Commenting on USC and UCLA’s historic decision to exit the conference that has always been their home…
Rising: Washington and Oregon’s Influence
The hotline is calling them as we see them, and we see the complete disintegration of the Pac-12 as a scenario that cannot be ruled out.
Certainly it’s not the most realistic result for the conference. But ignore it at your own risk.
In our view, survival begins with Washington and Oregon.
Both schools have been no doubt trying to get into the Big Ten since Thursday morning. But according to a Hotline source, that “door is closed for the foreseeable future.”
From here, it’s clear that the Big Ten’s next move is to conquer Notre Dame. If the Irish are ready to end their existence as independents, they would need either one or three partners to accompany them into the Big Ten (for even numbers). The Huskies and Ducks could become candidates along with North Carolina at this point.
However, we do not envision a short-term scenario in which any of the Northwest schools would be offered admission to the Big Ten without Notre Dame’s involvement. And that could take years, maybe.
Also this: Any speculation about Oregon and/or Washington joining the Big Ten anticipates USC and UCLA would support permitting other West Coast football programs.
For competitive (ie recruiting) purposes, the Trojans and Bruins are better off than the only members this side of the Rockies.
So let’s assume for now that Washington and Oregon don’t have an immediate, viable path into the Big Ten.
In this state, they become “the best options” and the “tentpole programs” of schools remaining in both the Pac-12 and Big 12, according to a Hotline source.
Yes, that gives the Pac-12 a chance to survive, but it also gives the Northwest powers significant clout.
Granted, their constituents despise each other, and Phil Knight is probably still furious that UW chose Adidas a few years ago.
But at the administrative level (sporting directors Jen Cohen and Rob Mullens and presidents Ana Mari Cauce and Michael Schill) there are solid working relationships.
Working in tandem, the schools could exert significant influence over a reorganized Pac-12 and make themselves available to the Big 12 should it become aggressive.
(A year after being rejected by the Pac-12, the Big 12 could become the Hunter.)
We’re not sure of the fit — the prospect of the huskies and ducks spending their Saturdays in Waco and Ames doesn’t feel right. But at this point, everything is on the table until it’s not.
It’s worth noting that Cauce, the UW President, will take over as Chair of the Pac-12 Board today. Would she attempt to run the reeling conference while also overseeing a secret campaign to get rid of it?
Falling: Oregon’s Recruitment Prospects
It’s hard to overstate the detrimental impact that USC and UCLA’s exit from the Pac-12 will have on the Ducks’ ability to continue draining elite players from Southern California — the same players who fueled their rise to national prominence.
The blue-chip recruits are now much more likely to play for the LA schools or one of the top Big Ten programs.
That’s another reason Phil Knight will no doubt do whatever it takes to get the Ducks into the Big Ten. His dream of a national championship has just been dashed.
Rising: Big 12 fusion opportunities
Granted, it’s all conjecture at this point. And an ESPN-orchestrated partnership between Pac-12 and Big 12 seems a definite possibility.
Whether this takes the form of a direct merger or an alliance – a real Allianz – we cannot predict that.
But the 22 remaining schools need stability and financial support, which might work best within an ESPN umbrella.
Rising: ESPN’s options
The hotline sees USC and UCLA’s jump into the Big Ten as Fox’s response to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, which has an all-in media deal with ESPN.
The networks are the grandmasters here, folks. And now control both leagues with 16 teams packed with blue-blooded football programs.
However, we have little confidence that the SEC is providing enough inventory to support ESPN’s immense programming needs – from ABC and ESPN to ESPN2 and ESPN+.
And available inventory in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones has gotten a lot cheaper lately.
This strikes us as the perfect opportunity for ESPN to gobble up great below-market college football to secure content for every broadcast window from 12:00 PM ET to 10:30 PM ET and across all networks.
Don’t forget: ESPN needs the content, i.e. the conferences, to survive.
Fallen: The notion that USC had outgrown the Pac-12.
It’s like portraying the arsonist as the victim of the fire.
The Trojans’ substandard play and administrative mismanagement (prior to the arrival of athletic director Mike Bohn) are one of the main reasons the Pac-12’s brand has deteriorated.
We don’t blame USC for taking the money; Nor are we ignoring the consolidation of power in big college football.
But the Trojans are by no means – none, zero, zip – a sympathetic figure in this regard.
Rising: options for the Four Corners schools
USC and UCLA were the connective tissue that helped justify Pac-12 membership for Arizona and the state of Arizona, which joined the conference in 1978, and Utah and Colorado, who came on board in 2011.
Without the financial and recruiting benefits of affiliation with Los Angeles schools, motivation to attend the conference could dwindle.
Don’t be surprised if, collectively or individually, they seek membership in the Big 12, which suddenly looks a lot more inviting than they did two days ago.
And within the quartet, keep an eye on Arizona and ASU.
Fall: Plan sanity
The travel requirements imposed on USC and UCLA athletes in the Olympic sports should not be overlooked.
We can’t wait to see how the Big Ten make their schedules.
Will UCLA teams hop from one Midwestern campus to another for weeks like the Dodgers on a long street swing?
Will USC teams visit Maryland one weekend, then Rutgers two weeks later?
The massive cash inflow awaiting the Trojans and Bruins – at least $100 million annually in media rights – will allow them to provide world-class resources to athletes across all sports.
But at the same time, membership in the Big Ten could take a significant mental and physical toll.
Falling: tenure of George Kliavkoff.
The first 364 days included a lot of big challenges but turned out to be a mere scramble compared to the 365th.
From our point of view, Kliavkoff seemed to have been surprised by the thunderous development – like everyone else at the conference.
Would Kliavkoff, whose term began on July 1, 2021, have sensed this?
Maybe, though that’s easier said than done — Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby was caught off guard when Texas and Oklahoma snapped for the SEC last summer.
Could Kliavkoff have done more to ensure LA schools are happy?
Only he (and she) knows the extent of his outreach on the revenue front.
Did he have a difficult hand?
Absolutely. (More on that in a moment.)
Rising: Appeal of the State of San Diego
Without USC and UCLA in the conference, the Aztecs appear to have more value in the reconfigured Pac-12 as a liaison point to Southern California.
To be clear, we don’t expect the conference to offer SDSU membership, but the opportunities that once didn’t exist are now non-nil (especially with ESPN stating the need for a foothold in the larger LA market).
Pac-12 presidents have always looked down on California State University schools. It might be time to reconsider this approach.
Dead: The Alliance (with the Big Ten)
No comment needed.
Rising: Rose Bowl uncertainty
Just as the survival of the Pac-12 is now in doubt, so is the future of the storied January 1 duel with the Big Ten.
However, the game itself is not going anywhere.
Our best guess is that it will be a permanent venue for quarterfinals and semifinals in the expanded college football playoffs, but with no guarantee that contestants will come from its traditional affiliates.
Like so much else, a precious piece of college football tradition as we know it will cease to exist.
Falling: Larry Scott’s Legacy
While that wasn’t the sole reason for the LA schools leaving, the misguided media strategies and management of the former commissioner’s conference created the circumstances for the current state of affairs.
The failure of the Pac-12 Networks as a business resulted in depressed conference revenues, eroded awareness, devalued the Pac-12 brand, and prompted USC and UCLA to seek greener pastures.
Additionally, Scott’s decision to sign a 12-year deal with ESPN and Fox made the conference an agreement that has turned out to be null and void. If it had been shorter – say eight or ten years – the Pac-12 would have renegotiated its media rights before the Big Ten came to the table this springbinding USC and UCLA to an agreement.
And just three years ago, Scott turned down an offer from ESPN to take over distribution of Pac-12 Networks and enter into a long-term partnership for Tier 1 rights. In this scenario, the LA schools also remain.
The campuses spent years suffering financially (relative to their peers) in hopes that Scott’s master plan would result in a jackpot in 2024.
Now the jackpot is gone and the suffering will only increase.
It was all a colossal waste.
The university presidents who endorsed Scott’s strategy are also to blame.
But the split in the conference, and perhaps its eventual destruction, will be Scott’s legacy.
In the meantime, he’s pocketed almost $50 million in salary thanks to the Pac-12, and he’s sipping wine while gazing out at a sunset somewhere.
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