The Hotline mailbag is published every week. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and include ‘mailbag’ in the subject line or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline.
Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
While former commissioner Larry Scott was either totally incompetent or a shrewd grifter, when are the Pac-12 presidents going to be held accountable for a lack of oversight that has put athletic departments into a financial swamp that continues to get deeper? — @RockDawg3
If the Pac-12 were a publicly traded company, a shareholder revolt would be in order.
The bumbling chief executive, Larry Scott, was effectively fired by the board in the winter of 2021. But the board itself has made a plethora of major mistakes and should, by all rights, be ousted.
Unfortunately, there is no recourse for Pac-12 fans, members of the athletic departments and the athletes themselves — the three constituencies suffering from board-level mismanagement.
Granted, many of the presidents have done well for their universities — and that is, after all, their primary mission.
Michael Crow, for instance, has elevated Arizona State’s academic profile beyond what most alumni thought was possible. But Crow also hired Scott, enabled Scott, rewarded Scott and supported Scott through all the years of self-inflicted errors.
He’s the perfect example of a president doing well for his campus and poorly for his athletic department.
And there are others, including former USC president Max Nikias, former Oregon State president Ed Ray and current UCLA chancellor Gene Block.
But because this is higher education — and not a publicly traded company, a private corporation or even a non-profit business — there’s nothing fans can do but suffer the consequences of epic mismanagement:
— The decision to create a wholly-owned media company with massive expenses (seven networks) and no leverage in carriage negotiations.
— The decision to extend Scott’s contract in 2017.
— The rejection of a long-haul partnership with ESPN in 2019.
— The woeful oversight of the Pac-12 Networks, which led to the Comcast overpayment disaster that will cost the schools at least $5 million per campus.
Over the course of 12 years, the board has been filled with numerous presidents and chancellors who know nothing about major college sports and even less about the sports media business … but were in charge of both and trusted a commissioner whose primary motivations were lining his own bank account and solidifying his own legacy.
Which is a textbook example of mismanagement, right up to the point where the board members are ousted by enraged shareholders.
But in this instance, accountability for the presidents does not exist.
Which of the current Power Five programs are the most likely to get left behind in realignment if things end up as the Big Two and the best of the rest in the Big 12? — @vakaviti
We could produce a series on this topic, because it encompasses so many issues facing the conferences and the sport in general.
In a nutshell, the Hotline believes additional consolidation is most likely in the 2030s, perhaps at the start of the decade, when the Big Ten’s next media rights contract cycle begins, or perhaps in the middle of the decade, when the ACC’s grant-of-rights deal expires.
And when consolidation happens, we envision three super-sized conferences:
— The SEC with 20-24 teams.
— The Big Ten with 20-24 teams.
— A third league that’s based on the revamped Big 12 (the version without Texas and Oklahoma) but includes castoffs from the ACC and Pac-12.
In other words, the revamped Big 12 would become a receptacle for many of the schools that don’t climb into the Big Ten or SEC.
Would the Great 28 (for lack of a better description) provide a home for every remaining Power Five member? Not necessarily. Washington State, Oregon State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and a few others could face precarious situations.
The Pac-12 had very aggressive valuation expectations with ESPN/Fox last summer. Did Oregon and Washington push a hard line on valuation to slow down the deal timeline and avoid getting locked into a grant of rights while they chased a Big Ten invite? — @MountainTop_Ut
The Hotline certainly has heard all the whispers about the strategy deployed by Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and his advisors, but we don’t know exactly what they asked for; nor do we know what they told the presidents.
If their initial target was $500 million annually for the 10 schools, then they misread the market.
If their opening salvo was in the $400 million-to-$425 million range, that would make more sense — you always aim high at the outset of negotiations.
(Of course, the Big 12 proceeded to undercut Kliavkoff’s negotiating leverage by renewing its deal with ESPN and Fox for $31.7 million per school — a move that prioritized security over dollars.)
We previously addressed the role Washington and Oregon might have played in the Pac-12’s strategy, but not with the “hard line” framing presented in your question.
Instead, the Hotline wondered how the Northwest powers would have reacted to an offer of $30 million per school before the Big 12 established a valuation floor.
Could they have attempted to stall for time? Perhaps. But an easier approach would have simply been to allow Kliavkoff to find the best deal, then hold off signing a grant-of-rights deal until the Big Ten provided a definitive answer.
Then again, that answer was apparent to anyone capable of seeing through former Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren’s public posturing. The schools had no interest in additional expansion, even if Warren was concerned with bolstering his own legacy.
If the Pac-12 media deal is in the low $20 millions per school, as has been speculated, would Colorado and Arizona going to the Big 12 be the best thing? Then add four Group of Five schools at half shares? — @bogeycat85
Do not believe the speculation about a $20 million offer.
The Hotline doesn’t know where the Pac-12’s valuation will land — our guess is within 10 percent of the Big 12, which will earn $31.7 million per school when the renewal of its deal with Fox and ESPN kicks in.
But $20 million per school? No chance.
That’s below the current average annual valuation of $20.8 million for a deal signed 12 years ago. Even if you account for the loss of the L.A. schools, the market for live sports has soared since 2011.
The Big 12 lost Texas and Oklahoma and saw a 50 percent increase (approximately) in its media valuation.
The Pac-12 isn’t losing USC and UCLA and also losing 10 percent of its valuation — not with so many of the top 30 media markets in its footprint.
My understanding is that the Big 12’s media contract does not increase by $31.7 million per school if additional members are added. Do potential candidates know what revenue they will receive if they join the Big 12? — @Jalex0077
Endeavor, a media advisory company, is working on behalf of the Big 12 to lure Pac-12 universities, according to every source in our Rolodex. Exactly what Endeavor has told the likes of Colorado and Arizona, we cannot say.
However, the money would come from ESPN and potentially Fox as part of a negotiation with the Big 12.
But the Four Corners schools would need more than promises and hypotheticals. They would need contract offers.
On the potential demise of the Pac-12: We often read about the so-called Four Corners schools going to the Big 12 and Washington and Oregon (and to a lesser extent, Stanford) going to the Big Ten. I never hear anything about Cal. Where could you see the Bears landing down the road? — @MoundStYoga
We see little chance of Stanford and Cal getting separated. Either they remain in the Pac-12 for the foreseeable future or they move into the Big Ten in the next media contract cycle (in the 2030s).
It doesn’t make sense for the Big Ten to add Washington, Oregon and Stanford to form a Western division that has an odd number of teams.
(In our view, the Bay Area schools would split up only if Notre Dame joins the Big Ten in tandem with Stanford as the 17th and 18th members.)
The Bears don’t bring much media value, because the Bay Area market would be captured with Stanford. Instead, they would simply tag along as the Big Ten makes a broader commitment to become a bi-coastal conference with its media value wrapped in a scaling strategy.
Is San Diego State better off in the Big 12 or Pac-12? Does the Mountain West exit fee have any impact on when the Aztecs might announce a decision? Or are they completely tied to the timing of a Pac-12 media deal? — @grothbard
The Aztecs strongly prefer the Pac-12, according to sources, because of the geography and institutional fit. The administration would love an academic affiliation with the Pac-12 and draws many of its students from California and Arizona.
Plus, schlepping all the Olympic sports teams across the Central Time Zone doesn’t make any sense.
Our guess is SDSU waits on the Pac-12 until it has no choice. That deadline could be June 30, when the reported $19 million Mountain West exit fee essentially doubles.
Or it could be beyond June 30.
Why doesn’t San Diego State simply give notice now that it intends to leave the Mountain West conference? If the Aztecs withdraw the notice, there is no way the MW throws them, and the San Diego market, out of the conference. — Jon Joseph
SDSU faces the same conflict that afflicts other schools in the realignment game: The Aztecs must do what serves the university’s interest but also want to remain the best possible partner with the MW.
Giving notice without an agreement with the Pac-12 or Big 12 runs counter to the latter objective. University presidents typically don’t operate in that fashion.
Also, there could be financial repercussions if they bailed, then came crawling back.
Maybe it will be a pulse-pounding made-for-TV movie someday, but how much detail do you know (or can surmise) regarding the timeline of when USC and UCLA started thinking seriously about joining the Big Ten? — @Cargoman0363
Our radar first flashed way back in the winter of 2020, when then-USC athletic director Mike Bohn told the Peristyle Podcast that “everything is on the table.”
We began monitoring the situation more regularly once Oklahoma and Texas joined the SEC in the summer of 2021, and there were low-level rumblings — regarding USC far more than UCLA — throughout the following school year.
But the situation didn’t gain steam until the spring of 2022 and, in particular, the final week of June. It came together quickly.
If compared to a marathon, the first 26 miles took forever but the final 0.2 was a sprint.
If you were to describe the Pac-12 media rights saga with a classic book, which would it be? Are we looking at Ol Yeller, The Grapes of Wrath, or Gone with the Wind? Is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory too much to hope for? — @jlahaye76
Perhaps the conference has its version of Boo Radley lurking in the shadows, preparing to save Scout and Jem.
Or perhaps the Pac-12 is merely a boat beating “against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
We cannot offer an answer because the ending hasn’t been written.
We can say, however, that the publisher expected to see the final manuscript months ago.
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