Mel Tucker Leaving For Michigan State Is One Of Many Pac-12 Problems

Feb 14, 2020, 11:47 AM
Head coach Mel Tucker of the Colorado Buffaloes and head coach Clay Helton of the USC Trojans meet ...
Head coach Mel Tucker of the Colorado Buffaloes and head coach Clay Helton of the USC Trojans meet on the field after the USC Trojans 35-31 win over the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 25, 2019 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah –“It’s just business,” they say. However, the Pac-12 has been on the wrong end of that saying as of late, and it is only getting worse. Especially when you compare the league to the rest of the Power 5 conferences in football.

The latest example is when Michigan State came to Boulder, Colorado to pluck Mel Tucker from the Buffs. The Spartans were able to more than double his salary from $2.4 million to $5.5 million per year. That is for a coach who was 5-7 last year. To add insult to injury, Tucker’s new salary is more than any current Pac-12 coach.

Michigan State waltzed into a fellow Power 5 conference and treated Colorado and the Pac-12 as if it were a Group of Five team. Frankly, Tucker was not even a good Pac-12 coach coming from one of the three worst programs in the league.

Mississippi State did the same thing with Mike Leach, luring him away to the SEC with a $5 million salary which is $1.25 million more per year than he was making at Washington State.

The Pac-12 already lags in revenue and television compared to other Power 5 conferences, the coaches are underpaid. There are two coaches who make under $2 million annually – Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin. Out of all Power 5 coaching salaries – excluding private schools whose data is not available – there is only one other power conference coach that makes less than $2 million- Indiana’s Tom Allen.

Next, consider the fact that the Pac-12 has not made the College Football Playoff in three years. Then there is the Pac-12 Network, which has failed beyond belief in getting eyeballs on the conference.

What doesn’t help the conference is that those who work for the Pac-12 Network are trying too hard to sell Colorado. Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth is trying to sell that Colorado is a great program.

Roth clearly loves the Pac-12 but he needs to be realistic. The Buffaloes have not been relevant in years, according to KSL Unrivaled.

The one and only Pac-12 title game appearance was a blowout 42-10 loss to Washington in 2016, and that 10-4 year is the only winning record that Colorado has in since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.

Pac-12 Needs Brand Names To Be Good

KSL Unrivaled hosts Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry, see a pattern with the Pac-12 and it is not good.

However, Mitchell looked at some positives with the type of coaching talent in the league, if we are being honest – the Pac-12 must have USC in the mix each and every year.

“I think the coaching situation in the Pac-12 good. Is the Pac-12 a conference that has a lot of respect? It started to get a little bit of respect but it will need the teams with the names to step back into the limelight,” Mitchell said. “I don’t care what you say, unless USC is a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 — you hate to say this — but it is true that if USC is a contender the Pac-12 has some legitimacy. Oregon has some cache but it is not the same as USC. As long as USC just ‘OK’ that is what the Pac-12 is.”

The problem with USC is that they have not been consistently elite since Pete Carroll left after the 2009 season. He won two national titles and appeared in three consecutive BCS championship games, plus seven years in a row finishing as an AP top-four team. Since then, the Trojans have only two seasons where they finished in the top-10 and two New Year’s Six Bowl games.

Mitchell went on to explain that the problem is that if the Pac-12 can’t or won’t pay high end coaches the gap likely will increase.

“For a guy who hasn’t shown much and to get $5.5 million is pretty strong from the Big Ten. You can’t do that in the Pac-12,” Mitchell said. “You are not going to be able to bring in these top coaching prospects. It is baffling to me why USC and UCLA can not bet better. I don’t care what you say, is that you have to have your marquee programs be good.”

The problem with the Pac-12 is that they need to top teams to carry the league. Even when Utah was in the mix this past year and were in the College Football Playoff race there was still doubt. The league is not deep enough to have less-brand teams carry the league. The SEC can have non-Alabama teams like Tennessee, Florida, Auburn or others lead the conference and the respect is there.

That is what the Pac-12 is missing, according to Unrivaled.

Tucker’s Parting Jab At CU

It is not just the big programs being good but it is the commitment to football itself within the Pac-12. In Tucker’s introductory press conference with Michigan State, he took a shot, inadvertently or not, at Colorado for what that program has to offer within its football team.

“Leaving Colorado was probably the toughest thing that I have ever done in my career, in my life, actually,” Tucker said. “But this is the right time for me to be here … The commitment is here. The resources are here, the want to and the leadership is here.”

One area that stands out is the number of analysts that teams have. Take a look at Michigan State as they have four which is one more than Colorado but going to the extreme there is LSU who has 12.

Those things can add up and the $20-plus million and more revenue gap is catching up to the Pac-12. If these other schools can hire more analysts then they are hiring even more behind the scenes people in the training or nutritional staff and other support staff to assist the football program.

The Pac-12 brings in a lot of money but they are at the tail end of the Power 5 leagues and do use it to build amazing facilities, so don’t feel too bad for these schools.

The gamble commissioner Larry Scott had for owning 100 percent of the Pac-12 Network has failed, so that money is less than projected. Playing late night games does not help and something the league can not really change too much – maybe going to a slate of 12 p.m. ET kicks could help.

That lack of exposure with game-times and few people having Pac-12 Network cuts into not just media rights revenue but merchandise and team gear. Not being able to see these teams play limits new fans and that can snowball into not selling less gear by not being able to bring in new fans. The next step is not having similar facilities to the other Power 5 leagues and coaches’ pay.

It is not as if the facilities at programs in the Pac-12 are lacking but compared to the SEC or Big Ten they are a step or two behind. Some of that is how they spend the money that comes in whether it be for new locker rooms or a football-only facility.

There is also the argument about more things to do on the West Coast, which is true in some places, but one fairly simple fix could be is to bring in high-profile coaches and up the assistant salary pool to have the best coaches in the Pac-12. The commitment just seems to be a step or two behind a good number of other Power 5 schools.

It used to be cyclical for the Pac-12 but those cycles are starting to become a trend and some league-wide changes need to be made to have this league compete more often on the national stage.

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast. 

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