Mailbag: Should the Pac-12 have seen USC’s departure coming, chances for a media deal this fall, the fate of WSU and OSU and more

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Please note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Hindsight being 20/20, does the Pac-12 have regrets not poaching the Big 12 last summer after Texas and Oklahoma left? — @RickyTicky5309

I haven’t canvassed the athletic directors, the presidents or commissioner George Kliavkoff about it. I assume a few do, a few don’t and most aren’t interested in entering that wormhole.

And while the question is natural given the events, I’m not sure it’s the right one.

The real question is, Should the Pac-12 have seen USC’s departure coming?

Because if the Trojans stay put, UCLA stays put, the Pac-12 plows into the next contract cycle fully whole and nobody gives a second thought to the expansion opportunity in the summer of 2021.

So let’s address whether the conference should have seen USC’s exit coming.

Heck, even the Hotline knew the Trojans might be tempted to depart. We asked athletic director Mike Bohn about it weeks before the new broke that Texas and Oklahoma were leaving the Big 12.

“I don’t think anyone is in position to make declarative statements about the future,” he said.

Once Texas and Oklahoma accepted invitations to the SEC, it was easy to sketch an exit plan for the Trojans:

— The Pac-12 had fallen far behind competitively and financially.

— The Big Ten’s media negotiations — the perfect time to expand — were nine months away.

— The Big Ten and its media partner, Fox, would undoubtedly be interested in countering the SEC’s expansion.

— The Pac-12’s contract cycle was ending one year after the Big Ten’s, giving the Trojans a penalty-free escape hatch.

The Hotline checked with contacts through the fall, winter and spring. The notion was never squashed, but nor was it supported by tangible evidence.

We viewed USC’s possible departure like a marathon: Scuttlebutt and conjecture are one thing; what matters are the final 0.2 miles. And the situation never reached the final 0.2 until late June. The final pieces came together fast.

So if we were monitoring the situation, the Pac-12 certainly should have been.

And it probably was.

But that’s where our presumptions end.

Did Kliavkoff ask USC president Carol Folt if the Trojans were committed to the conference? If so, how frequently? What were her answers? How convincing was she? And what were Pac-12 contacts at the highest levels of power in the sports media industry telling Kliavkoff about Fox and the Big Ten?

Those are questions only Kliavkoff and Folt can answer.

Should the Pac-12 have considered the long game — a future without USC — when deciding whether to expand last summer? Yes. And if it didn’t, that was a miscalculation.

Or perhaps it took that piece into account and still wasn’t interested in raiding the Big 12 or snatching Houston, SMU or BYU.

If so, the next two months will add clarity to that decision.

What are the chances the Pac-12 signs a media rights deal with ESPN this fall? — Genetics56

If the 10 remaining schools stick together, the chances are high — extremely high — of a contract agreement this fall, with ESPN as either the sole or primary partner.

The complication is whether they stick together.

Statistically, I would offer this outlook …

— Chance of the Big Ten grabbing more Pac-12 schools this fall: 35 percent.

— Chance of the Pac-12 dissolving if the Big Ten grabs more schools this fall: 95 percent

— Chance of the Pac-12 signing a media contract if the Big Ten does not grab more schools: 95 percent

— Chance of anything in realignment being greater than 95 percent: 0 percent

When do you think we’ll know whether the Pac-12 will expand? — Hmckee53

By the end of October, if not the first half of the month.

The first step is locking in the 10 schools, which won’t happen until Stanford, Cal, Oregon and Washington are officially turned down by the Big Ten … if they are turned down.

If they lock in, the conference will examine its options with and without expansion.

We expect everything to unfold together — meaning, the Pac-12 will decide whether or not to expand before signing a new media contract.

It’s possible that the latter happens this fall and the former at some later date, but that seems entirely inefficient — and gives the Big 12 a chance to grab a school or two that the Pac-12 might want.

I’m a Husky fan who doesn’t want Washington to join the Big Ten and is just hoping the Pac-12 can be saved. What is the status of UW, Oregon, Cal, Stanford leaving? Does the College Football Playoff expansion change anything? — @GAllen91723605

We took a deep dive into the future of the conference on Thursday — and by deep, I mean Mariana Trench depths.

But to summarize: The Big Ten probably will decide in the next four or six weeks if it intends to expand this fall. If it stands down, the remaining Pac-12 schools likely will sign a grant-of-rights agreement that lasts five years.

And yes, we believe it’s possible, if not probable, that CFP expansion slows realignment. The Pac-12 is a more viable conference — as is the Big 12 — with a format that grants six automatic berths for conference champions.

Put another way:

The competitive piece has become more significant, relative to the revenue piece, in the overall determination of changing conferences.

Why would ESPN or Fox want to deal with a merged Pac12/Big12? Wouldn’t they prefer to just invest in the conference that has a chance to provide a sizable return on investment? — @sancho

My view is fairly simple: The networks wouldn’t want the leagues to pool resources, which is exactly why they should have done it: Create one set of football inventory for two (or more) bidders and tilt the supply/demand equation in their favor.

But the idea seems moot at this point. I don’t see how the conferences can repair a relationship that has turned acrimonious.

Plus, one commissioner would be out of a job, and neither wants that.

In an earlier column, you mentioned the possibility of Washington State ending up in the FCS. You haven’t mentioned it since. Has the probability of this outcome changed? — @TWamsgans

That was mentioned as a worst-case scenario — and remains so.

If the Pac-12 were to dissolve, the most likely landing spot for both WSU and Oregon State is a reconfigured version of the Mountain West.

But we don’t know what the MW media valuation will look like. What if the Pac-12 fractures, the Four Corners schools join the Big 12 and are accompanied by San Diego State and Boise State?

How much would a greatly depleted version of the MW command on the market?

There could be a point where the revenue simply doesn’t work. Where it fails to offset the expenses that come with FBS football and Olympic sport support.

In that case, the Cougars and Beavers (and a slew of other schools) might decide that the math works better in the FCS, where football expenses are greatly reduced.

That’s an extreme scenario but one that cannot be completely ignored.

Does the Pac-12 still have a rule about showing official replays in the stadium? I remember it being a thing a few years back. I ask because none were seen in Washington State’s Martin Stadium last week. — @GoCougs7

I’m not aware of a conference rule forbidding replays.

That should be a campus decision with only one limitation:

Avoid showing controversial calls in order to take the focus off the officials.

Stanford doesn’t draw anymore anyway, but why on earth would they schedule USC before school starts? — @MauiThomas

Stanford and USC meet annually in Week Two as a means of offsetting their end-of-year games against Notre Dame.

The schedule matrix is complicated. The early-season meeting is the solution with the least disruption for everyone else.

Does Colorado fire Karl Dorrell if the Buffaloes win one game or go winless? — @rorygebs

It might depend on the vibe. If the team plays hard, and the problem is clearly personnel, then CU might bring him back.

If the issue is attitude or culture, then a termination becomes more likely.

That said, it’s a little early. I understand the question given CU’s performance last week (and last season). But how about waiting until October to take a reasonable assessment?

If the Buffs make a quarterback switch, to JT Shrout, they very well could produce a respectable season.

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