Pac-12 survival takes on the Big 12 expansion scenarios

Commentary on USC and UCLA’s historic decision to leave the conference that has been their home since time immemorial…

Rise: The Leverage of Washington and Oregon

The Hotline calls them as we see them, and we see the complete disintegration of the Pac-12 as a scenario that cannot be dismissed.

Admittedly, this is not the most realistic outcome for the conference. But ignore it at your peril.

In our view, survival begins with Washington and Oregon.

Both schools have undoubtedly been trying to enter the Big Ten since Thursday morning. But according to a Hotline source, that “door is closed for the foreseeable future.”

From there, it’s clear the Big Ten’s next move is to take over Notre Dame. If the Irish are ready to end their existence as independents, they would need one or three partners to accompany them into the Big Ten (for even numbers). The Huskies and Ducks could become candidates then, along with North Carolina.

But we don’t envision a short-term scenario in which either school in the Northwest is offered admission to the Big Ten without Notre Dame being involved. And that could take time, maybe years.

Also, this: Any speculation about Oregon and/or Washington joining the Big Ten assumes USC and UCLA would support admission of other West Coast football programs.

For competitive (i.e. recruiting) purposes, the Trojans and Bruins are better off as the only members on this side of the Rockies.

So, for now, let’s assume that Washington and Oregon don’t have an immediate, viable path to the Big Ten.

In this state, they become “top picks” and “flagship programs” for schools remaining in both the Pac-12 or Big 12, according to a Hotline source.

Yes, it gives the Pac-12 a chance to survive, but it also grants significant leverage to the powers of the North West.

Granted, their constituents despise each other, and Phil Knight is probably still pissed that UW went with 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 strong working relationships.

In tandem, the schools could exert significant leverage in a restructured Pac-12 and make themselves available to the Big 12 in case it turns aggressive.

(A year after being pushed back 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 at Waco and Ames doesn’t seem fair. But at this point, it’s all on the table until it’s not.

It should be noted that Cauce, the president of the UW, takes over the chairmanship of the Pac-12 board today. Would she attempt to lead the shaken conference at the same time as she oversees a clandestine campaign to leave it?

Downfall: Oregon’s recruiting outlook

It’s hard to overstate the negative impact that USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 will have on the Ducks’ ability to continue removing elite players from Southern California — the same players who fueled their rise to national prominence.

Top-notch recruits are now much more likely to play for Los Angeles schools or one of the top Big Ten programs.

It’s yet another reason why Phil Knight is undoubtedly doing everything he can to get the Ducks into the Big Ten. His dream of a national championship has just been destroyed at the knees.

Rising: Big 12 Fusion Possibilities

Admittedly, it’s all conjecture at this point. And an ESPN-orchestrated partnership between the Pac-12 and the Big 12 seems like a distinct possibility.

Whether it takes the form of an outright merger or an alliance — a real alliance – we cannot predict.

But the remaining 22 schools will need stability and financial support that could work better under an ESPN umbrella.

Ascent: ESPN’s options

The Hotline sees USC and UCLA jumping into the Big Ten as Fox’s response to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, which has an overall media deal with ESPN.

Networks are the grand masters here, folks. And now the two control 16-team leagues filled with blue blood soccer programs.

But we’re not confident the SEC provides enough inventory to meet ESPN’s immense programming needs — from ABC and ESPN to ESPN2 and ESPN+.

And the inventory available in the Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones has become much cheaper lately.

This feels like the perfect opportunity for ESPN to gobble up major college football at below-market prices to secure content for every broadcast window, from 12 p.m. ET to 10:30 p.m. ET, and across all networks. .

Remember: ESPN needs the content, which means it needs the conferences to survive.

Downfall: The idea that USC had outgrown the Pac-12.

It’s like making the arsonist a victim of the fire.

The Trojans’ poor play and administrative mismanagement (before the arrival of athletic director Mike Bohn) were the main reasons the Pac-12 brand deteriorated.

We don’t blame USC for taking the money; nor are we ignoring the consolidation of power in major college football.

But Trojans are by no means – none, zero, zip – a friendly figure in this area.

Rising: Options for Four Corners Schools

USC and UCLA were the connective tissue that helped justify Pac-12 membership for Arizona and Arizona State, which joined the conference in 1978, and for Utah and Colorado , who arrived on board in 2011.

Without the financial and recruiting benefits of affiliation with Los Angeles schools, motivation to stay in the conference may decline.

Don’t be surprised if, together or individually, they seek to become a member of the Big 12, which suddenly looks much more attractive than it did two days ago.

And within the quartet, keep a special eye on Arizona and ASU.

Fall: good sense of time

The travel demands imposed on USC and UCLA athletes in Olympic sports should not be overlooked.

We can’t wait to see how the Big Ten put together their schedules.

Down arrow

Will UCLA teams spend weeks at a time hopping from one Midwestern campus to another, like the Dodgers on a long road?

Will USC teams visit Maryland one weekend and then Rutgers two weeks later?

The massive influx of money awaiting the Trojans and the Bruins – at least $100 million a year in media rights – will allow them to provide top-notch resources to athletes in all sports.

But at the same time, joining the Big Ten could take a heavy mental and physical toll.

Fall: mandate of George Kliavkoff.

The first 364 days included a host of major challenges, but proved to be a mere scrimmage compared to the 365th.

From our vantage point, it appeared that Kliavkoff was caught off guard by the thunderous development — like everyone else at the conference.

Kliavkoff, whose mandate began on July 1, 2021, should he have smelled this?

Perhaps, though it’s easier said than done, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby was caught off guard when Texas and Oklahoma rushed to the SEC last summer.

Could Kliavkoff have done more to make sure LA schools were happy?

Only he (and they) know the extent of his advocacy efforts on the revenue front.

Did he have a difficult hand?

Absolutely. (More on that in a moment.)

Rising: The Call of San Diego State

Without USC and UCLA in the conference, the Aztecs apparently have more value for the reconfigured Pac-12 as a connection point to Southern California.

To be clear: we don’t expect the conference to offer SDSU membership, but the odds, once non-existent, are now non-zero (especially if ESPN indicates that a foothold in the greater Los Angeles market is needed ).

Pac-12 presidents have always looked down on California State University schools. It might be time to rethink this approach.

Dead: The Alliance (with the Big Ten)

No comments needed.

Rising: Rose Bowl uncertainty

Just as the survival of the Pac-12 is now in doubt, so is the future of the Jan. 1 game with the Big Ten.

The game itself isn’t going anywhere, though.

Our best guess is that it will become a permanent host of the College Football Expanded Playoff quarterfinals and semifinals, but with no guarantee that attendees will come from its traditional partners.

Like so much else, a treasured piece of college football lore will cease to exist as we know it.

Falling: The Legacy of Larry Scott

While not the sole reason for the Los Angeles schools leaving, the former commissioner’s misguided media strategies and conference administration created the circumstances for the current situation.

The failure of the Pac-12 networks as a business had the effect of reducing conference revenue, reducing exposure, devaluing the Pac-12 brand, and prompting USC and UCLA to look for greener pastures.

Additionally, Scott’s decision to sign a 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox locked the conference in a deal that proved his undoing. With a shorter term – say eight or 10 years – the Pac-12 would have renegotiated their media rights before the Big Ten hit the table this springthereby locking USC and UCLA into a deal.

And just three years ago, Scott turned down an offer from ESPN to take over distribution from Pac-12 Networks and forge a long-term partnership on Tier 1 rights. on the spot.

Campuses spent years suffering financially (compared to their peers) in hopes that Scott’s master plan would lead to a jackpot in 2024.

Now the jackpot is gone and the suffering will only increase.

It was all a colossal mess.

The college presidents who endorsed Scott’s strategy also deserve blame.

But the conference’s split, and perhaps its eventual destruction, becomes Scott’s legacy.

Meanwhile, he’s pocketed almost $50 million in salary from the Pac-12 and is sipping wine with a view of a sunset somewhere.


Support the Hotline: Get three months of unlimited access for just 99 cents. Yes, it’s 99 cents for 90 days, with the ability to cancel at any time. Details are here, and thank you for your support.


***Send your suggestions, comments and tips (privacy guaranteed) to [email protected] or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @Wilner Hotline

*** The Pac-12 Helpline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

James T. Quintero