It’s been a rough few years for the Pac-12. To address this, commissioner Larry Scott is trying to sell an equity stake in the league’s media rights for $750 million, which would result in an immediate windfall for member schools. Nobody has done this before, and a lot of folks have questions about it.
Now, getting an extra $750 million can solve a lot of problems. But are the Pac-12’s the kind that can be solved by cash?
For one thing, $750 million can’t change the Pac-12’s geography.
The West Coast is far from the biggest concentrations of TV eyeballs and opinion-shapers. The conference’s region just doesn’t care about college sports the same way the Midwest or deep South does.
And beyond California, the rest of the Pac-12’s recruiting footprint pales in comparison to the talent depth in Texas, Florida, the rest of the South, and even parts of the Midwest.
More importantly, money alone won’t get you better school-level leadership.
Money isn’t why Chip Kelly’s UCLA recruited like a Mountain West team last year or the sole reason UCLA basketball reached “well, maybe hire Charles Barkley” territory. It didn’t directly make Gary Andersen rage quit at Oregon State or make USC and Arizona bad enough at cheating to get dragged into an FBI investigation. It didn’t drown Cal in debt after an enormously expensive stadium renovation. It didn’t hire Florida native Willie Taggart away from Oregon or force Arizona to forget it had Khalil Tate at quarterback.
If your culture stinks or hires don’t work out, that’s not always because you didn’t have enough money. Programs like Northern Illinois and Arkansas State win a lot of football games, even as they have to regularly hire new coaches and lack the resources of their peers. As USC has demonstrated, you can be very well-funded and still suck.
And money might not be able to get you better conference-level leadership either.
We can’t forget the own goals of the Scott era, such as:
- The stubborn insistence on playing the football title game in a suburban strip mall in the middle of rush hour.
- The credibility of conference officiating coming into question after some conference executive, who is not a referee, overturned a controversial call.
- Scott insisting on putting conference HQ in one of the most expensive places in the country, costing $6.9 million a year in rent, far more than the SEC or Big Ten.
- The conference culture reportedly limiting transparency, frustrating athletic directors and leading to some retired directors to actually speak out.
It’s OK to not make as much money as the SEC! It’s not OK to spend like you make more money than the SEC.
Money might help fix the Pac-12 Network, but what does that even mean?
Sure, a big check and a strategic investment might help. It could improve distribution, so we couldn’t joke about how the Portuguese Handball Channel or whatever has a bigger distribution. But if the on-field product doesn’t improve, does it matter if a few more fans can see it on TV?
If money can’t fix all these problems, does that mean the Pac-12 is screwed?
Not necessarily. After all, some of those problems aren’t even new.
It’s not like Oregon State was in suburban Atlanta until 10 years ago. The Pac-12 has enjoyed plenty of success before, especially in non-revenue sports. Great culture, smart leadership, wise resource management, and a little luck can overcome challenging geography.
And let’s face it, the Pac-12 has had a run of bad luck. Its slide really started after a disastrous 2017-2018 athletic season, but four of those bowl losses en route to the much-discussed 1-8 record were by a single possession.
Every league goes through bad spurts.
Only a few years ago, a major outlet could credibly wonder if the Pac-12 had closed the gap with the SEC.
At least a few Pac-12 schools can compete for revenue-sport titles. The bottom of the conference struggling wouldn’t keep Washington out of the Playoff, Arizona from making an NCAA tournament run, or Oregon State from going deep in the CWS.
Mainly, Pac-12 leadership needs to make better choices with the money it already has.
The Pac-12 isn’t poor. The WAC is poor. The Pac-12 pays out over $30 million a year to member institutions. Even without third-party investments, Pac-12 teams wooed and retained in-demand coaches like Mike Leach, Chris Petersen, and David Shaw and can pay coaches like Sean Miller and Larry Krystkowiak at rates near the top of their profession.
Perhaps improved conference and administrative leadership would lead to better hires and fewer dumb scandals. After all, whatever failings Scott has, they will only be amplified if people like Lynn Swann or Dan Guerrero also make poor decisions. And a huge cash infusion won’t automatically make ineffective ADs or other administrators better at their jobs.