Pac-4 Update; Quotes of Note; Bowl Blues
Like most columnists and bloggers, I've overdosed on writing about NIL, the transfer portal, conference realignment and the demise of the Pac-12. I'd really love to start writing about football. About interesting teams, players, and coaches. About exciting games and stunning upsets. We're almost there. For today, with only 12 days to go before the first games on Aug. 26, here's the latest on the Pac-4 and some interesting viewpoints from a few involved parties. The four left behind—Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State—continue to explore options. For WSU and OSU it's pretty simple: convince Stanford and Cal to stay in the Pac-4 and expand it to include at least four other teams, or join the Mountain West or AAC.
Let's consider all the options.
Expansion or Merger With Mountain West or AAC Expanding the Pac-4 has plenty of downsides. No TV contract, for one. Uncertainty with regard to "Power Five" status and playoff shares, for another. An emasculated commissioner. Plus hefty exit fees ($34 million) facing any Mountain West team that wants to join for 2024. But that's preferable to actually joining or merging with the Mountain West, a league with a TV payout of about $6 million, inadequate exposure, and no Power Five hopes on the horizon. As for joining or merging with the AAC, as was suggested by some Sports Illustrated scribes over the weekend, it's hard to picture Stanford and Cal in a conference that includes University of Alabama Birmingham, Memphis, Tulsa, Florida Atlantic. Wichita State, Texas San Antonio and directionals like North Texas, East Carolina, and South Florida, just as it's hard to imagine Stanford in the same league with San Jose State.
Big Ten or ACC For Stanford and Cal, the top landing spots are either the Big Ten or ACC. Both are less than ideal, given travel costs and lost class time, not to mention the absurdity of two teams located on the Pacific Coast playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But both leagues offer Power Five status, top level competition, and far more national exposure and media revenue than they'd get in a rebuilt Pac-4 or the Mountain West or AAC. The anticipated media payouts—a partial share of approximately $35M in the Big Ten or a long-term distribution of about $39M in the ACC—are not chopped liver, and they're far superior to the Pac-12's ill-fated Apple proposal ($23M). Unfortunately, the Big Ten has put further expansion on hold, and the ACC hasn't been able to muster enough support from league presidents to add Stanford and Cal. An 80% approval is required, which translates to 12 "yes" votes out of 15 schools (including Notre Dame, an ACC member in all sports other than football). In the last straw poll Thursday, Stanford/Cal fell one vote short. As expected, powerhouses Clemson and Florida State voted no, joined by, surprisingly, North Carolina and NC State. Independence If it can't quickly turn one of the negative ACC votes to a "yes", the best course of action for Stanford, in my view, would be for the university administration to commit to support an independent program for 3-5 years while the powers-that-be navigate the waters and pursue various options. With an endowment in excess of $35 billion, directing some unrestricted funds to the athletic department would hardly put a dent in the Stanford coffers. Cal, without Stanford's bankroll and carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in debt from stadium renovation, doesn't have as many options if the ACC doesn't come through. They'd basically be in the same boat as OSU and WSU. At Stanford, the University subsidy would give security to new coach Troy Taylor while he tries to rebuild the football program and provide the necessary resources for basketball and the Cardinal's nonpareil Olympic sports. Scheduling would be a challenge, to be sure, but not an insurmountable one. My old friend and former ESPN executive Dave Brown runs a company called Gridiron Schedule that did a great job scheduling BYU during its independent years, and he could provide the same service to Stanford. Nerd League Subsidized independence would give Athletic Director Bernard Muir and his advisers Condi Rice and Oliver Luck more time not only to pursue Big Ten and ACC membership, but also to consider the alternative of trying to form an academic league with the likes of Cal, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Rice, Tulane, Syracuse, the service academies and perhaps SMU, Boston College, Virginia and Duke. It's only a matter of time before underperforming academic schools are forced out of Power 5 conferences by high-profile programs (see Clemson and Florida State) who bring in the TV dollars and don't want to share revenues. In fact, Florida State is already threatening to leave the ACC unless it receives a bigger share than, say, Boston College and Syracuse. In our view, an academic league would not only offer a shining example of what college athletics is supposed to be, but it would be attractive to fans and a TV partner, as well as sponsors and advertisers who wish to reach a well-educated, well-heeled demographic. Hopefully, Stanford will take the lead in putting it together if it can't pick up another ACC "yes" vote.
Quotes of Note: Sometimes football coaches, ADs and presidents do make sense. Here's a sampling of some wisdom that has been dispensed in the last few weeks. Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, on why he supports adding Stanford and Cal to the ACC: "The notion that two of the very best academic institutions in the world who also play D1 sports could be abandoned in this latest chapter of realignment is an indictment of college athletics.”‘ Dennis Erickson, former head coach at Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona State and Miami, on the hypocrisy of school presidents: "You've got all these presidents that talk about academics and loyalty and the bottom line is they move because of one thing—money. It had nothing to do with education. It had nothing to do with players. It had nothing to do with the school. It had to do with money." Stanford's Troy Taylor on joining the ACC or Big Ten: "I'm okay with traveling. We just want to play football. People used to have to come across the country in a covered wagon. We get on a plane for five, six hours. They serve us drinks. That's not the end of the world." Arizona president Robert C. Robbins on his reaction to the subscription-based Apple TV proposal to the Pac-12 : “Well, it’s going to be like selling candy bars for Little League or Girl Scout cookies. You gotta convince 3 to 5 million people every year to sign up for $100 a year to watch a streaming-only app.” UCLA Coach Chip Kelly on how he'd organize college football: "Why aren’t we all independent for football? Take the 64 teams in Power Five and make that one division, take the 64 teams in Group of Five, make that another division. We play for a championship, they play for a championship and no one else gets affected. Our sport’s different than everybody else—we only play once a week, travel’s not a big deal for football, but it is a big deal for other sports (that could continue to play in a conference). So that’s my theory.” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on the future: "There is so much more change that's going to happen in college football. There's going to be massive change, super conferences. It's going to be unrecognizable from what it is now...It's going to happen three to five years, seven at the latest. I think it's going to be 40, 50, 60 teams, 64 tops. They'll be like a minor league NFL... And that way they'll get the NIL reigned in because until they're employees, there's no way you can regulate NIL unless Congress does it. You won't have to go to school. You'll be affiliated to wherever, but vou won't have to go to class and be eligible. You're a minor league football player, and you can go to school, but you won't have to." And finally, this from former Stanford All-American women's basketball player Kate Starbird, who now, ironically, is a professor at Big Ten-bound University of Washington: “I understand the economics behind the decisions that the different schools have to make. But as a former Pac-10 athlete, I’m heartbroken that the league that so many of my memories are tied to is gone. I’m concerned for the current generation of student athletes, especially the women athletes, but not only them. These changes will diminish all of their college experiences and make it even more challenging to succeed on the courts and fields, but also in the classrooms."
Bowl Blues: One aspect of the recent conference re-alignments and the demise of the Pac-12 that hasn't received any attention to date is the effect on conference bowl partners.
Imagine being the director of one of the well-established bowls tied to the Pac-12—the Alamo, Holiday, Las Vegas and Sun Bowls. With the conference either dead or crippled, suddenly you're scrambling to find another tie-in. Say you had the No. 2, 3 or 4 team in the Pac-12 and were probably paying the league $3 million for the privilege. Now, you're faced with going to the back of the line to try to find a team in the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 or ACC. And instead of No. 3 in the Pac-12, you're now looking at No. 13 in the Big Ten.
Good luck with that.