Utah Would Be In Real Trouble If Pac-12 Loses Marquee Teams

Mar 10, 2020, 10:17 AM
Pac-12 Logo on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium...
Pac-12 Logo on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium (Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Pac-12 needs to face the reality that they are at the bottom of the Power 5 pecking order in terms of revenue and prestige when it comes to sending teams to the College Football Playoff.

USC’s athletics director Mike Bohn has already indicated that “everything is on the table” for Trojans football when asked about going independent. His attempt to backtrack that answer was nowhere near comforting – it was not a clear message.

Days later, The Oregonian opined about the possibility of the Oregon football team considering independence route with USC. The Ducks are the next closest thing to the Trojans as a national brand, the piece argued.

Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens said over a year ago that the Pac-12 needs to get its act together and not fall back further behind its Power Five peers.

“We have to figure out how to close that gap. Resources do matter,” Mullens said. “We don’t have to have everything that everyone else has, but we have to remain in a range that makes us competitive, and right now, we’re drifting out of range.”

Those are strong words coming from the second-most powerful AD in the conference. Perhaps commissioner Larry Scott should take notice of what its behemoth programs are publicly saying about the Pac-12.

Scott should be terrified since it was just 15 months ago that FleishmanHillard designed a 34-page brochure for strategic purposes with its members. Thate brochure provided talking points to consider when discussing the league. To make things seem even worse is when Pac-12′s Vice President of Communications, Andrew Walker, sent out a memo to the Presidents and Chancellors in the Pac-12 saying there needs to be a unified front about the conference.

“Our shared interest in a strong Pac-12 brand is a strategic priority given the brand’s impact on the valuation of our collective media and sponsorship rights, recruitment efforts on campuses, impact on overall University brands, and NCAA selection processes in football and basketball, among other reasons.”

So, to see USC and Oregon thinking about breaking ranks does not look good for the league.

Utah Would Be In Limbo If Pac-12 Loses Teams

When realignment changed college football a decade ago, Utah was a backup plan to join the Pac-10 after its failed attempt to raid the Big 12 came up short. If there is any sort of massive realignment and 16-team super leagues, the Utes would have a tough time keeping itself considered a power conference team.

KSL Sports Alex Kirry suspects the league will drastically change but if it does the Utes are in real trouble.

“Those teams threatening to go away – one, I don’t think they are going to, and two how does effect Utah?” Kirry asked. “If USC and Oregon left if Washington left where does that put Utah in a Pac-12, then Pac-9 situation?”

The answer is not good because those three schools: Huskies, Trojans, and Ducks are the top programs in the league. Even with Utah being in the College Football Playoff conversation in 2019 and appearing in the Pac-12 title game in consecutive years, the Utes, fairly or not, don’t carry the same cachet nationally as those other schools do.

KSL Sports’ Scott Mitchell brings the harsh truth in regards to the Utes standing within the Pac-12 and points the blame at conference leadership for wildly miscalculating the worth of owning 100 percent of the Pac-12 Networks.

“It hurts Utah, and that is an easy question to answer. There is still a conference there and it is good. I think everyone is disappointed with the move the Pac-12 did and it really is with the TV network,” Mitchell said. “The problem is that everyone thought there was going to be a whole lot more revenue generated. These schools are saying, ‘we would get a better deal from ESPN, NBC, any of them, Fox Network independently than the type of revenue generated and this all driven by TV.”

The money disparity is only going to get bigger as the Big Ten and SEC continue to gain in popularity and the ACC has its own league-network but it is owned by ESPN so the distribution from the start has been miles ahead of the Pac-12.

If the conference were to lose the big three in Washington, USC, and Oregon, what would the league do?

“Utah has no leverage, they have zero leverage. They are, quite frankly, to just happy to be there,” Mitchell said. “Arizona is the same way, Arizona State, Oregon State is the same, and most of the Pac-12. Really, only USC, Oregon and Washington [have leverage].”

The Pac-12 name carries weight but would a league that is known for academics want the likes of Boise State, UNLV, Colorado State, or San Diego State just to get to 12 teams? Stanford and Cal would not like that as they are highly respected academic institutions. Plus, the level of play overall would drop meaning less money coming in from a media deal and suddenly there are just four power conferences.

Pac-12 Must Have USC

Maybe it is all just cyclical with the Pac-12? USC is the bellwether program in the conference and they are currently not at the top of their game and have struggled compared to their glory years.

Mitchell suggests that the Pac-12 must have the Trojans playing well to give the league respect nationally, plus it would do wonders to have USC competing for national championships leading up to the next round of media rights negotiations.

“Bottom line though, the Pac-12 does not exist if there is no USC. It is just not the same conference,” Mitchell said. “The Pac-12 would be a tremendous conference if USC was actually living up to what it potentially could be, and I just shake my head and don’t get how USC can be. Now if a team like Oregon left you are not going to lose any sleep over it.”

There are so many reasons the Pac-12 struggles on a national stage. There is a population issue out West, fans not caring as much as those in the SEC or Big Ten, late games so those on the East Coast don’t watch, and there are a lot of fun things to do out West because of the weather.

What the Pac-12, and Utah, can’t have is for USC to bolt for potentially greener pastures and make the Pac-12 a shell of itself and more on par with the AAC and Mountain West than the Big Ten and SEC.

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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