Conference Realignment: Why Pac-12 Is Smart To Stay Put...For Now
Whether the 2011 college football fan knows this, the new “Super Conference” or the Pac-16, isn’t coming soon.
On Sept. 20th, Pac-12 officials and executives made the ultimate decision to sit out of conference realignment for this season. As it turned out, there was never even a vote. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was quoted as saying, “After careful review we have determined that this is in the best interests of our member institutions, student athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference.”
The “Pac-16” structure represented plans that were financially ideal and lucrative for teams already involved in the conference, however it is increasingly apparent that the decision to remain a 12-team conference is the smartest for the sake of football.
From a cultural and historical perspective, disbanding the Pac-12 and turning it into a separate entity entirely should—and did—come down to more than a salivating new television contract agreement with schools like the University of Texas at Austin. There is significantly more depth to the Pac-12 than financial profit, and for now, it seems as if it will stay that way.
In his official statement, Scott goes on to list many reasons for his lack of desire to expand. Included among them are “strong conference structure, a culture of equality, a new landmark TV contract and plans to launch our own innovative television network" and a focus on “our strong heritage and bright future in front of us."
While his words are certainly strong in comparison to that of the SEC, it could be difficult to understand without fully realizing the history and impact that the conference has on modern college football.
Strong Conference Structure
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From 1978 until last year, the Pac-10 represented the longest time a conference had held the same teams in its division sans the Ivy League.
The Pac-12 has its roots in the Athletic Association of Western Universities, and featured elite academic schools like University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC and the University of Washington. In 1964, Oregon and Oregon State joined the conference to form the Pac-Eight.
With the 1978 addition of the two Arizona schools (University of Arizona and Arizona State) as well as the more recent addition of the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, the conference now has a definitive structure that would be entirely flipped on its side with the addition of schools like Texas or Oklahoma.
The conference is currently broken up into a “North” division and a “South” division, with each team playing nine conference games a season. Five will be against divisional rivals, and the other four will be against teams from the other division within the conference.
Annual inter-divisional games between the Northern California teams (Stanford, Berkeley) and the Southern California teams (UCLA, USC) are promised.
With the new Pac-12, the annual Championship Game will be at the home of the top-rated seed in December.
Scott went on to say that the teams will share revenue equally once it is financially able to support that, and until that time, UCLA and USC will both receive an added $2 million each.
If Texas, a revenue giant, were to be added to the conference, the entire financial and scheduling structure of the league would be changed entirely. For now, Larry Scott is much more comfortable taking the current system as it is.
Culture of Equality
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The Pac-12 is commonly referred to as the “Conference of Champions,” as it has collectively won more national championships than any other conference in college football.
With Arizona State’s 2011 softball title, the conference clinched its 400th national title — three more than any other conference in the sport. UCLA and Stanford each boast more than 100 national titles to their name.
Furthermore, the Pac-12 is also considered to be a culture of equality.
The most intriguing part of Larry Scott’s statement against expansion was the line about cultural equality. This, while vague in nature, could represent many different facets as to why the conference would not support realignment.
One of the reasons could be the lack of desire to support schools with a religious affiliation, as they’ve repeatedly denied membership to BYU. Recent rumors have included Baylor in the mix for Pac-16 expansion, and that would not have gelled with the identity of the conference.
Another potential reason could be the academic reputation of the schools that are rumored to be a part of the deal. For a conference that boasts elite academic universities, additions like Texas Tech hardly fit the Pac-12 identity.
According to US News, the Pac-12 includes four schools in the Top 25 National Schools including one school in the Top Five (Stanford). Other schools in the conference are also known for their elite academic reputation, and this is not something that the Pac-12 is willing to sacrifice in order to have a more exciting football division.
Perhaps the most telling of reasons, however, was the fact that the University of Texas seemed to be unwilling to surrender their $300 million Longhorn Network deal with ESPN.
As Larry Scott cites the “culture of equality,” he could be sending a deeper message to Texas. The Pac-12 recently instituted a $2.7 billion television deal with Fox, and if Texas is unwilling to share their revenue evenly, Scott says that he “came to the conclusion that this would not be possible.”
Larry Scott may have been vague in his statement, but the idea of academic success and general liberalism may define the conference in such a way that it makes expansion highly unlikely.
Landmark Television Contract
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As mentioned earlier in this article, the Pac-12 recently reached a deal for a multi-billion dollar television contact with Fox.
The biggest premise of this contract was that all revenue was to be shared and distributed equally among all 12 teams in the conference. Without the cooperation of just one team, this would throw the entire identity of the conference out of whack.
The conference will gain $225 million in television revenue per year, or close to $19 million a team. This is a 12-year deal, and according to Sports Business Daily, is a strong way of improving the likes of the conference.
Last season, the Pac-10 made less than $60 million in revenue in media rights, but are now smart enough to take advantage of the increased demand for college football on national television.
It is indeed a landmark deal, as this contract outweighs that of the ACC ($155 million), the Big 12 ($130 million), the SEC ($205 million) and the Big Ten ($220 million).
Strong Heritage and Bright Future
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The Pac-12 shares a rich history of success, both in the academic and athletic worlds.
The conference has more national titles than any other conference in sports, has academic prestige and has a notable history of elite contributions to all levels of the sport.
The heritage is generally of shared views on political ideals, and the west coast lifestyle is reflected in the conference. The progressive customs of cities in the markets of the Pac-12 — such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Eugene — are important factors to consider when analyzing the identity of the conference.
Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State hardly fit that mold and do not carry the weight that the other schools currently do. Even Arizona is making certain strides in the direction of the other schools within the conference.
The Pac-12 has an incredibly bright future, and for a football fan, that is undeniable. Football teams within the conference have produced some of the most exciting quarterbacks in recent memory, and many NFL-ready talents from across the board.
From Carson Palmer to Mark Sanchez to Jake Locker to Andrew Luck, the Pac-12 represents success.
Fans that watched the incredible rise of success with the University of Oregon football program in the recent decade —specifically the rapid rise to the National Championship and the culture of success that surrounds the Nike-endorsed school—are excited to see the progress of Pac-12 schools.
The conference has a bright future, and it looks like they’re “letting the ink on the logo” begin to dry.