The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline. Due to volume — and in some cases, the need for research — not all questions will be answered the week of submission. Thanks for your understanding.
Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
When commissioner George Kliavkoff said he wants the best teams to succeed (paraphrasing), how specifically does this happen? Scheduling and what else? @Dawgs_SD
This is a terrific question and an important question and one that will undoubtedly surface throughout this season and future seasons.
Kliavkoff has made no secret about his focus on optimizing the potential for College Football Playoff berths. Nor has he made any secret about the athletic directors being fully supportive of the approach.
We cannot stress this point enough: Playoff bids are not just about football success for the chosen team(s); every school, every sport, every athlete in the Pac-12 benefits when football is flourishing.
In past years, the conference took a different view, one that leaned heavily on parity — parity within Pac-12 football and parity across Pac-12 sports.
Now, it’s different. And in this case, different is good.
If you think the Big Ten treats Purdue like it treats Ohio State … if you think the SEC treats Arkansas like it treats Alabama … I suggest hitting refresh.
But what does that mean in practical terms?
And how should fans view the treatment their team receives?
— We’ll repeat a phrase you might have seen recently on the Hotline: Fair treatment and equal treatment are not the same.
Our guess is that Kliavkoff always aims for the former while acknowledging the impractical nature of the latter.
— Keep in mind that Kliavkoff and Merton Hanks, the Pac-12’s chief of football operations, are working regularly with the athletic directors and coaches on strategic issues.
None of the big decisions will be made in the vacuum in San Francisco.
— The process of optimizing CFP berths will include deep dives into the structure of the divisions and whether to play eight or nine conference games. But the schedule is probably the best example.
Let’s use two hypothetical scenarios:
1) It’s January, and the Pac-12 is finishing up the master schedule for the following fall.
Oregon is coming off a first-rate season and expected to return most of its starters, but there’s a conflict:
Giving the Ducks their bye week at an optimal time, in the middle of the season, would force Cal to take its bye week in September, far earlier than wanted.
The conference might just (politely) tell the Bears there’s no other choice.
2) It’s early November, and the Pac-12 is working with TV partners on kickoff times for an upcoming Saturday.
There’s an afternoon slot available and a 7:30 p.m. slot available: USC is in the playoff race and facing Colorado; meanwhile, Arizona and UCLA are plodding along.
The conference might work to place USC in the afternoon window, because of the viewership potential and the normalcy that comes with a daytime start. (It would help keep the Trojans fresh throughout the stretch run.)
In that situation, the conference might put Arizona and UCLA in the night window even if both schools had night games the previous week.
Those are but two examples.
The plan to place the best teams in the best position for a CFP berth won’t always be obvious to fans, and it won’t always sit well with the school drawing the short straw.
But one thing will remain constant: Fair does not mean equal.
If Redbox Bowl folds, will the Pac-12 receive another opportunity from ESPN Events to make up for that lost bowl slot? — @bkbeban
The Pac-12 has seven slots locked up for the 2021 season: The Rose, Alamo, Las Vegas, Holiday, Sun and LA bowls, plus a berth in one of three ESPN-owned games.
Also, the Redbox Bowl isn’t dead yet. Last we heard, there’s still a chance — even at this late date — for the bowl to reappear for the 2021 season.
My understanding is that an eighth spot could be available to the conference if the Redbox remains on hiatus.
But the situation is fluid and would depend, at least in part, on the Pac-12 producing 1) eight bowl-eligible teams and 2) only one team in the New Year’s Six.
That’s an unlikely combination, in our opinion.
My question is about Pac-12 expansion. The school I believe would be the best addition to the conference would be Rice University. It would be a home run addition. The Pac-12 can transform Rice into the Stanford of Texas. — Kyle Galvin
The next round of Pac-12 expansion is at least a few years away. If it comes, this is precisely the outside-the-box thinking required — I love the concept.
But if the conference went looking for candidates, Rice would make sense only if you truly believed it could become “the Stanford of Texas,” or into a mini-Stanford of Texas.
I’m not sure enough Pac-12 presidents would see that as viable.
Stanford has spent 100 years becoming Stanford, both athletically and academically. And the process included advantages that won’t exist for the Owls, such as weather, land and Silicon Valley money.
I would argue that there’s less chance of the Pac-12 inviting Rice than of Rice joining some Pac-12 schools, including Stanford, in a nationwide conglomeration of Tier II teams.
The blue bloods would be in a league of their own — 30 or 35 strong, a mini-NFL — with everyone else on the next level.
Is it really helpful for the West Coast media to constantly ask and ponder about “national perception of the Pac-12”? I feel like it’s constantly talked about by our own West Coast media, and it feels like we are feeding the problem somewhat. — @TurbineSeaplane
First, it’s not the media’s job to be “helpful.” It’s the media’s job to report on, and interpret events. And the events of recent years make it fairly clear the conference has underperformed, both in terms of playoff appearances, bowl results and the marquee intersectional games.
And make no mistake: The national perception matters. It matters to ticket sales, TV audience, recruiting and overall brand power.
To ignore that perception would be ignoring a critical section of the canvass.
And let’s imagine an alternate reality in which the Pac-12 were currently the king of the Power Five.
You’d want the media to cover the “national perception” in that universe, right?
Mike Bohn said that this isn’t a make or break year for Clay Helton. Do you believe him? — @twiggydig
I believe that Bohn believes, at this point in time, that it’s not a make-or-break year for Helton.
But I also believe that Bohn knows circumstances can evolve. He’s a veteran of coaching changes, after all.
Our view is fairly straightforward:
— If the Trojans win at least 10 games and/or the conference championship, Helton stays.
— If they win eight games or less and no title, Helton goes.
But what happens if the Trojans split the difference? If they’re 10-2 and don’t win the South? Or if they’re 8-4 and win the conference?
That’s where it gets tricky.
My guess is any scenario in which it’s not obvious Helton should return will result in Helton getting dismissed. But that truly is nothing more than a guess.
Other than “school policy,” what might be the real reason ASU is refusing to release its COVID vaccination rate? — @UA_Cattracks
What do you make of there being minimal media attention for Arizona State’s transgressions compared to when Arizona’s dropped considering Arizona’s have largely been unsubstantiated? — @GoCats27727181
I don’t know if the vaccination rate is high or low or what might happen if the university policy weren’t in place. But it is, and it trumps any other reason for keeping the COVID information private.
It’s deeply unfortunate that ASU, as a public institution during a public health crisis, has chosen secrecy over transparency. But that’s the reality, and anything else is secondary.
As for the media coverage of the recruiting scandal and NCAA investigation — ASU’s description of the process as a “review” makes me laugh every time — well, that requires context.
Remember, Arizona was involved in a multi-year FBI sting operation with wiretaps and a major news conference.
ASU’s scandal, while arguably more unseemly because of the pandemic, doesn’t have nearly the national scope.
That said, there has been plenty of media coverage given the short timeframe (by NCAA standards). And there will be more, possibly soon but more likely after the season.
When will you do another Pac-12 Hotline Podcast? — @kmasterman
The podcast isn’t dead, it’s just hibernating. I don’t expect it to awaken during the football season, unfortunately.
Appreciate the interest.
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