The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline. (In each case, please acknowledge authorization to publish your name and question.)
Due to volume — and in some cases, the need for research — not all questions will be answered the week they are submitted. Thanks for your understanding.
Some questions have been edited for brevity.
What’s the first thing you’d do to bring the Pac-12 to relevance in football if you were hired as commissioner? Buying an island with Larry Scott’s salary is not an acceptable answer. @HailTheFlatTail
My platform, as explained last week, would feature the following six pillars:
But your question asked for specifics, so let’s dig in …
For all the issues that require attention, few can be solved immediately.
The media rights negotiations are 20-24 months away, playoff expansion is years off, and changes to the Pac-12 schedule (nine conference games vs. eight) is wrapped up with the media rights and CFP.
My agenda upon taking office would focus on two matters that can be addressed in more expeditious fashion: Officiating, and NIL.
— On officiating: Is David Coleman, who has no experience as a major college official, the right person to lead this vital branch of the football operation? Five years of observation suggests he’s not. Because the new commissioner isn’t taking charge until July 1, a major overhaul of officiating would wait for the 2022 season. However, some changes probably could be implemented by September.
— On NIL: As soon as this summer, the NCAA will approve guidelines for name, image and likeness, thereby allowing athletes to be compensated for their promotional work. The schools have formulated plans and hired outside firms to assist with education and execution, but the conference must do everything possible to bolster those efforts, including the adoption of a comprehensive strategy (if necessary). NIL will change college sports. The Pac-12 cannot get outmaneuvered by its peers.
Beyond those specific items, I would add this: The next commissioner cannot handle football strategy alone.
Yes, Merton Hanks oversees the daily operations, but the conference needs more help. Maybe it’s another full-time executive; maybe it’s a special advisor (or two). Either way, this moment in time demands a savvy football mind whose sole purpose would be to formulate the specifics of a long-term strategy that places the Pac-12 in the best position to succeed.
One could argue that the greatest mistake made by Pac-12 leadership over the past 10-12 years was the presumption that anyone could be a college football expert.
I see no discussion on whether the conference is planning for fans in the fall, perhaps you can ask that question and what factors they are considering. — Steve Altick
Are fans in the stands this fall dependent on Cali schools? Is it if they can’t have any, no one can type of deal? @utemack44
Bottom line: It’s up to local health officials. The conference itself lacks the authority to establish policies for crowd size in the 12 jurisdictions.
Our assumption is the three West Coast states will move together, as they have on many issues during the pandemic — and yes, that probably means California takes the lead.
We addressed the issue in the Pac-2 stock report on Wednesday, but to summarize here:
California’s top doctor said recently that stadiums will be open for business this spring (i.e., MLB), albeit at reduced capacity — and with specifics dependent on COVID metrics at the local level.
That’s likely to be the case in the fall, both in California and across the conference.
Any closer to a new Pac 12 commissioner ? @BigEasy421
I don’t expect the process to conclude before late April, and it could last into May.
Before the search firm (TurnkeyZRG) can begin identifying and reaching out to candidates, the Pac-12 presidents must settle on a vision for the conference and the skill-set needed in the commissioner.
And much of that, it seems, hinges on the level of emphasis they place on football success.
What ever happened to Oliver Luck as a candidate for Pac-12 Commissioner? @BearFlagFan
Materially, nothing has happened. The conference hasn’t started the outreach portion of the search; theoretically, nobody has been eliminated because, as of yet, there are no candidates.
Luck is highly qualified as a former football player (NFL quarterback), major college athletic director (West Virginia), Pac-12 parent (two Stanford athletes), NCAA senior executive (regulatory affairs), and pro football boss (president of NFL Europe, commissioner of the XFL).
We have two questions about Luck’s potential candidacy:
1) Does he want the job?
It’s a heavy lift, and his personal life is largely based in the eastern half of the country.
2) Will Luck’s wrongful termination lawsuit against Vince McMahon, and McMahon’s countersuit, influence the Pac-12’s interest level?
We don’t know enough details to offer an opinion, beyond the general presumption that anything involving McMahon has the potential to turn messy, bizarre or both.
But if Luck is interested, and if the Pac-12 is comfortable with the lawsuit piece, then by all means, Luck should be given serious consideration.
His skill set is exactly what the conference needs, in our opinion.
Except for Oregon, USC, CU, and perhaps OSU, which fan bases are most unhappy with their team, and name the coaches on the hottest seats? Haase? Hurley? Fox? Hopkins? Cronin? Is Miller gone? @BoDaniels4
We’ll have a deep dive on that very topic next week, addressing enthusiasm levels for each fan base. But for now, it sure feels like Stanford and Utah fans are the most frustrated, with Washington in third place and closing fast.
The Cardinal hasn’t reached the NCAAs since 2014 (under Johnny Dawkins); the Utes haven’t gone since 2016; and the Huskies have collapsed in the past two years after the sizzling start to the Mike Hopkins era.
Arizona probably requires its own category. The lack of success on the court is intertwined with the NCAA issues, and the fans are more upset with Indianapolis (and the media) than they are with Miller.
The likelihood of a coaching change is highest in Tucson. I would be stunned if Washington fired Hopkins and mildly surprised if Utah or Stanford opted for a dismissal.
Pandemic-related budget issues are part of the reason for the status quo, for sure. But athletic directors and presidents across the conference are largely declining to pass judgment on coaches because of the chaotic nature of the 2020-21 sports season.
Insight on what Arizona will do with Sean Miller. @UATubaTom
We have examined the complicated case of Sean Miller twice recently: Immediately after the season; and a few days later, following the release of the Notice of Allegations.
I assume there will be a decision one way or another in the next week or two.
Before the football season started you had extensive reporting on the daily COVID tests. The impression I got was that with daily testing if somebody tested positive that person was immediately isolated and nobody else would have been exposed. Obviously that didn’t happen. Did the health officials ignore the science and quarantined the players needlessly? Or was I wrong thinking nobody should have been quarantined? Thanks, Bret
Generally speaking, our understanding was based on what the Pac-12 medical staff believed. But the cancellations reached the point that we felt compelled to revisit the situation in late November.
Local health officials seemingly imposed more restrictive contact tracing and quarantine protocols than the conference experts expected once daily antigen testing was in place.
Who will have the best D in the conference? @spudlig3
All 2021 roster projections require a qualifier: Until returning seniors and transfers have been accounted for — and that’s weeks away, at least — the depth charts are muddled.
That said, our current assessment identifies the best defense in the conference as residing in … Seattle.
The Huskies will return the bulk of their starting 11, with the one glaring departure being nickel corner Elijah Molden.
I’m hesitant to presume that UW will have a dominant unit in 2021; there aren’t enough proven playmakers up front for us to make that call at this point.
And by September, there might be reason to instead declare Oregon the owner of the best defense in the conference.
Or USC, Utah, Arizona State or Cal.
Right now, however, we give the edge to the team on Montlake.