* The Pac-12 Hotline newsletter is published each Monday-Wednesday-Friday during the college sports season (and twice-a-week in the summer). This edition, from Dec. 28, has been made available in archived form …
The Pac-12’s continued struggles (another playoff miss) and Oklahoma’s enduring success (another playoff make, and another Heisman Trophy) recently caused the Hotline to ponder its way into an alternate universe, where events unfolded quite differently in the early fall of 2011.
What if the Sooners and Oklahoma State had joined the Pac-12?
The move, if you’ll recall, was discussed by the schools and the conference at the tail end of the major realignment wave.
At the time, the Big 12 was roiling to the beat of a Texas two-step, with UT carving its own future through the Longhorn Network and Texas A&M bolting for the SEC. The Pac-12 was a model of presidential harmony and financial stability, fresh off a massive Tier One deal and the launch of a revolutionary TV network.
The Pac-14 sounds pretty good from a competitive standpoint, with the 12 continuing members struggling to keep up on the national stage and the Sooners playing to their blue-blood status.
How close did it come to reality? This much we know:
• Commissioner Larry Scott made his play for a Pac-16 super conference in the summer of 2010, adding Colorado and then pursuing Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and the Oklahoma schools.
When that fell apart, the conference went to Plan B and added Utah to make 12.
• One year later, Texas A&M joined the SEC, creating further disruption in the Big 12. Scott once again explored expansion options and met with Texas officials in Los Angeles. It soon became clear that UT’s financial structure (i.e., The Longhorn Network) didn’t align with the Pac-12’s revenue-sharing model, again killing the potential for a 16-team conference.
• The remaining consideration was to add the Oklahoma schools and create the Pac-14.
That option brought one massive benefit — the addition of one of the nation’s top football brands — but a slew of structural obstacles. Additionally, the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors were concerned about the academic profile of the Oklahoma schools.
• A few days after Scott met with Texas officials, the Pac-12 issued a statement: “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.”
And that was that.
But what if that hadn’t been that?
What if Scott had convinced the universities that Oklahoma’s long-haul value — not only in the media rights space but as a buttress against all future landscape changes — was such that the move outweighed all downsides? And what if the Oklahoma schools had accepted the invitations?
We don’t know the extent of the recruiting damage the Sooners might have suffered in Texas by moving their foundation westward. It reasonable to conclude they would have strengthened their pipelines in Arizona and California, but enough to offset what they might have lost in Texas? That’s unlikely.
In our alternative universe, we’ll also assume the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry would have continued, with the schools alternating home-team designation and the resulting TV rights shifting annually from the Big 12 to the Pac-12.
How might the Pac-12, with its natural rivalries, have managed seven-team divisions?
The most sensible option would have been to split USC (North) and UCLA (South), thereby giving every school regular access to Southern California. With USC and Oklahoma separated, each division would have possessed a football blue blood. The Trojans and Bruins would, of course, have continued to play every year.
There would have been grumbling, of course. And awkward logistics. And increased travel costs, not only for football and men’s basketball but all the Olympic sports.
But the conference would have increased its exposure throughout the Central Time Zone, boosting recruiting in Texas for the Arizona and Mountain schools.
And even if the Sooners didn’t replicate the success of the past five years, their mere presence in the Pac-14 would elevate the football product — not only now but in the near future.
Imagine Scott sitting down to negotiate a new media rights deal with Fox or ESPN (or Amazon or Facebook) and having as leverage not one but two of college football’s greatest brands, in addition to (every other year) the rights to the Red River Rivalry.
It’s an interesting scenario to ponder, for sure.
Now, back to the reality of 2018. — Jon Wilner
• The latest basketball power ratings, published Wednesday, included a dash of the season’s spirit: Holiday wishes for each team and for the conference. (At this point, the Pac-12 needs a team other than Arizona State to earn the automatic bid.)
• Why are there so many bowl games and what can be done to improve the Pac-12 matchups in the next cycle of games? Wright Waters, the executive director of the Football Bowl Association, joined me for a podcast that touched on both topics, and much more. Waters believes Los Angeles and Las Vegas are keys to the conference’s future, with new stadiums opening in 2020.
• ICYMI: The Hotline newsletter from Dec. 21 addressed the shifting positions on an expanded playoff: The Big 12 and Big Ten appear to be pivoting faster than the Pac-12, which, in theory, should be leading the charge. Previous editions of the newsletter are available in archived form using the following hashtag: https://www.mercurynews.com/tag/pac-12-hotline-newsletter/
• Why we need your support: Like so many other providers of local journalism across the country, the Hotline’s parent website, mercurynews.com, recently moved to a subscription model. A few Hotline stories will remain free each month (as will this newsletter), but for access to all content, you’ll need to subscribe at a rate of just 12 cents per day for 12 months. And thanks for your loyalty.
The Pac-12 received a momentous boost this week when Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert announced he would return for his senior season.
• National reaction: Yahoo’s Pete Thamel addresses the impact of Herbert’s decision on the NFL Draft, not only for 2018 but 2019, while Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples believes Herbert isn’t taking a significant risk, at least from a competitive standpoint.
• Local reaction: The Register-Guard’s Austin Meek notes that Herbert’s return ramps up the pressure on Ducks coach Mario Cristobal and play-caller Marcus Arroyo. The Oregonian’s John Canzano suggests that Oregon not waste the gift: “If you were paying attention this season, you’re free to wonder whether UO will seize Herbert’s return and maximize it.”
Select men’s basketball games included (all times Pacific).
Dec. 28: Alamo Bowl: WSU vs. Iowa State (6 p.m./ESPN)
Dec. 29: Utah vs. No. 6 Nevada (11 a.m./Pac-12 Networks)
Dec. 31: Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. Pittsburgh (11 a.m./CBS)
Dec. 31: RedBox Bowl: Oregon vs. Michigan State (noon/FOX)
Dec. 31: Holiday Bowl: Utah vs. Northwestern (4 p.m./FS1)
Jan. 1: Rose Bowl: Washington vs. Ohio State (2 p.m./ESPN)
Jan. 4-6: CFP Fan Central (downtown San Jose)
Jan. 7: CFP national championship (Levi’s Stadium)
(Note: The Hotline newsletter includes links to sites that could require a subscription once the number of free views has been reached.)
• Two games down, and the Pac-12 is seeking its first victory of the postseason. Next up: Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Here’s a primer.
• After an embarrassing offensive performance in the Cheez-It Bowl, Cal coach Justin Wilcox promises a “deep dive” into the Bears’ quarterback play in the offseason.
• Washington quarterback Jake Browning has coined a term for fan frustration directed his way: ‘Jake-lash.’ As the Seattle Times’ Adam Jude writes, Browning has a complicated legacy in purple.
• Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson made the all-conference team and the all-academic team, and made his mother very proud.
• Must-watch Gardner Minshew video. You can thank me later.
• There are fans living on a billboard in San Jose — yes, on it — in advance of the national championship game.
• Rivals analyst Adam Gorney assesses the Pac-12 in the aftermath of the early-signing period and includes the top remaining target for each team. “It was an interesting early signing period in the Pac-12 as the usual dominant team in the conference (USC) did not have an exceptional run into late December.”
• Colorado signee KJ Trujillo, a 3-star prospect from Orange Lutheran who initially wavered after CU’s coaching change, had a late scholarship offer … from USC.
• Cal chancellor Carol Christ is a lifelong academic, with little in her background suggesting she would be a staunch supporter of college sports. But in less than two years on the job, Christ has proven to be quite the fan and made several decisions that should benefit the Bears over the long haul, as the Chronicle’s Rusty Simmons writes.
• We linked (above) to Minshew’s video. Here’s an in-depth profile of the quarterback, who plays his final game for WSU tonight, courtesy of the Spokesman’s Theo Lawson. Hard to believe Minshew has been on campus for seven months given his impact on and off the field. (Note: “Adventures of Gardner Minshew” comic included.)
• With big man Kenny Wooten joining the injury list — he’ll miss at least four weeks with a broken jaw — Oregon will have eight scholarship players for Boise State.
• ESPN+ (subscription) examined Steve Alford’s status in Westwood, which seems to grow more precarious by the week.
• Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley believes this team is better built to withstand the rigors of conference play than last year’s version.
• CBS Sports’ experts offered their predictions for the conference standings based on results thus far. Interestingly, most aren’t sold on ASU as the favorite.
• NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk recapped the non-conference season across the nation and didn’t look too kindly on the Pac-12’s performance.
• ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi published his latest tournament projections and has two Pac-12 teams in the field, with the Ducks sitting precariously as a No. 12 seed.
Content on Pac-12 Olympic sports …
• Former UCLA soccer coach (and player) Sigi Schmid passed away on Christmas Day due to health issues. Schmid is a Pac-12 legend, having coached UCLA to three national titles and been elected to the U.S. soccer Hall of Fame.
• Arizona State hockey player Austin Lemieux isn’t trying to be his father, Mario, or even his close friend, Sidney Crosby. He’s dealing with challenges of his own as a redshirt freshman forward.
• A team-by-team preview of women’s hoops with conference play beginning this weekend, courtesy of Michelle Smith.
What’s coming on the Pac-12 Hotline:
• Our publication schedule is packed through the holiday season, starting this weekend with ‘Saturday Night Five’ (a mix of football and basketball news).
• Another issue-oriented podcast is coming next week, focusing on Pac-12 media strategy. Did Larry Scott make the right call with the Pac-12 Networks? An expert weighs in.
• Also, look for a recap of the bowl season, a preview of conference play on the court and news of expanded Hotline coverage.
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.