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Taking a Slingshot to a Gunfight?

Oregon State has come a long ways in a short time, what with "Raising Reser", finally a decade of football relevance, and all that. It is especially gratifying for many that endured even a part of the 28 straight losing seasons that preceded the current run of success, and obliterated memories of the 60’s, still the only decade in which Oregon State never recorded a losing season.


Eight bowl teams and a record of 79-45 in ten years has seen college football in Corvallis elevate to an unprecedented level, where the two largest home crowds in the Beavers’ history were the last two home games last fall, against Oregon and Cal. The latest Reser expansion has been complete for several years, but five of the six largest crowds ever in Corvallis were the five games other than the USC game last year, with the 2007 Washington game, third on the list, thanks to the large traveling crowd the Huskies bring, even when they aren’t playing well, the one exception.


Kudos to Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis as well, for wheeling and dealing the unprecedented popularity of the Beavers into all 13 games in 2008 being on television, the first time that has ever happened. (Don’t count on that happening on a regular basis, more on that shortly.) And to Coach Mike Riley for producing players that meant the Beavers had an NFL draft class tied for the second largest in the country, behind only PAC-10 mate USC.


Success such as this has led again to the discussion as to where the PAC-10 ranks in the BCS business, and college football overall. Certainly the Beavers, and the Ducks and Trojans as well, have all done their part since 2000 to elevate the prominence of the PAC.


But here in mid-summer, as we find ourselves in the midst of media days for all the conferences, we are getting some clues about just how far we still have to go.


The Southeastern Conference started the process, with a media event that lasted three days, and claiming headlines and visibility for three days. During this time, the latest addition to the SEC television package, an agreement with ESPN for additional regional broadcasts, was announced. The resulting broadcasts will even be branded as "The SEC Network."


It means for the first time, and for the next 15 years, every single SEC football game will be telecast. Every one at every site, for every team. And every one of those games will generate rights revenue, ensure recruits see the teams, and serve as commercials for everything about the institutions.


The Atlantic Coast Conference holds their media days today and tomorrow, with the Big XI following with a three day event. The Big 10 media days (plural) are this week as well, and the Big East will hold their gathering next Monday and Tuesday.


The PAC-10, by contrast, will have only a single media day, Thursday in Los Angeles. And therefore, only a single day of attention nationally from ESPN, Sporting News, CBS Sportsline, and the like. And less notebook material and video clips for reporters in the upcoming weeks. Which will translate into less mention, less interest, lower ratings, fewer poll votes, less exposure, and less revenue. Out of sight means out of mind.


The latest additions make SEC football worth over $3 Billion dollars. Each institution will average at least $17 million a year in television revenue directly, never mind the secondary dollars exposure brings. That includes football powerhouses Vanderbilt and Mississippi St.


As major conferences like the ACC, Bid 10, and the PAC-10 are bracing for a tough negotiating climate as their current deals approach expiration, Slive remarked "I'm glad that those issues are not my issues."


Slive explained that SEC officials “Wanted to get the new deals signed last summer given the state of the economy,” referring to the package with CBS, and the initial agreement with ESPN. The latest SEC network arrangement with ESPN is an extension of that agreement.


"It did two things for us,” Slive said. “We were fortunate to get out ahead of the recession, but it also gave us a year - which is what we knew we needed - to implement the broad scope of what we've accomplished through these negotiations. And it's taken all of a year. It's a significant undertaking to implement all the different platforms that these negotiations have made possible for us."


Kentucky coach Rich Brooks noted "Whatever we are paying (Slive), it’s not enough."


Before anyone discounts the issue as just a “football deal”, not significant to the overall mission of the universities, assuming there are any universities that can disregard millions of dollars, it is important to realize the SEC’s television deals are what allows the athletic departments to not only not draw as heavily on the overall budget, but actually rebate money to academic programs. And the effects of technology have benefits as well.


Slive noted "I am extremely proud of the fact that our athletic departments, through the cooperative efforts of our presidents and chancellors and athletic directors, are sharing this added revenue in support of the academic mission of the universities. And in addition to televising athletics, athletic events, and athletic shows, our agreement with ESPN includes a five point academic program, highlighted by the online SEC Academic Network, which utilizes ESPN technology. We will launch the SEC Academic Network in mid August. This network will provide our 12 institutions with the ability to create and distribute academic and other non athletic programming throughout the world on a regular and full time basis."


This is all very revealing about the why talk of a PAC-10 network is both late, given the current depressed economy, and not moving very quickly. The same conference office that can’t manage a second day of media attention is going to compete for television deals?


For another indication of how far behind the PAC-10, and the west coast, is regarding television coverage, in researching the upcoming season’s matchup with Cincinnati, I noted that the week before the Bearcats come to Corvallis, they are hosting Southeast Missouri State. A visit to their web page to gauge whether the Redhawks might be able to soften up Cincinnati a little wasn’t promising (SE Mo St. is coming off a 4-8 campaign), but it revealed something else.


Did you know that the Redhawks were on television for eleven of their twelve games last year (couldn’t work something out, apparently, for the game at Indiana St.), and already have eleven games lined up to be televised this year.


While three of the Beavers’ games are already slated to be nationally televised, and several more will be picked up as the season unfolds, there are no where near as many "TV" icons on the Beavers schedule at this point. It is almost a certainty that you won’t be able to catch every game on television this year if something like work prevents you from making all the road trips.


Southeast Missouri State, it should be noted, is a Football Championship Series team. Think Portland State, a team the Beavers are playing, and do not yet have a television arrangement in place for yet.


Worrysome too is recent news that the University of Arizona has had their relationship with Fox Sports Arizona break down, leaving the Wildcats scrambling to put together an internet streaming and local television package. Tucson is a very similar sized market to Corvallis, and like covering games in Corvallis or Pullman, it is just much easier for Fox Sports Arizona to cover the Diamondbacks and Suns.


Fragmentation such as this only makes it more challenging to put together a PAC-10 package, but you can’t fault individual schools, who have to survive on their own while the conference as a whole lags behind the curve.


A curve that partially explains why PAC-10 schools, especially the ones in small markets, will continue to have to scramble in the modern era of sports business. Because the current television packages amount to a slingshot compared to the weapons of mass destruction currently being employed in the SEC.