If you’re an investor with $750 million at your disposal, are you buying the future of the Pac-12 Conference?

That’s a question the league is exploring as it tries to find a private equity partner to inject some cash into the conference coffers. I don’t know what it’s like to handle that kind of money, but I have watched a lot of Pac-12 football. Might I suggest buying some Tesla stock instead?

I’m sure anyone who invests in the Pac-12 will have done their homework about the risks and rewards. Just as I’m sure the schools will be careful not to mortgage the future in exchange for some short-term relief.

What’s apparent is that the Pac-12 needs help. In their quiet, reasonable way, athletic directors are sounding the alarm about the growing budget gap between the Pac-12 and its peers.

“For us, the next five years, we can be super efficient, but we’re going to be looking at some changes if we can’t figure out a way to enhance the resources,” Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said during a visit to The Register-Guard this week.

Pac-12 schools received an average payout of $31.3 million from the conference in 2017-18. That’s a lot of money if you’re running an academic department, but it’s dwarfed by payouts in the Big Ten ($54 million) and SEC ($43.7 million).

There’s no immediate relief on the horizon. The Pac-12 is holding out for 2024, when the league projects a significant windfall from renegotiating its media rights deals. But if the conference continues to slip, how much will its brand be diminished between now and then?

There’s an incentive to find a private equity partner that can prop up the conference until the big payday arrives. If it’s done right, it could be a win for everyone. If it’s done wrong, it could be another sleight of hand that allows commissioner Larry Scott to maintain an illusion of progress while delivering nothing but empty promises.

We’re not talking about some benefactor showing up with a no-strings-attached bailout. An investor is going to want something in return. So if the Pac-12 doesn’t do something to improve its position, the league will remain stuck in a cycle of catching up and falling behind, now with the added challenge of satisfying its private equity partner.

The Pac-12’s eternal hope is in some new form of media distribution. Hulu, Amazon, YouTube — whatever represents the next frontier of live sports programming, the Pac-12 wants to be there.

Maybe that will happen yet. But right now it’s all theoretical, whereas the Pac-12’s challenges are very real.

“You do need a certain level of resources to be able to compete at the highest level, and that’s important,” Mullens said. “If you look at where we were as a Pac-10/Pac-12 before the new TV deal, we really did close the gap.

“It has since been separated. I do like our model, I really do, particularly as you look at what’s happening in the markets.”

Tuition is going up for UO students next year as the university tries to close its own budget gap. That means the check written by the athletic department to the university to cover the cost of athletic scholarships will get bigger, too.

“If we don’t change anything, that adds a million and a half to two million a year for us that we have to locate before we do anything operationally,” Mullens said.

No university professor or debt-laden student is going to feel sorry for an athletic department that pays six- and seven-figure salaries to coaches and administrators. The Ducks will have to find room in a $120 million budget to pay for what they need.

That doesn’t get easier when expenses are going up and conference revenues are flat-lining. So if a private equity partner can step in to help the Pac-12 bridge that gap, Mullens seemed cautiously supportive.

However, the ideal arrangement is one that provides short-term relief and long-term value — in other words, a partnership that bolsters the Pac-12 brand along with generating immediate revenue for the schools.

“I think it’s a worthy process,” Mullens said. “I think it would have to be a strategic partner that would help us in the short term but also provide some value as we go from ’24 and beyond.”

Does that kind of partnership exist?

I guess they’re about to find out.