The Pac-12, an idea not obsolete as soon as we thought.
Last night, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott released a statement that said:
"After careful review, we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes, and fans, to remain a 12-team conference."
Which is a nice way of saying that none of the scenarios didn't disadvantage at least 4 of the existing members.
Expansion would require a 3/4 vote of the members, which means any combination of 4 teams not satisfied with the package blocks it. And even Texas couldn't bring enough money for half the conference to abandon the bright future they have in hand with the improvements to revenue and revenue sharing that expansion to 12 teams brought.
"With new landmark TV agreements, and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us," Scott said.
There comes a point of diminishing returns when adding partners, as the benefits they bring have to be split more ways. Especially when the costs associated with claiming those benefits also escalate, be they in immediate dollars or deferred ones.
The Pac12 found itself on the horns
of a dilemma regarding expansion.
The Longhorn network is being widely cited as the major stumbling block in adding Texas, and by implication, Texas Tech, and also in the Big 12 being able to hold onto Oklahoma, and by implication, Oklahoma St. And it was and is a factor, one that would have to have an equitable resolution or there would be 12 no votes from the Pac-12.
Scott's statement also noted "While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve."
USC & UCLA agreed to total revenue sharing against the wishes of most of their communities in order to bring the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 Network, into being, an unpopular move that proved to ultimately be the right one. But one that made it impossible to agree to anything other than the same thing any time in the foreseeable future. It also set a precedent that told the other 10 that there is no need for any of them to agree to anything less either.
Texas would have eventually come to some agreement that would have resolved the matter, had there been nothing else standing in the way, though. Scott is one of the sharpest businessmen in the sports business, and many of the players in the Conference and the state of Texas aren't bad either, and would have hammered something out.
But if people want to blame the network, so be it. Just understand that there were other, and bigger, issues.
Like competitive balance and donor dollars.
Once expansion became an apparent possibility, the conversation rightly turned to questions about how to implement it. And as we saw here, and on every other blog, radio show, and newspaper that covers any aspect of the Pac, those questions weren't easy to solve.
Scott and Conference decision makers were engaged in the same conversations, and recognized the same issues. And Scott wasn't going to pull the trigger on any agreement unless all the details were actually already mapped out successfully.
As we saw, conversations about divisions and pods were even more important than when the expansion from 10 to 12 happened, and by an order of magnitude.
It's hard to envision any solution that wouldn't disadvantage the intermountain block of the Arizona schools, Colorado, who came to the Pac to escape Texas to begin with, and Utah. If they would have seen their access to California, especially southern California (the region, not the school), reduced, there was the block of 4 that stopped things. And despite the popularity of the Pac-8 amongst those that originally composed that group, it was never an option.
The solutions that protected even at least most of their access became severe challenges to at least some combination of the northwest schools, if not all of them. And the northwest block of 4 could block the process as well. Which they would if they were forced out of California, and into Texas and Oklahoma.
So the next option would be to disadvantage just 2 of them, but all such solutions require disadvantaging either the Bay Area schools, or one of the pairs from the intermountain block, and there are (at least) 4 no votes again.
The commonly suggested solution is to rotate the scheduling problems, and the travel expenses, but the risk is even more no votes from schools that aren't convinced any share of the problems are worth it.
Even Texas coach Mack Brown acknowledged the problems that getting away from regionalizing at least most of the schedule creates. There were over 20,000 Texas fans at the Rose Bowl Saturday, and that for a road game against a (currently) second division opponent, albeit one at the Rose Bowl, and in LA.
But as Brown notes, family, alumni, fans, and friends like to see the team, and the players they have a connection to, play. It's one thing to mobilize for one or two major road trips per year. But when that total rises to three, four, or even five, it becomes much more difficult, even for Texans.
That applies even more so to the already far flung membership of the Pac-12. And those family, alumni, fans, and friends, are the ones who buy the tickets (with huge surcharges attached) and make the donations that keep the programs afloat, television revenue not withstanding.
And then there is the political pushback. In addition to the financial and time constraints, why would about half the conference sign away any hope of ever reaching even the top 2 conference bowls, never mind the Rose Bowl?
There's no reason to hold any ill feelings toward any of the players in this, be they in Walnut Creek, or Austin and Norman. All concerned have been rightly exploring their options, while protecting their own self interests. Even ideas that didn't work out still expanded everyone's horizons. And are a clear contrast to the not very distant past.
What About The Future?
Could things change down the road? Certainly. Some conference realignment is still to come, though the ACC appears to be less vulnerable than originally thought. And the Big 10's more attractive options have diminished as well. But eventually, growth may happen, and it may become more advantageous, if not down right necessary, for the Pac to expand.
Scott will continue to monitor the situation, and conversations will continue on a regular basis. Another package could be coming forward at any time, be that in a day, a week, a year, or a decade down the road, should circumstances dictate.
The concern, and the risk, is that down the road, the options may not be as attractive, or as lucrative, as they are currently. Might the media landscape dictate that the next contract require 16 teams, and the options are, for example, Air Force, Boise St., BYU, and TCU? And the market lack of size and philosophical difference of opinion issues that come with them.
The perspective on the problem tends to vary with age demographics, and rightly so.
But will Pullman and Corvallis ever really be prepared to deal with Austin on a regular basis? And given the relative growth and progress made in Boise and Reno in the last 10-15 years, which shows no sign of abating, will they really not be attractive to the Pac down the road?
Boise St., which really has done nothing wrong in their rise from community college to emerging nationally prominent program, is one of the most unfortunate in the whole expansion wave, which came 5 years too soon, before they got their stadium expanded, and a multitude of other projects completed.
Come the next wave, there could be options for the Pac that look better then than they do today.
Those are decisions the University Presidents, convinced the current options aren't lucrative enough to be in their best interests, have clearly decided to put off for another day. But one they will continue to gather information about in the interim.