Please note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Rank the Pac-12 head coaches (this year only). — @mjhusky
There are loads of mailbag questions about the Pac-12’s future, but let’s start with the present.
With so many scenarios possible in the final fortnight, I’m hesitant to rank the coaches. However, we could separate the 10 permanent coaches into tiers based on how well they have maximized personnel and performed relative to their schedules.
Tier 1: Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, USC’s Lincoln Riley, Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, Arizona’s Jedd Fisch and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham
Tier 2: Oregon’s Dan Lanning, Washington State’s Jake Dickert and UCLA’s Chip Kelly
Tier 3: Stanford’s David Shaw and Cal’s Justin Wilcox
Those tiers could change by the close of business on Nov. 26, the final day of the regular season, and perhaps again after the Pac-12 championship game.
The New York Times reported the Pac-12 is willing to pay the $15 million exit fee to the Big Ten and give UCLA larger payouts for staying put. The report also says the Pac-12’s media rights are estimated to be 10 percent lower than the initial $42 million to $47 million projections. Are you hearing the same? — @PMccrenshaw
The Hotline had not confirmed the exit fee. Nor are we convinced the financial and legal entanglements would end with a $15 million check.
However, the media rights range cited by the NYT meshes with our reporting. The conference expected a deal in excess of $40 million per school if UCLA reversed course because of competition (among TV networks) for access to the Los Angeles market.
And as the Hotline explained weeks ago, the Big 12’s decision to sign an early renewal with Fox and ESPN — and accept below-market valuations — lowered the floor for the Pac-12.
Essentially, it established a benchmark for networks to use to drive down the price.
In our view, there are three valuation ranges for the Pac-12 without UCLA:
— High: $35 million-to-$40 million per school
— Medium: $32 million-to-$35 million per school
— Low: $29 million-to-$32 million per school
If UCLA were to reverse course, add a few million to each range. The worst-case scenario would be several million more per school than the Big 12 is receiving.
In your opinion, did the delay by the UC regents change the odds of UCLA staying in the Pac-12? — @CougarboardL
We continue to believe that a reversal is highly unlikely. If anything, the odds have gotten a tad longer: Were there enough votes to overturn the decision, it would be clear at this point.
As a result, our updated projections are the following:
85 percent: Regents express disappointment; do nothing
10 percent: Regents require UCLA to subsidize Cal for lost revenue
4 percent: Regents force a reversal
1 percent: UCLA reverses willingly after Pac-12 offers a cash carrot
Until that 85 percent becomes 100 percent, the Hotline will continue to cover the developments.
What is the bottom-line media rights payout that keeps the four Pacific Northwest schools, the Arizona schools and Colorado and Utah from joining the Big 12? (Add Kansas and Kansas State and you have a Pacific Division.) — Jon Joseph
I am skeptical that each school’s president has a specific dollar figure in mind, mostly because there are so many other issues at play: the duration of the contract, the revenue-sharing plan for postseason cash, the lineup of media partners and resulting visibility for football and basketball and, of course, the broad institutional fit.
There is zero reason to believe Washington and Oregon have any interest in joining the Big 12. Their sights are on eventual membership in the Big Ten, so why switch conferences twice?
Also, let’s not forget the impact of an expanded College Football Playoff on the viability of each conference’s regular season. The path is less cluttered in the Pac-12 than it would be in a 20-team (or more) Big 12.
(Yes, the loss of a Power Five league would create an extra at-large berth, but that would assuredly help the SEC more than an enlarged Big 12.)
As we have maintained all along, the Four Corner schools are less likely to jump to the Big 12 if Washington and Oregon commit to the Pac-12.
There are no guarantees, of course. Until the contracts are signed, fans should be prepared for all possible outcomes. We are simply assessing likelihood.
It’s highly likely the Pac-12’s upcoming media rights agreement will be several million dollars short of the latest Big Ten’s agreement. Does this give the Pac-12 the opportunity to be creative with raising additional revenue? — Jon Bernal
It’s not just highly likely. It’s 100 percent certain that the Pac-12’s media deal will fall at least $20 million per school (per year) short of the Big Ten’s deal.
And it’s equally certain that commissioner George Kliavkoff is exploring creative options for raising additional cash.
Sponsorships are undoubtedly on the list, and we suspect the conference will use its data and statistics to pursue revenue opportunities in the sports gaming space.
You get to choose the Pac-12 replacements for UCLA and USC. Which schools? — @Kamkiriad
Without knowing specifics of a media rights contract — and therefore the viability of not expanding — it’s difficult to state definitively.
However, the Hotline has believed all along that San Diego State should be given strong consideration because of the need for the conference to retain a foothold in Southern California.
Playing a few non-conference games at SoFi Stadium — an idea under consideration — would not be enough.
We also believe SMU warrants a long look because it would provide access to a massive media market and potentially assist Pac-12 recruiting efforts in the talent-rich Dallas Metroplex.
Additionally, both schools seemingly would meet the Pac-12’s (revised) academic bar.
Can NIL (name, image and likeness) be leveraged to make a tempting offer to someone considering the NFL? Take Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., as an example. — @NIRVANwA
Absolutely, it can influence the stay-or-go decision for any prospect. But the calculation isn’t as simple as weighing a single year of NFL wages against a one-year NIL contract.
Draft position is crucial because of the guaranteed money at stake.
Also, Penix has been injured multiple times and might be hesitant to risk another year in college and the potential for an injury that impacts career earnings.
Third, he would need to assess the competition: How many elite quarterbacks would enter the 2023 draft compared to the 2024 edition?
In our view, Penix will turn pro if he projects as a high-round pick — and the projection might depend on his medical evaluation.
I often hear that it’s good for the conference when Oregon and UW are good. Does that mean it’s bad for the conference when teams like Oregon State and Arizona State are good? Can you explain that fully? — @matthafenbrack
This issue is often the source of fan confusion or frustration, and to be clear: It’s never bad when any given school is good.
That said, public perception of conference strength is shaped by brand bias.
The college football world would look more favorably on the Big Ten when Ohio State is 12-0 than it would when the Buckeyes are 6-6.
If North Carolina and Duke are mediocre, ACC basketball is perceived as being down.
In the Pac-12, USC football is the biggest brand — the program that shapes perception more than any other.
The Huskies and Ducks are next in line. Once the Trojans depart in 2024, the Pacific Northwest powers will have outsized influence on how the conference is viewed.
Does that mean a one-loss Oregon team is any better than a one-loss Oregon State team? Not necessarily.
However, the top brands tend to recruit better players because of their brand appeal, which leads to the presumption that big brands with stellar records are stronger teams than lesser brands with stellar records.
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