doing what is right, as well as our thorough and thoughtful analysis to address our ongoing challenges, will bring our institution greater stability in short order,” Robbins said in a statement.

Robbins’ decision comes less than a year after the university discovered an accounting modeling error created a $240 million deficit in the university budget. Athletics have taken center stage in the scandal. The school gave the athletic department a $55 million loan to survive the pandemic, but the athletic department has been slow to honor the repayment agreement. Robbins noted in a board meeting that cutting sports is on the table. Upon his request, Robbins’ salary was reduced 10% in March. 

In the months since the financial scandal broke, Arizona football lost coach Jedd Fisch to Washington along with a slew of transfer players. The university also fired athletic director Dave Heeke for “financial and operational mismanagement,” according to Action Network. Prior to his firing, Arizona hired San Jose State’s Brent Brennan as coach. 

After firing Heeke, the university was able to attract athletic director — and Arizona law alum — Desiree Reed-Francois from Missouri. Reed-Francois is highly thought of within the industry. 

Even prior to the accounting error, Robbins battled through a tumultuous tenure. In March 2023, the University of Arizona Faculty Senate approved a “no confidence” vote in Robbins in relation to the murder of a professor on campus by a former student. 

Robbins, along with Heeke and Fisch, are only the latest figures from the legacy Pac-12 to leave their institution. Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson was fired after the Big 12 announcement. Oregon State football coach Jonathan Smith left for Michigan State, while UCLA’s Chip Kelly took a demotion to Ohio State offensive coordinator. 

Washington’s Kalen DeBoer left Seattle to coach Alabama, and athletic director Jen Cohen took the same role at USC. Replacement AD Troy Dannen lasted only months before leaving for Nebraska. Not to be outdone, Washington swiped rival athletic director Pat Chun from Washington State. On the basketball court, Wazzu’s Kyle Smith left for Stanford and USC’s Andy Enfield chose SMU





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