The Pac-12 is on life support, and Larry Scott put it there
When the Trojans and Bruins join the Big Ten, the Power Five will become a Power Two.
If everything else stays the same (it won’t), Oregon will be on the outside looking in at that new power structure in major college football. The Ducks, with 13 nine-win seasons in the last 16 full seasons of football, would become a have-not. Rutgers, winners of nine games in a full season five times since Jimmy Carter took the Oval Office, will belong to the Cool Kids Club.
It takes approximately 2.5 seconds of chewing on that before coming to the unnerving conclusion that Oregon will not remain on the outside, USC and UCLA will not be the last programs to move, the Big Ten and the SEC are barreling toward the era of the super conference, and the self-described Conference of Champions is being left behind by the conferences that prioritized winning actual championships.
The Pac-12 went on life support Thursday. Send the bill to Larry Scott.
USC and UCLA are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten as early as 2024, according to a report from The Mercury News’ Jon Wilner. Within hours, Wilner’s report was not only confirmed, but reminders that“nothing is final” turned to suggestions that formal votes and announcements could come within the next few days. The non-Los Angeles-based Pac-12 athletic directors reportedly met by phone Thursday afternoon.
USC is the Pac-12’s biggest brand, its most marketable asset, its most valuable commodity. The gap between USC and Oregon, with all due respect to the Ducks, is considerable. The list of college football blue bloods numbers in the single digits. USC is on the list. The Trojans don’t need the Pac-12, but the Pac-12 desperately needs the Trojans.
Without USC in the fold, and the rest of the sport’s major players looking at the SEC or the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is stuck.
In a lot of ways, Oregon decides the fate of the league. If the Ducks want to stick around, the league will add a couple of new teams to replace the ones it lost and try and tread water. This seems unlikely. Why would Oregon pick this league when it is certain to be wined and dined by the Power Two?
If the Ducks want out, the nine remaining school presidents better start working the phones.
This is the lasting legacy of the Larry Scott era—I before we.
USC’s move to the Big Ten makes all the sense in the world from a USC vantage point. Wilner reported Thursday afternoon the Trojans could make as much as $100 million a year as a fully-vested member of the Big Ten under the league’s next deal. The Trojans received just under $20 million during Fiscal 2020-21 and $34 million the year prior.
When the SEC released its financial records for Fiscal 2021, they showed total revenue of just over $833 million–a $105 million increase year over year. SEC member schools received an average of $54.6 million in fiscal 2021, plus a $23.3 million advance on future conference distributions.
It just means more in the SEC. The conference slogan is a reminder to the rest of the college football world that to play you have to pay. The SEC invests more in football than any of its peers. The SEC wins more in football than any of its peers. Spoiler: those two are linked.
And none of this happens without the SEC blazing the trail. If Texas and Oklahoma weren’t on the way, the Big Ten doesn’t search for its counter.
I’m reminded of what Scott said on his way out the door in 2021.
“I’m sure looking back we could probably identify some small things we would have done differently, but all the strategies around football and other sports were in alignment with all of our schools and our football coaches,” the former league commissioner told the Associated Press in June 2021. “USC, Oregon, Stanford, Washington not getting to the playoffs more often or winning has very little to do with the conference office. Between compliance issues, coaching changes and other things, some of our traditional powerhouses have struggled the last few years, and that’s hurt the league overall.”
The conference’s best teams not being more successful has “very little to do with the conference office.”
Is there any scenario were those words would ever be uttered by Greg Sankey?
Sankey most likely feels the exact opposite, that his primary job is to help his schools win championships and earn CFP spots, and to exhaust every single avenue in the process.
It’s true neither Scott nor any of his employees at the league’s headquarters in
Walnut Creek San Francisco were on the headsets calling plays or in the meeting rooms going over recruit film, but his decisions as league commissioner had a direct impact on the success of the programs in the league he managed.
Maybe the idea of Friday night games could have been nixed. Maybe the Las Vegas penthouse could have remained a lavish dream rather than an onerous expense. Maybe the pandemic bonuses for executives could have been rethought.
Maybe the $92 million the league paid in rent for its Bay Area office space could have helped somewhere else. Maybe the $40-plus million contract could have been reworked.
Maybe all that money the league wasted on things that wouldn’t help its on-field product could have been used to, ya know, help its on-field product.
Maybe the Pac-12 Network could have actually been accessible.
That’s the one that hurts. That’s the one that current commissioner, George Kliavkoff, has said repeatedly is a massive emphasis for him as the Pac-12 tries to secure its next deal. The distribution of the league’s most valuable TV inventory is remarkably disastrous.
The Pac-12 Network was Scott’s baby. He had hoped retaining full ownership of the conference’s network would eventually position the schools to cash in on a media landscape he thought would be less dependent on traditional TV networks.
The SEC’s addition of Oklahoma and Texas, and the Big Ten’s pending acquisition of USC and UCLA, would suggest the exact opposite is happening. College football’s upper class is now owned and operated by FOX and ESPN.
“I didn’t anticipate the amount of change amongst our leadership, presidents, chancellors and athletics directors that were really aligned about a long-term vision,” Scott told the AP last year. “And as we had change in leadership on our campuses, the focus became much more on short-term pressures. And in hindsight, if we had done shorter TV deals, even if it meant leaving some money on the table, I think our members would have appreciated being able to redo our TV contracts a little bit sooner.
“But, I think the long-term, bold nature of our strategy will pay off handsomely for the league when it re-does the deals in 2024.”
It is not possible to have been more wrong.
And the Pac-12 is paying the ultimate price.
One last Scott special.