Your move, Pac-12 (but feel free to pass)
Not so long ago, I looked around at the so-called “arms race” in college athletics, and wondered where it might end. You had to have an indoor football practice facility. Your stadium had to have state-of-the-art suites. You had to have a dedicated football-operations building.
And that building needed to have a barber chair. Of course.
But where was it all going? What was the end game? Ultimately, how would you out-barber-chair the other guy?
Recently, it became clearer, with the impending move of Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference, a seismic shift of college sports’ tectonic plates that I believe dwarfs anything that happened with the circa-2010 round of expansion, when Larry Scott and the Pac-12 romanced Texas. They apparently did some heavy petting but nothing more.
Texas was always going to be the Holy Grail — the elephant in the football facility — with its sheer state ginormousness, teeming media markets and congenital lust for football. It had its own Longhorn Network.
And yet, here was Texas, hat in hand, approaching the SEC months ago about joining. That alone is shocking, as is the fact it didn’t leak until the Houston Chronicle scored the story late in July.
No breaking news: It’s about money, because it seems debatable whether Texas, setting up shop in the SEC, would be better positioned to crash a 12-team college playoff. Forget Alabama. Does this abet Texas against LSU? Georgia? A&M? Florida? Auburn?
But it’s going to happen. Armed with those glitzy facilities, the stud hosses of college football are elbowing their way to what seems the inevitable conclusion: Superconferences. He who has the most crystal trophies (as well as ventilated locker-room cubicles, and thumbprint key entries) at the end wins.
It’s left to the Pac-12, and its new commissioner, George Kliavkoff, to figure out a response. Welcome to the Pac-12, George, here’s your key card and parking permit, now go save the conference.
Behind him, it’s the league presidents who pull the levers, and we have a suggestion for what they should do in response to the Texas-Oklahoma hejira.
Well, it’s not that simple. The league needs to do its diligence on the wreckage left in the Big 12, and when it does, it will find that there’s nothing there that’s a fit. Nothing moves the TV needle. Kansas hoops is provocative, but the Pac-12 hardly needs another program (atop Arizona and USC) that recently went rogue with the NCAA rulebook.
Andy Staples of The Athletic advances the idea that the Big Ten ought to raid the Pac-12 for its premium cuts, forming a 20-team conference with the likes of Washington, Oregon and USC. That’s the only move, save for finally persuading Notre Dame or pirating Clemson, that could position the Big Ten to be a challenge to the SEC.
In this climate, I suppose nothing can be ruled out, but what seems more likely is a scheduling alliance between the Big Ten and Pac-12. You drop back to eight conference games – assuming that’s the standard nationally – and play two annually with the other conference.
Being a Pac-12 president now is different from being one in 1965. But it’s worth mentioning that in a kaleidoscopic world of college expansion, the Pac-12 has been pretty understated. It added the Arizona schools in 1978, 43 years ago. It annexed Utah and Colorado in 2011. And that’s it, going back to the days of Philco console radios.
You know how the Pac-12 has long been up against it, strapped by the geography that consigns it to a hazy time zone and late starts? Well, maybe the Texas-Oklahoma move works the other way. In terms of conference affiliation, there will be next to nothing west of the Mississippi, save for the Pac-12. You say the SEC will leave everything else behind? How’s that different from right now? No matter how many toys the SEC accumulates, there would remain one significant player in the western two-thirds of the country.
It can legitimately be argued that when the disparity in TV payouts become more gaping, coaches will be paid more in the SEC (they already are), and recruits will flee the West Coast to play in the SEC (they already do). But – projecting ahead here 10 years – does the Jimmy Lake of the 2030s only want to coach at Oklahoma or LSU rather than the area where he grew up? Doesn’t West Coast high school football produce enough to support a playoff team or two, especially when Pac-12 programs have recruited profitably in places like Texas and Florida?
Ultimately, it may come down to perspective for Pac-12 presidents. Do they want to have a great university with a good football team, or vice versa? As it is, thanks to the arms race, they’re paying their football coaches extravagantly — $3-4 million annually. Maybe that’s not SEC money, but at some point, maybe SEC money isn’t what all this should be about.
As the Larry Scott era ground to its lamentable conclusion over his last few years, I found it inexcusable that the Pac-12 presidents seemingly nodded blankly at his every misstep.
They did nothing. So in this latest college contretemps, they ought to be pretty good at it.