My friends this is one man’s opinion. I spent decades doing Merger and Acquisition transactions and restructuring underperforming businesses around the globe. My opinion is predicated on the realization that CFB today is a very big business. Please take my opinion for what it is worth and please feel free to disagree in the OBD forum if you believe I am in part or in whole in error.
THE NEAR FUTURE – 2021 to 2026
The beat-down goes on. 2021 will be the 5th season in a row without a Pac-12 team in the CFB Playoff (PO) field. In 2021 the Pac-12 will earn $4M from Playoff proceeds. The B1G and the SEC will likely both bring down $14M in 2021 Playoff pay outs. A Final Four appearance brings $6M, and another $4M for playing in a New Year Day’s 6 Bowl.
I believe 2026 is relevant because four of the Power 5 conferences will have renegotiated their media deals (the ACC is locked in with ESPN through 2036) and the current Playoff structure comes to an end in 2025. A new media deal will likely bring $40M to each Pac-12 team. It will also see each B1G and SEC team receiving $60M plus. Media-wise, before 2026 the Pac-12 has to decide what to do with the functionally insolvent Pac-12 Network. (An entity that has been a Pac-12 albatross; especially, when it comes to recruiting.)
Of course prior to 2026 we most likely will see the Playoff field expand to 8 or 12 teams with all P5 champions in the field. This would mean at least one Pac-12 representative in the mix. But if the field goes to 12 it also likely means that three B1G and three SEC teams will be in the field year after year.
On the field? The Pac-12 recruiting rankings continue to decline compared to the B1G and the SEC. The number of players the Pac-12 sends to the NFL continue to decline compared to the B1G and the SEC. The Pac-12 teams in out-of-conference (OOC) games has performed poorly not only against P5 opponents but also against G5 and even FCS opponents. The coaching situation is chaotic in the Pac-12. Three head CFB coaches were dismissed during the 2021 season.
We saw the dismissal in 2021 of the wholly unqualified Pac-12 spendthrift commissioner, Larry Scott. Scott was replaced by George Kliavkoff (GK.) Like Scott, a man with no CFB experience but with a good deal of media experience. Coincident with GK’s hire a golden opportunity arose for the Conference of Champions. This opportunity came about when Oklahoma and Texas announced they were leaving the B12 for the riches of the SEC.
The Pac-12 was given the opportunity to expand its market size and market share; the chance to be a savior for remaining B 12 teams? (Not a predator looking to destroy a competing conference.) Of course had the Pac-12 moved to expand into the Central time zone and into the football-crazy state of Texas, the B12 would have all but been destroyed.
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The conference could have added Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, TCU and Houston. Except for Oregon and USC on occasion, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech draw more eyeballs per telecast then do the teams in the Pac-12. TCU would have brought in the huge Dallas media market, and Houston would have done the same with the eponymous Houston market. The Pac-12 network would have gained much needed subscribers and possibly be listed on all cable providers? With a presence in Texas, FOX might well have been willing to take over, relocate and operate the network in the manner that FOX owns and operates the B1G Network.
These four schools would not immediately drop money to the Pac-12’s bottom line. But in my experience, businesses that focus only on quarterly profits and immediate results fail far more often than do businesses with long term strategies. Especially strategies designed to increase market size and market share. Even if an acquisition dings the bottom line in the short run.
The Pac-12 passed on expansion. The conference instead of expanding agreed to play one additional OOC game a year versus an ACC or B1G opponent. A decision that is senseless in a four team Playoff format and for a conference playing nine regularly scheduled conference games. Will an additional OOC P5 game it help the Pac-12’s bottom line? Probably, but not by much.
While the Pac-12 stood still on the expansion front, B12 commissioner Bob Bowlby moved with alacrity to add BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the B12 and thereby saved the B12 as a P5 conference.
Using today’s records and Playoff Committee rankings, how does the ‘New B12’ stack up against the Pac-12 in football?
11-0 Cincinnati No. 4 vs 9-2 Oregon No. 11
10-1 Oklahoma State No. 7 vs 8-3 Utah No. 19
9-2 Baylor No. 8 vs 7-4 Oregon State
9-2 BYU No. 13 vs 7-4 UCLA
10-1 Houston No. 24 vs 7-4 ASU
7-4 Kansas State vs 6-5 Washington State
7-4 UCF vs 4-6 CAL
6-5 Iowa State vs 4-6 USC
6-5 Texas Tech vs 4-7 Colorado
5-6 TCU vs 4-7 Washington
5-6 West Virginia vs 3-8 Stanford
2-9 Kansas vs 1-10 Arizona.
I think the above illustrates the opportunity for the reconstituted B12 to score a bigger media payday than the Pac-12? Note also that there are many good basketball teams in the New B12. I believe there is a 50/50 chance that the Pac-12 as currently structured will not survive post 2025/26?
Can USC make more money as a preferred B12 member than sharing equally with Washington State? Is Oregon with its football budget content to stand pat with conference members that will not and/or cannot, match Oregon’s budget for football? Would Arizona and ASU be better off in the B12 than in the Pac 12? Utah and Colorado are one time zone away from the majority of B 12 members. CU has been a B12 member.
Wither the Pac-12? In the short run, we should know come 2025? Oregon ranked No. 11 last night behind 9-2 Baylor and Utah ranked only at No. 19 is simply a kick in the Pac 12’s face.
But where CFB as a whole a decade plus from now? That’s a more complicated topic that I intend to address next week.
Aiken, South Carolina
Top Photo by John Giustina
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Jon Joseph grew up in Boston, Massachusetts but has been blessed to have lived long enough in the west to have exorcised all east coast bias. He played football in college and has passionately followed the game for seven decades. A retired corporate attorney Jon has lectured across the country and published numerous articles on banking and gaming law. Now a resident of Aiken South Carolina, Jon follows college football across the nation with a focus on the Conference of Champions and the Ducks.
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