Thursday, November 2, 2023

The PAC 12: Going, Going, Gone

College Football traditions are disintegrating.

In 2025 the Oregon Ducks will play Indiana, Minnesota, USC, Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, Rutgers, and Wisconsin. 

But not Oregon State. 
2022 "Civil War" Oregon v. Oregon State game. Photograph from OSU athletic department.

Let's take a break from political competition for a day. More people care more about college football than about politics, at least at this point in the political season. Nine million people watched some part of the 2nd GOP debate. Eleven million people watched just two of the dozens of televised college football games last week. (FYI: Georgia beat Florida 43-20. Ohio State beat Wisconsin 24-10.) 

Jack Mullen was a multi-sport letterman for the Medford High Black Tornados. In elementary and junior high he practiced high jumps with Dick Fosbury, who became the Gold Medalist who re-invented the high jump. As high school quarterback Mullen played alongside Bill Enyart, who became an All American fullback at Oregon State, then played for the Buffalo Bills. Jack Mullen follows sports and politics from his home in Washington, D.C.

Jack Mullen with wife Jennifer Angelo

Guest Post by Jack Mullen

Last Saturday a sad tear dropped in the eye on all fans and alumni of Pac-12 football. None of the teams that played classic games on October 29, mostly in front of capacity crowds in storied stadiums, will ever meet again as part of the Pac-12, the “Conference of Champions.” The Pac-12 served the nation the following games last weekend.

Oregon 34 - Utah 6
Quarterback Bo Nix quieted the sold-out Utah crowd with a Heisman worthy performance.

USC 50 – Cal 49

Fans from Southern California and the Bay area enjoyed the final game between these two schools. Strawberry Canyon in Berkeley may be the most perfect setting for a college football game in the country. Cal almost upset Mighty SC as the sun set over the Golden Gate.

UCLA 28 – Colorado 16
ABC prime time viewing hit the roof as the nation was treated to an early Rose Bowl treat. Coach “Prime Time” Deion Sanders’ took his Buffalos to LaLa Land against UCLA. UCLA’s defense never looked better in defeating the Buffalos.

Washington 42 – Stanford 33

A dropped Stanford pass in a perfectly designed play meant the #5-nationally-ranked Huskies avoided being upset down on Leland Stanford’s Farm.

Arizona State 38 – Washington State 27
One of the intriguing parts of the Pac-12 is the geographic settings and climatic diversity of the member institutions. Unfortunately, Pacific Northwest teams seem to die in a Bermuda-type Triangle in the Arizona desert. The Cougs should never have lost to the Sun Devils, but hey, such is life in the Pac-12.

Arizona 27 – Oregon State 24
A devastating defeat for the Beavers as they too got lost in that Arizona Bermuda Triangle, this time in Tucson. Oregon State fans dream that the Beavers finish strong and play in one of the New Year’s Day Six Bowls (Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl). Oregon State faces a 2024 season as a remaining member in the Pac-2.

What caused the demise of the Pac-12,  leaving the Beavers and Cougars to fend for themselves?

Cause Number One: Inattentive college presidents.

The turnover of university presidents in the Pac-12 has been unusually high in the last few years. No doubt new presidents have a full plate and spend limited time on college athletics. Most felt secure that the Pac-12 commissioners, selected by previous presidents, were up to the job. Bad mistake.

Cause Number Two: Pac-12 Commissioners.
Unlike the Commissioners of the other Power Five Athletic Conferences, the last two Pac-12 commissioners came from non-football backgrounds. Larry Scott was an elitist whose only athletic background was with women’s professional tennis. If he attended a college football game at all, he’d fly to the stadium in his private plane and leave at halftime.

Scott’s successor, George Kliavkoff, had a strong media background, but dithered as he failed to keep the university presidents up to date with his negotiations with ESPN and various streaming services. The new and inexperienced university presidents seemed perplexed if and when they ever engaged.

Cause Number Three: TV Networks declining incomes.
Weekend football games are cash cows for television networks. While the NFL is the top product, college football is a close second.

Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC have gobbled up the two top conferences, the SEC and Big Ten, along with the ACC, to long-term contracts. ESPN was pretty much left to choose between the Big 12 and the Pac-10 (USC and UCLA had already left for the Big Ten) to round out its contracting of televising major college football.

Brett Yormark is a football man through and through and as commissioner of the Big 12, Yorkmark went on the airwaves and trashed George Kliavkoff for negotiating with streaming services like Apple to televise Pac-10 games. Kliavkoff pitched school presidents that streaming was the future for televising football which left ESPN wondering what was up. Yorkmark said the Big 12 would accept a $31.5 million offer from ESPN. Kliavkoff told his university president Apple could only offer $23 million per school.

Angrily, the university presidents, feeling far superior to the Big 12, overbid, some say at $50 million per school to ESPN. An insulted ESPN cut off negotiations with the Pac-10 conference.

The money grab that first started with USC and UCLA defecting to the Big Ten for $71 million per school, ended with Cal and Stanford accepting a measly $23 million from the ACC. The Big Ten offered Oregon and Washington $31 million to join, while the two Arizona schools with Utah and Colorado went to the Big 12 for $31 million per school. Meanwhile, Oregon State and Washington State are left in the wilderness. Aren’t we all.

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Woke Guy :-) said...

The Pac12 ending is such a huge bummer. Jack Mullen is definitely correct that the Pac12 commissioner Kliavkoff deserves alot of the blame, as well as former commissioner Scott, but I'd say if anything he's undersellinh what a monumentally BAD job these 2 guys did. Kliavkoff botching the new TV rights negotiation is an all time fuck up. He will be lucky to ever get another job, I personally wouldn't hire him as a minute market cashier.

One point that Mr. Mullen somewhat skipped over is that USC and UCLA chose to leave *after* it became crystal clear that Kliavkoff was going to be getting a TV rights deal that would be paying them 20-40 million LESS than schools of equivalent size, prominence and importance in other leagues. As soon as that happened, it was immediately obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense that Washington and Oregon would leave too, since the loss of the LA schools would only make the TV deal less enticing.

It's all about greed and getting the most money at all times, but bigger picture it's about the fact that the NCAA is an absolute disgrace. After FIFA (soccer) it is almost certainly the 2nd most corrupt sports entity on the planet and has done a remarkably poor job of managing college athletics in a way that makes sense to anybody.

Here's what does make sense: have footballer be separate from all the other sports. The Pac12 stays togetherness for all sports except football. This would work really well in several ways:

Football is uniquely suited among sports to be in a more geographically diverse area because they only play ONE game a week, so traveling across the country to Rutgers isn't as big a deal as it is for a volleyball or baseball who has 3-4 games a week. The idea that a student could be a student and play a sport with that kind of travel demands is literally crazy.

Also there's already a major school that does EXACTLY what I just laid out: Notre Dame!

At Notre Dame, all their sports EXCEPT football are in the ACC conference, which is where they should be for geographic reasons. The football team is independent and sets a schedule that involves opponents from many conferences. It's so obvious a solution that the NCAA will never do it alas.

RIP Pac12.

Mike Steely said...

I hope this doesn't have too negative an impact on higher education.

Dave said...

Nice summary, but the Bill Enyart description was incomplete as he was the fullback for the Buffalo Bills blocking for a guy named O J Simpson who rushed for over 2,000 yards. He had earthquake attached to his name. I have fond memories of watching a jv basketball game at Hendricks junior high and Bill sitting with about six of us kids.

Ed Cooper said...

I was only at Medford for the last half if Hugh School, but did know Bill Enyart, as a gentle soul and one if the nicest people in that very large school, not at all what a lot of Jocks were , and Jack Mullin was much like Bill.

Jonah Rochette said...

True that the main culprit for all this football conference chaos is Greed, but the broadcast (and streaming) networks seem to be bullies--what if the schools banded together ( put competition aside) and enforced a sensible solution (like separating football)?
Having said that, two factors that have always worked against the PAC-12 are population, and time zones. With so many major markets on the eastern side of the country, of course the networks are going to favor that area. And with east coast games starting 1 to 3 hours earlier each Saturday, most of the viewing energy is gone from the balloon by the time the Ducks and the Beavers tee it up.

Anonymous said...

Jack thanks for this summary. I haven’t kept up on the detail but the results are tragic. I still remember when it was PAC 10. To not look forward to those inner-state rivalries is a huge loss for the fans in Oregon (and the other states as well). So much will be lost for the sake of $$. Very sad. Gary.