Five not-so-random thoughts on the Pac-12 …
1. UCLA’s messy situation could get worse
With California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the University of California Regents demanding a review of UCLA’s double-secret move to the Big Ten, we see exactly why the Bruins opted for the stealth approach in the first place.
Had they taken a more public path to exiting the Pac-12 and leaving Cal behind, the move assuredly would have been blocked or delayed at the bureaucratic level.
It does not appear the UC regents can prevent the Bruins from joining the Big Ten in 2024. But if desired, they could attempt to make the process extremely difficult by whacking UCLA where it hurts most: In the wallet.
Multiple sources believe the regents will explore forcing the Bruins to subsidize Cal’s athletic department, which stands to lose millions annually in Pac-12 distributions because of the loss of the Los Angeles market.
The details of a power move by the regents are unanswerable at this point, including how the money would be redirected.
We aren’t sure they can touch Big Ten revenue; instead, they might have to hit UCLA’s state allocations.
Either way, a loss of revenue for UCLA’s athletic department could carry significant repercussions.
Why? Because the Bruins are already in debt. Huge debt. Colossal debt.
Before COVID, they were facing a multi-year shortfall of approximately $40 million. According to the L.A. Times, the bill has grown to $100 million.
That, not the desire to spend weekends in Iowa City, is why the Bruins are leaving their longtime home for a conference 2,000 miles away.
The massive windfall from joining the Big Ten will allow them, eventually, to climb into the black.
Chancellor Gene Block cares about UCLA’s athletic department only to the extent that he doesn’t have to pay for it. He saw the Big Ten move as a get-out-of-debt card and used it.
But if the Bruins are forced to divert a significant sum annually to Cal, they won’t have the resources to support their programs, including football, at the level required to thrive in the Big Ten.
The last thing the Bruins want is to start their new existence without the ability to reinvest.
Just ask Maryland and Rutgers what that’s like.
Continue down the wormhole, and it’s easy to envision UCLA’s Olympic sports teams, already facing taxing travel, struggling to compete at their accustomed level.
To justify the move, the Bruins must win — and win early — in the sports they have traditionally dominated.
The UC regents could make that vastly more difficult.
We aren’t convinced the regents will follow through with financial penalties, and we don’t expect a change of heart from the Bruins.
But both situations are worth monitoring, as is the level of buyer’s remorse that might surface over the next 24 months.
2. Playing defense with offense
The Hotline made its position clear on expansion earlier this week. If the Pac-12 decides to replace the Los Angeles schools, San Diego State is the obvious choice.
The Aztecs provide a foothold in the league’s most important recruiting region. They are opening a new stadium, they can compete at the Pac-12 level in football and basketball, and they bring a top-30 media market.
But an additional factor should be mentioned: The need for the Pac-12 to use SDSU as a defensive play.
If the conference passes on the Aztecs, they would become available to a potentially aggressive Big 12.
Granted, that’s not a likely outcome. But nothing can be dismissed as conferences make membership decisions based on financial and competitive positioning for the new era in college football.
As of 2024, the Big Ten will own the Los Angeles basin and all its accompanying riches.
The Pac-12 cannot afford to cede San Diego County to the Big 12.
3. Who’s No. 12?
If the Pac-12 remains intact and expands, it would need to add an even number of teams. In addition to San Diego State, which schools make sense? A quick summary:
— Fresno State has a competitive football program but sits just outside the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto media market, which is No. 20 in the nation (larger than Portland, San Diego and Salt Lake City). Depending on the valuation assigned to FSU by media companies, the Bulldogs are worth considering.
— SMU would allow the Pac-12 to gain a presence in the Dallas market. The school is No. 68 in the US News and World Report rankings and would undoubtedly welcome an invitation, having been passed over by the Big 12 (which already has TCU in Fort Worth).
— And until the Pac-12 doesn’t attempt to steal schools currently in the Big 12 (or planning to join the conference), we won’t discount the potential for aggressive action by commissioner George Kliavkoff. In that case, Houston and TCU might be atop the wish list.
How it unfolds, we cannot begin to guess. But the Hotline’s goal, here and always, is to examine all scenarios so readers aren’t surprised by any outcome.
If there’s a non-zero chance, we aim to address it.
4. Tricky timing for Oregon and Washington
In an ideal world, the Pacific Northwest powers would do absolutely nothing for the next two years.
They would remain exactly where they are, without a long-term contract binding them to either the Pac-12 or the Big 12.
Why? Because free agency is the place until the Big Ten and Notre Dame finish their long, slow dance.
Notre Dame’s contract with NBC expires at the conclusion of the 2025 season, clearing the way for the Irish to join the Big Ten for ’26 — the first year of the expanded College Football Playoff.
And if the Big Ten adds a 17th team, it would need an 18th — and possibly a 19th and 20th, as well.
Washington and Oregon would be strong candidates, as would Stanford (because of the academic reputation and Bay Area media market).
Part of the challenge for Kliavkoff as he attempts to hold the conference together is crafting an agreement that serves two masters:
— Binding enough to induce quality bids from potential media partners.
— Flexible enough to satisfy Pac-12 schools with one eye on the Big Ten.
Because it has properties the Big Ten might want while the Big 12 has nothing left of value to the two super-leagues, the Pac-12 is seemingly less stable than its neighbor in the Southern Plains.
5. The new guys
One final dynamic worthy of note as college football rocks and roils is the lack of experience atop all but one of the Power Five conferences.
SEC’s Greg Sankey: Hired in 2015
Big Ten’s Kevin Warren: Hired in 2019
ACC’s Jim Phillips: Hired in 2020
Pac-12’s George Kliavkoff: Hired in 2021
Big 12’s Brett Yormark: Hired in 2022
We’re not sure a strategic advantage exists, beyond that which accompanies the conference with the best product and largest markets.
But the lineup of newcomers adds an unpredictable element to the proceedings.