Canzano: Pac-12 athletic directors celebrated 'quiet weekend'
Conference ADs will meet again today.
It sure was quiet over the weekend, wasn’t it? The Pac-12 Conference athletic directors spent last week participating in daily — and sometimes, twice daily — video meetings regarding the future of the conference.
“The fact that we had a really quiet weekend says a lot,” said one sitting AD.
Two other Pac-12 ADs told me late last week that they were confident the remaining 10 members of the conference would stick together. Said a third on Monday morning, “I would agree with those other two ADs. The dialogue has been candid, productive and forward thinking — the numbers point to the remaining 10 sticking together.”
The ADs were on standby over the weekend. But the silence was greeted by athletic department leaders as a positive sign. The Pac-12 entered into an exclusive 30-day negotiating period with ESPN and Fox last week. It appears television will play kingmaker here in determining what happens, but the prevailing sentiment is that the Pac-12 members are currently unified.
Still, there are a lot of rumors, whispers, reports and questions, aren’t there?
“I’m telling my coaches ‘don’t believe everything you read,’” said one sitting conference AD. “We’re doing our best to stabilize the conference and make moves that make us sustainable.”
Oregon, Stanford and Washington are viewed as the most attractive potential candidates as additions to the Big Ten or SEC, but none has been formally invited. Their respective media-revenue numbers don’t come close to penciling out without Notre Dame involved.
Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State were initially thought to be poachable by the Big 12, but I’m now told by multiple Pac-12 sources that those “four corners” universities wouldn’t leave unless the conference splintered apart first.
That makes sense. If those four ditched, they’d be trading the TV markets in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area for ones in Dallas, Houston and Orlando. The west coast television market matters to ESPN, in particular. It already has the ACC and SEC under contract. From a television-strategy standpoint, the Pac-12’s foothold in the Pacific Time Zone is advantageous.
I didn’t think much of the quiet weekend. I made calls and poked around. But apparently the ADs who had been summoned for meetings every day last week celebrated the break. They’re scheduled to meet again today and get an update from Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff.
“The waters have settled,” said one. “How long it will last, who knows?”
UCLA FOOTBALL: The Bruins tailgated USC into the Big Ten Conference and solved some looming financial problems. The move made fiscal sense for an athletic department that confessed last week that it was facing an accumulation of heavy debt.
Here’s a question, though: By joining the Big Ten did UCLA announce to the world that it’s good with being a basketball school?
The Pac-12 didn’t like losing the Los Angeles television market. The defections of USC and UCLA hurt. But a few conference insiders pointed out that the Pac-12 lost exactly zero College Football Playoff appearances with the Trojans and Bruins leaving.
USC may get comfortable and find a productive foothold in the Big Ten under coach Lincoln Riley, but I’m wondering how happy UCLA coach Chip Kelly is about a conference schedule that will now include regular dates vs. perennial playoff contenders.
Said one Pac-12 AD: “Who won the Big Ten before Nebraska came into that conference? Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and every once in a while, Michigan State or Wisconsin. Guess who won the Big Ten after Nebraska came in?”
He paused, then added: “Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and every once in a while, Michigan State or Wisconsin.”
UCLA’s athletic department ran up a $103 million deficit over the last three years. Maybe the Bruins felt like they had little choice given the finances. UCLA will continue to be a factor in the men’s basketball tournament, but I just don’t see how it ever makes the football playoff in the Big Ten.
COACHING STABILITY: I’ve been talking privately with a handful of Pac-12 coaches about the potential fallout from the wild conference realignment sparked by the defection of USC and UCLA. There’s some angst, for sure. But as one head coach of a non-revenue generating sport told me, “When I’m out recruiting nobody is talking about it.”
A few readers have wondered whether some high profile Pac-12 coaches might bolt for the Big Ten and SEC themselves in an effort to not be left behind.
In football? Absolutely. If you have the opportunity (See: Mike Leach and Mel Tucker) to join one of those conferences and gain the advantages that come with being well funded and well positioned for the playoff, you’d be dumb not to look hard at it.
Tucker’s assistant-coach salary pool at Colorado was just over $3 million. At Michigan State it’s a cool $6 million and he got a 10-year coaching contract. The investment in football creates a staggering advantage in the Big Ten. But I’m convinced that same “super conference” mentality won’t extend to the non-revenue generating sports where the Pac-12 regularly wins national titles.
Check back. I’ll have more as this develops.
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