The Pac-12 needs a competition committee. It's not a reaction to any single development but, rather, to a series of events over the past few months and to football’s position at the heart of the conference’s long-term health in all sports.
The Hotline has, on two recent occasions, pushed for the creation of competition committee that would have full authority to act in the best interest of Pac-12 football — a governing body of the sport within the conference, essentially.
This is not a reaction to any single development but, rather, to a series of events over the past few months and to football’s position at the heart of the conference’s long-term health in all sports.
Even if I knew today that the Pac-12 would put a team in the playoff next season, I’d argue a competition committee is essential for the continued success of Pac-12 football.
(And these days, there isn’t much in the way of success.)
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Forget all the specific issues and missteps from the 2017 season and consider the broader view:
The football product faces:
1) Natural challenges with the time zones
2) Contractual challenges with the night games
3) Limitations created by the Pac-12 Networks.
The conference opted to retain 100 percent ownership of the networks instead of partnering with Fox or ESPN, and that approach has resulted in shortages on the revenue and distribution fronts compared to the models used by peer conferences.
The Pac-12 owns what is, in reality, a regional sports network.
The current state of limited distribution and revenue is likely to remain in place until the next Tier One contract(s) take root seven years from now.
Key point: The size and scope of that Tier One contract will be based largely, if not entirely, on the quality of Pac-12 football at the time.
The conference cannot afford to have a second-rate on-field product, one that makes the College Football Playoff far less frequently than its peers. Negotiating leverage in 2023 likely will hinge on playoff success, not whether there’s enough depth to field an eligible team for the Cactus Bowl.
(Recall that when the $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox was negotiated in the spring of 2011, the conference had just placed a team in the national title game, Oregon, had two teams in the top-five, Oregon and Stanford, and its biggest brand, USC, was in the afterglow of a dynasty.)
Moreover, the Pac-12 cannot afford to step to the negotiating table (across from Fox or ESPN or Facebook or Amazon) with a tainted off-the-field brand … with games bumped for truck races or ESPN personalities firing zingers from distant corners.
Placing the intermediate- and long-term future of Pac-12 football in the hands of a committee made up of football experts sure seems like a reasonable way to maximize success on all levels.
It would advise on non-conference games and have oversight of the conference schedule, officiating, bowl partnerships, Pac-12 Networks coverage of football, practice parameters — anything and everything that’s not directly legislated by NCAA rules.
And yes, the committee would advise commissioner Larry Scott on the next Tier One negotiations. (Had the athletic directors been consulted on the current deal, some red flags surely would have been raised.)
Which brings me to the central topic of this discussion: Committee specifics.
My original proposal (outlined here) called for a 13-member group, with a conference official serving as chair and one representative per school, broken down in this manner:
* Three rotating athletic directors.
* Three rotating head coaches.
* Three rotating directors of football operations.
* Three rotating faculty athletic representatives.
Terms of service would be two years.
In-person meetings would take place three times per year: after the season, at the conference’s annual spring meetings, and at the preseason media event.
Additionally, there would also be regularly-scheduled teleconferences to raise concerns, to provide updates on initiatives and research, and to vote.
Who should be on the initial committee? I thought about that, too, and the names are below.
Balance would be vital: regional balance, divisional balance, academic balance.
Remember that two schools (Cal and Washington State) are currently without athletic directors for 2018, and four teams have new head coaches. That combination limited my options in some regards.
Central to the success of the committee is that each member has the authority to speak on behalf of his/her school, with full support of the president/chancellor and the athletic director (in instances when the AD isn’t on the committee).
Chairperson (voting privileges): Jamie Zaninovich. The current deputy commissioner, Zaninovich is a collaborative, creative thinker who’s viewed favorably on the campuses. He’s also heavily involved in the strategic planning initiatives for men’s basketball — he works closely with Arizona’s Sean Miller, among others — and has experience with TV negotiations from his tenure as commissioner of the West Coast Conference.
TV liaison (non-voting): Duane Lindberg. Long-serving associate commissioner for television, meaning he has the contacts and knowledge to provide the committee with guidance on any issues involving the current deals with Fix and ESPN.
Pac-12 Networks liaison (non-voting): Mark Shuken. Recently appointed as president of the networks, his input on production and programming matters would be valuable. But the flow of knowledge cuts both ways: The more insight Shuken could gain into football issues, the better the Pac12Nets could act in its dual role as information source and marketing tool for the football product.
Consultants (non-voting): Dick Tomey and Mike Bellotti. Both have a keen understanding of the sport and deep contacts in the coaching industry. Put them on retainer. (Full disclosure: I have no idea if either would be interested.)
Washington’s Chris Petersen
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez
Stanford’s David Shaw
Explanation of selections: Shaw and Petersen are locks given their success and reputations and the need for the committee to have immediate legitimacy, both regionally an nationally.
Rodriguez has shown he’s not afraid to speak his mind on conference matters and would provide an experienced voice with regional balance.
Chip Kelly would have been an obvious option, as well, had he been involved in the conference in the past five years.
What about Clay Helton? Or Kyle Whittingham? Nope, for reasons noted in the ADs section.
Utah’s Chris Hill
Oregon’s Rob Mullens
USC’s Lynn Swann
Explanation of selections: Hill is as savvy as they come on football matters — he hired Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham — and his presence would help ensure initial success.
Mullens’ current standing as a playoff selection committee member makes him an invaluable resource.
Swann, although a relative newcomer (18 months on the job), is the AD of the conference’s most powerful football program. We’re not sugarcoating things, folks: For this thing to work, USC’s athletic director must have a voice.
(In a basketball version, the same would be true for UCLA’s Dan Guerrero.)
DIRECTORS OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS
Arizona State’s Tim Cassidy
Colorado’s Bryan McGinnis
Oregon State’s Dan Van De Riet
Explanation of selections: If you’re not familiar, the DFOs work closely with the head coaches and athletic directors and are responsible for managing most day-to-day aspects of the massive football operation. McGinnis, for example, would know exactly where CU coach Mike MacIntyre and AD Rick George stand on all the relevant topics.
Cassidy has decades of experience, not only at ASU but Nebraska and Texas A&M, and is one of the most respected football administrators in the country.
FACULTY ATHLETIC REPRESENTATIVES
Cal’s Bob Jacobsen
Washington State’s Nancy Swanger
UCLA’s Michael Teitell
Explanation of selections: Faculty reps have no hands-on role in the management of a major college football program, but they are a critical piece:
Including an academic component (i.e., the faculty voice) strikes me as the best way to secure the support of the chancellors and presidents.
I gave options for this category serious thought and felt it best to include faculty reps from the conference’s two most-prestigious public universities.
The presence of Jacobsen and Teitell should help the presidents feel at ease with an endeavor that is so overtly football-centric.