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CFB Expansion Analysis – How to Keep USC

Mr Pac Ten
Posted Jan 18, 2011


Collegefootballnews’ Matthew Smith Looks at College Football Expansion Possibilities, Part Thirteen: What the Pac-12 Needs to do to Keep USC (and others)

As I wrote in part 10 of the expansion article series ( link here), moving towards a permanent “have” status quo of 6 AQ leagues with 12 teams each seems to be where we’re going given the current setup of 1-A college football. However, this is far from inevitable.

One big x-factor in this process is USC. As I explained in part 12 ( link here) , at least potentially on the table is a monumental shake-up whereby USC (along with Texas) could completely shake up the state of college athletics in the Western US. And, of course, they could pursue other options, possibly including independence (though as I argued, I think that would be a major mistake for them). But pursuing any of those options would inevitably hurt some or all of their Pac-12 brethren, which means that the biggest question for USC is whether they’re going to be willing to hurt their fellow league members.

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Despite all the talk about the TV contract and the other details of league organization, probably the most important factor affecting whether or not USC eventually leaves if given the opportunity (and if it would actively pursue opportunities in the meantime) is the upcoming appeal of the NCAA sanctions. I’m not a lawyer or an expert on the NCAA and its rules and regulations, but I think (and plenty of people, including ESPN’s Ted Miller) agree that, at the very least, USC has a legitimate case for seriously reducing the sanctions.

This is an easy, obvious way for the Pac-12 to solidify its long-term relationship with USC. They should be doing everything they possibly can to help USC out in this situation. Win or lose, they should make sure USC and its backers come away from the process believing that the Pac-12 was solidly in its corner (and it’s a lot better if it’s “helped them win” rather than just “tried to help”). Simple human nature makes it tough for USC to essentially say “thanks a lot for helping us out when we needed it, now screw you as we walk away.”

But if the Pac-12 does nothing to help, then however the appeal ends up shaking out, it becomes more likely that USC starts working on their exit strategy. There is a definite sense among the USC fanbase that the league has essentially abandoned the Trojans during the process, and there is legitimate anger due to that perception. That’s going to seriously undermine whatever loyalty USC feels towards the league, and I don’t think that’s a grudge that would go away any time over the next 20 or so years. If USC wins the appeal with no help from the league, then that only creates (or reinforces) the idea that they’ll be fine on their own. And if they lose with no help from the league, they’ll come away thinking that they would have won with league help and got screwed by their league brethren.

Ultimately, the ONLY way the Pac-12 comes out of this in good shape is if they make a legitimate effort to help USC’s appeal. I am guessing that the league has already been working on this behind the scenes, and that this will eventually come out. But if I’m wrong, and the league really hasn’t done anything to help (and at this point it’s probably too late to start), I can’t help but feel that the Pac-12 experiment is running on borrowed time.

And just for the record, “borrowed time” could very well mean as little as two years, given the relevant parts of the by-laws as printed in the 2010-2011 league handbook:
3. Withdrawal. Each member reserves the right to withdraw from the Conference. The withdrawing member shall provide written notice at least 90 days before the commencement of a two-year withdrawal period which shall begin on the July 1 after the receipt of the written notice. If written notice is received less than 90 days prior to July 1, then the withdrawal period shall not begin until the next July 1. The withdrawal period may be shortened upon majority vote of the remaining members of the CEO Group. Effective on the date that a member delivers notice of withdrawal, the member’s representative to the CEO Group shall automatically cease to be a member of the CEO Group and shall cease to have the right to vote on any matter before the CEO Group. (6/10)

Each member of the Conference at all times pertinent herein shall have been deemed to have entered into agreements for nine annual football games with the other members of the Conference and shall be guaranteed that those games will be played as scheduled under such schedules as may be adopted by the Conference from time to time and shall continue for the two football seasons after the date of official notification to or from any such member that it shall resign from or its membership shall be otherwise terminated in the Conference, provided the institution maintains its NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision classification. (5/78, 12/85, 1/89, 2/92, 6/05, 8/10)

(note the apparent lack of any financial penalties, just essentially a 2-year notice for anyone who wants out)

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While the NCAA appeal is the most obvious issue, there is another big issue that, if not fixed, could easily create long-term grievances for not only USC, but a couple other Pac-12 programs as well.

If the Pac-12 is really serious about keeping things together, they’re going to have to fix the non-conference scheduling arrangements. Right now there are a couple programs who have actually sold home games, and almost everyone has at some point accepted a home and home arrangement with a non-AQ type team. At some point the administration at USC (UCLA and Washington as well – and Oregon is getting close to that point) is going to ask, “if those guys can’t even get better than a home and home against programs like New Mexico, Houston, or Wyoming, not to mention future Sun Belt member UTSA, or if they only way those guys can put elite teams on the schedule is to sell home games, then why in the world are we giving them home and home deals by being in the same league as them?” And they have a point. USC, UCLA, Washington and (going forward) Oregon would never do a home and home with small-time programs like Wyoming or New Mexico, much less MAC or Sun Belt teams (home and homes with Hawaii are clearly due to the 13th game, though to be honest I think that those are unwise deals).

And it’s not just a pride thing. Home games are a material advantage when it comes to winning (based on my numbers, in 2010 across 1-A home teams were 36-17 [68%] in league games between teams that finished tied in the league standings, and 95-69 [58%] in games between teams who finished within one league win of each other). This means that teams who accept unfavorable scheduling arrangements are costing themselves wins over the long term, which means they’re costing the entire league the prestige that comes from a high non-conference win total (recall the criticism leveled by multiple people against Oregon because they didn’t beat enough “bowl teams” as just one example – in 2010 the Pac-10 was perceived as “down” despite a fantastic winning % against other AQ’s and an overall brutal non-conference schedule, and it’s entirely due to the league’s aggregate non-conference record).

Moreover, the current TV arrangement is to (basically) equally split ALL television revenue, not just from the intra-conference games. If I understand the arrangements correctly, that means that when Colorado sells a home game to Ohio St, they’re taking money away from everyone else by costing the league a television game. Note that my interpretation of the TV policy is based on the following Handbook language:
For any non-Conference football game played within the Conference footprint (defined as the states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona) and not played at the non-Conference opponent’s home stadium, the media rights shall be controlled by the Conference.
which to me implies that the league gets no rights to the check Colorado gets from selling a game to Ohio St, since it’s not a home game, though I could well be missing something

Presuming I’m reading the rules correctly, this is a classic “tragedy of the commons” situation: Colorado takes away from the shared resource (which they only get 1/12 of), but they get to keep the whole check from Ohio St. Ditto for Oregon St and Washington St, both of whom have made similar deals in the past.

And it’s just as much of a problem when, for instance, ASU accepts the utterly insane home and home deal with future Sun Belt member UT-San Antonio (for the record, I think this should have been a firing offense for Lisa Love… but that’s a whole other story). By making that deal, they’re actively costing the league money compared to signing a 3:1 or straight paycheck deal (and, of course, it makes the league as a whole look ridiculous for one of its members to publicly proclaim essentially a Sun Belt team [which has still never played a football game yet] as an equal). And there have been a lot of Pac-12 teams who have made home and home deals with non-AQ’s, so it’s hardly like ASU is the only guilty party here (and it looks like Colorado had such a similarly crazy deal with the MAC earlier this decade too).

As long as the league allows this to continue, USC (and others) will have a legitimate grievance, because they’re contributing an outsize amount to this pot, both in terms of interesting non-conference games (they have the annual game with Notre Dame, and they usually have one other top-notch non-conference game, pretty much always home and home or better) and sheer number of home games (other than the odd situation in 2005 with Virginia Tech, they never sell home games, and frequently buy paycheck games or do other favorable arrangements). Complaints about splitting TV revenue from league games aren’t really fair, but complaints about the TV revenue from non-league games are absolutely reasonable and a major issue.

Either the league needs to mandate rules about making favorable non-conference scheduling arrangements, and institute an absolute ban on selling off home games, or at the very least it’s going to need to separate the equal treatment of league TV revenue (which is fair and reasonable, even if USC etc. don’t really like it) from the treatment of non-conference TV revenue (which is clearly an unfair arrangement as it stands). No one is talking about it today, but eventually this is going to blow up into a major issue, and the league really needs to get on top of it before it becomes a problem. It’s the one clear source of potential long-term conflict inside the league, and everyone (both the programs at the top and everyone else) would benefit if this problem gets solved before it turns into a crisis.

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For clarity’s sake, I’m putting together a list of most of the non-conference games played by the Pac-12 teams, from the ones I’d consider to be “big-time” (home and homes against upper-level AQ’s, favorable deals against halfway decent non-AQ’s or better), to those I’d consider “small-time” (home and homes against any non-AQ’s other than the best few [except for local rivalries], unfavorable deals against anyone) or egregiously small-time (unfavorable deals with non-AQ’s or home and homes against the dregs of 1-A). “Gray area” games that aren’t really big-time or small-time were excluded. I’ve used games for 2005 to 2014, using the following sources:
Howell (historical games)
National Champs.net (future games)

Egregiously Small Time
Arizona St
Home and home with UTSA (after 2015)
Colorado
Home and home with MiamiOH / Toledo (2007, 2009) (based on this link it looks like the original arrangement was a straight home and home, but Toledo replaced MiamiOH for the road game)
Oregon St
Paycheck game at TCU (2010)

Small Time
Arizona
Home and homes with New Mexico (2007, 2008), Nevada (2014, 2015)
Arizona St
Home and homes with New Mexico (2014, 2015)
Cal
Colorado
Paycheck game at Ohio St (2011)
Oregon
Home and homes with Houston (2005, 2007), New Mexico (2010, 2012), Nevada (2011, 2013), Wyoming (2015 and after)
Oregon St
Home and homes with Boise St (before they were really noteworthy) (2004, 2005, 2006 and prior), SD St (2013, 2014)
Paycheck games at LSU (2004), Penn St (2008)
Stanford
Home and homes with Navy (2005, 2006), TCU (before they were really noteworthy) (2007, 2008), Army (2013, 2014)
UCLA
USC
Paycheck game at Virginia Tech (2005) (basically a home game for VT, no return game in LA or even West Coast)
Utah
N/A (it’s not really fair to include the games from when they were still a non-AQ on this list)
Washington
Washington St
Paycheck games at Auburn (2006)
1:2 with Wisconsin (2007, 2014 and after; though Wisconsin will probably cancel the deal and make it a flat paycheck game)
Home and homes with New Mexico (2004 and prior), Nevada (2005 and prior), SD St (2007, 2011), UNLV (2011, 2012)

Big Time
Arizona
Home and homes with LSU (2006 and prior), Wisconsin (2004 and prior), Iowa (2009, 2010)
Arizona St
Home and homes with Iowa (2004), LSU (2005 [hurricane year], 2015, and after), Georgia (2008, 2009), Wisconsin (2010, 2013), Notre Dame (2013 neutral, 2014) Paycheck game against UNLV (2008)
Cal
Home and homes with Tennessee (2006, 2007), Michigan St (2008 and prior), Ohio St (2012, 2013), Texas (2015 and after)
Colorado
Paycheck game against Wyoming (2009)
Home and home with West Virginia (2008, 2009)
Oregon
Home and homes with Oklahoma (2004, 2006), Tennessee (2010, 2013)
2:1 with Fresno (2005, 2006, 2007)
Oregon St
Home and homes with Wisconsin (2011, 2012)
Stanford
Annual home and home with Notre Dame
UCLA
Home and homes with Oklahoma (2005 and prior), Notre Dame (2006, 2007), Tennessee (2008, 2009), Texas (2010, 2011), Nebraska (2012, 2013)
Paycheck games against Rice (2005, 2006, 2012) and San Diego St (2009)
2:1 with San Diego St (2004, 2005 and prior) and Houston (2010, 2011, 2012)
USC
Annual home and home with Notre Dame
Home and homes with Arkansas (2005, 2006), Nebraska (2006, 2007), Ohio St (2008, 2009), Texas A&M (2015 and after)
Washington
Paycheck games against Air Force (2005), Fresno (2006), Boise (2007), Nevada (2012)
Home and homes with Notre Dame (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009), Oklahoma (2006, 2008), Ohio St (2007 and prior), LSU (2009, 2012), Nebraska (2010, 2011)
Washington St

Mr Pac-10's 2010 Blog

Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at cfn_ms@hotmail.com

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