The move heard by the college football world last week inspired more than 200 questions for this week’s Dear Andy mailbag. But in trying to answer two in particular, I had a thought that I would be fascinated to see in action.
Now that USC and UCLA have moved away from the Pac-12 and headed for the Big Ten, Oregon and Washington are in peril and stronger at the same time. They don’t want to lose their status, so of course they would love to go to the Big Ten. But what if that’s not an option? They become some of the best options on the board, and what they do could shape the future of the Pac-12 and the Big 12. Joe and Jesse each came to their questions from different directions, but they both led to a potentially killer scenario depending on how the dominoes fall.
Should Oregon Pursue Independence When Big Ten Membership Is Off the Table? — Joe in Albany, Oregon.
One thing I found interesting this past week was the idea that the Pac-12 will try to steal from the Big 12. Which Big 12 team would like to leave right now? Especially without USC and UCLA, is the Pac-12 really a more enviable destination? — Jesse
Notre Dame may hold the keys for everyone, but it feels like Oregon and Washington hold the keys in the Big 12/Pac-12 situation. Naturally, Oregon and Washington want to join the Big Ten at USC and UCLA. They would also make sense in that competition. They are big brands with passionate fans and the schools are members of the prestigious Association of American Universities. They would also provide some travel partners for their fellow Pac-12 defectors.
But they clearly haven’t gotten an answer as to whether joining the Big Ten is a possibility. How do we know this? Because once the Big Ten said they wanted them, Oregon and Washington would be gone. And if the Big Ten offered a definite no, Oregon and Washington would move to seal off their respective futures.
Supposedly, the Big Ten’s next move depends on Notre Dame’s pick. If the Fighting Irish wants to join, they join and the rest of the competition decides if they want to admit someone else. But if Notre Dame isn’t ready to make that decision, it doesn’t have to be. It is the only school that has an open invitation to any competition whenever it wants. And the Big Ten can just hang out in 16 schools while waiting for the white smoke cloud or whatever signal the Domers choose to announce their choice.
If Notre Dame doesn’t pick quickly, it could put Oregon and Washington in a tricky position. If the Big Ten isn’t sure if it’s done expanding, the Ducks and Huskies shouldn’t be locked into a long-term deal. But the remaining Pac-12 members may want to make a long-term pact that ensures no one else leaves.
Sorry, Joe, but I don’t think independence is a viable option. I’m one of those people who always said that Notre Dame should never be allowed to participate in a football conference if they didn’t want to, and after last week I think Notre Dame has no choice but to participate in a football conference. If Notre Dame can no longer be independent, Oregon cannot possibly make it happen. But that doesn’t mean the Ducks don’t have power. On the contrary. If the Big Ten doesn’t close the door, she and the Huskies have a couple of options.
They could keep the Pac-12 together and provide two tentpole programs for that league – which would presumably expand. Jesse asks which Big 12 schools would leave for the Pac-12. All of them would, as long as Oregon and Washington are still around. So the Pac-12 schools could select whichever they feel best.
There’s also the possibility that the Pac-12 and ACC could come to some sort of pooling rights deal that could give some stability to the remaining Pac-12 schools and give the ACC schools some new revenue streams for members. help calm those who feel like they carry all the weight and deserve an unequal slice of the pie. But that feels very theoretical, and it also feels a bit like a more fleshed-out version of The Alliance, the partnership formed last year by the ACC, the Big Ten, and the Pac-12. “It’s about trust,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said at the time. “We looked each other in the eye. We have made an appointment.” The Alliance essentially imploded last week when one of the leagues ripped another apart like a fish. And that often happens with these things. In 2010, the Pac-10 held informal meetings with the Big 12 about bundling television rights. A few months later, the Pac-10 attempted to steal half of the members of the Big 12.
Recasting is a dirty business, so maybe it’s time the Big 12 tried to fight to win rather than just survive. What if the Big 12 could get Oregon and Washington? That may sound silly at first, but we’re talking about a competition with a new commissioner (former Roc Nation COO Brett Yormark) who isn’t from the college sports industry. Unlike a former athletic director, he doesn’t have to worry about beating his friends to move his conference forward. He didn’t know these people before, so he better scurry away.
Here is the field. Tell Oregon and Washington they can join the Big 12, but just as a coach can get an out clause for his alma mater in his contract, let them have a clause that says they can leave if the Big is without financial penalty. Unless she wants. (Maybe protect the league a bit by forcing them to give something reasonable, like 18 months’ notice.) Then use their defections to grab Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and the state of Arizona, too. If you have to take Oregon State and Washington State to get Oregon and Washington because of political pressure in those states, take them and either just get really big or cut two off from the rest of the incoming group. Since the Pac-12’s media rights deal expires in 2024, go to partners Fox and ESPN and ask to start negotiating a new deal that would begin in 2024 rather than 2025, when the next Big 12- deal should start. Write in the contract that you understand that the payout will drop if Oregon and Washington leave.
If Oregon and Washington eventually stay, that 18-team league would likely rank #3 behind the Big Ten and SEC in revenue per school. The current Big 12 deal (including Oklahoma and Texas) is already paying more than the ACC and Pac-12 deals. Oklahoma and Texas will be gone — and in this scenario, they’d be in the SEC by 2024 — but that lineup would be just as strong as the ACC’s. More importantly, that lineup may now be on the market.
Every league wants conference membership to be a 100-year decision, but if the past 100 years have taught us anything, it simply isn’t. If anyone should understand that, it’s the presidents and athletic directors of the Big 12. Their league has gone through every reshuffle scenario imaginable.
It’s been clinically dead for a few minutes (2010). It’s Minutes of Implosion (2011). It held a dog-and-pony show for potential members that turned up nothing (2016). It took an epic gut and then grabbed four new members (2021). So while the Pac-12 school presidents — who are new to this sort of thing — ask for blood vows to make sure no one ever leaves their league, the Big 12 should try to provide some flexibility to get the strongest lineup. to create it directly.
If that lineup stays together, great. If not, well, the Big 12 has been through this sort of thing before.
But the conference that always seems to find a way to survive may soon have an opening to buy a little more time.
(Photo: Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)