The chances of expansion, and contraction

The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to pac12hotline@bayareanewsgroup.com or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline. Due to volume — and in some cases, the need for research — not all questions will be answered the week of submission. Thanks for your understanding.

Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.


Is there any possibility the Pac-12 may expand past the 12 teams? — @cool_brezze

On the opposite of expansion, could you envision the conference improving revenue distribution via contraction instead? It might be the best way to significantly improve per-team revenue by cutting out weaker links with less TV appeal. — @TJAltimore

Last week, we addressed the possibility of four Pac-12 schools leaving the conference for the Big Ten, so let’s start with two other realignment options:

bringing schools into the fold; and expelling longtime members.

From here, it’s clear the Pac-12 would only expand if new members could increase media value for the collective and maintain, or improve, the league’s competitive position.

Commissioner George Kliavkoff and his team dove into the topic last summer and concluded the best move was no move.

None of the schools in the reconfigured Big 12 or in the current Mountain West met the barrier for entry.

Texas and Oklahoma were the only college football brands big enough to substantially improve the Pac-12’s strategic and financial position. Once they agreed to join the SEC, the Pac-12 was left staring at the status quo.

We wouldn’t dare ignore the potential for the conference to revisit expansion in the future. (In our view, Houston should be the No. 1 option.)

But it appears there will be 12 schools, not 14 or 16, when the conference agrees to a new media rights deal sometime next year.

And that means no contraction, either.

I assume your reference to “weaker links with less TV appeal” means Washington State and Oregon State — the schools often cited by fans when this topic surfaces on social media.

Well, we have news for you: The majority of schools have little or zero appeal to media partners.

ESPN and Fox and other media networks interested in Pac-12 content want the rights to show USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington and perhaps Utah. The remaining teams simply provide the inventory, the games.

(What about Arizona men’s basketball? Well, football accounts for approximately 90 cents of every media dollar spent on the Pac-12. Basketball barely moves the needle.)

There are other factors within the contraction discussion, starting with the unseemly nature of institutions of higher education booting members with shared academic missions — all in the name of athletic dollars.

In an extreme situation, any move to expulsion would require a super-majority vote of the presidents, and those from the low-revenue schools would undoubtedly block the vote.

Also, be mindful of the political considerations.

Attempts to separate WSU from Washington would be taken up in Olympia, while a similar pursuit in Oregon would end up in Salem.

In California, a move to detach UCLA from Cal would undoubtedly involve the Board of Regents, since the schools are part of the same university system. (Arizona and ASU also share a Board of Regents, for what it’s worth.)

Is there historical precedent for expelling members? yes and no

The Pacific Coast Conference pursued a version of contraction in the late 1950s, when a handful of schools essentially broke off and formed their own league—a league that eventually became the Pac-8.

However, we are not aware of contraction at the major conference level in the modern era.

Yes, there have been cases of reorganization. The Mountain West is the result of a massive, stealth re-org (from the old Western Athletic Conference).

But what would the Pac-12 morph into? If you want the media dollars, you need game inventory. There’s no place for a six- or eight-team conference on the current landscape.

So back to the original questions…

We cannot fathom contraction.

We do not foresee expansion.

And we do not expect voluntary departures.

While a handful of schools bolting for the Big Ten remains the likeliest of the three scenarios, it’s still not very likely.


If non-conference games are not taken into consideration in determining which teams play in the Pac-12 championship, doesn’t mean this more scheduling like UCLA’s 2022 slate (Bowling Green, South Alabama, Alabama State) and a diminishing of the Pac- 12’s media inventory? — Jon Joseph

Before offering our perspective, it’s essential to note that UCLA was scheduled to play Michigan this season in the Big House — until the Wolverines canceled the home-and-home series a few years ago.

At that point, the Bruins had to scramble to find a game and, lacking a viable Power Five opponent, opted for dates with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. (They will play North Carolina Central in 2023.)

More broadly, we don’t expect Pac-12 teams to follow the path to Creampuff City because of economic considerations: fans are more likely to buy tickets for high-level competition.

(SEC schools can schedule FCS opponents and still sell 80,000 tickets; Pac-12 schools cannot.)

Also, most Pac-12 programs have filled their non-conference schedules for years to come — and the lineups include plenty of Power Five opponents.

Remember, the restructured process for determining which teams participate in the Pac-12 championship is merely a four-year bridge.

Assuming the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams in the 2026 season, the conference will re-examine everything about the schedule.


Could you see the Pac-12 Network partnering with one of the streaming services and still be able to provide better service across all sports? — @seataz2000

The Pac-12 Networks have several streaming partners, including Fubo and Sling, and we expect those to remain in place for two more years.

Everything changes when the Pac-12’s next media rights cycle begins in the summer of 2024.

Our best guess is the Pac-12 Networks won’t exist as a linear (cable TV) platform but, rather, will become a streaming-only service owned and operated by the conference.

The content on a streaming-only Pac-12 Networks would focus on Olympic sports, with football and men’s basketball games available on the likes of Fox and ESPN.

That isn’t the only option, however.

The Pac-12 Networks could be consumed by a major media company and function in much the same way as the Big Ten Network, which is owned by Fox and shows a mix of football, basketball and Olympic sports.

The Pac-12 had a chance to enter into a similar agreement with ESPN a few years ago but declined the offer.


Other than blocking the 12-team playoff, does the Alliance going forward serve any function that benefits the Pac-12? — @TerryTerry79

First, I would argue (and have) that the alliance is already a success at the most fundamental level: It contained realignment to the SEC and Big 12.

Once the presidents of the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten pledged stability, the sport avoided devastating upheaval.

The partnership seemingly played a role in the College Football Playoff debate, as well.

Although the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 had different reasons for voting against expansion, it appears the alliance created a level of trust and communication among commissioners that, in subtle fashion, helped bring the process to a halt.

The only thing left for the alliance to accomplish, in our view, is a scheduling agreement that would create new inventory for the conferences to dangle in front of their media partners.

But that piece is amorphous. The leagues already have games scheduled against each other — and against the SEC and Big 12.

Also, there is no room in the Big Ten’s schedule for a dedicated intersectional series.


Just how big of a disaster was Larry Scott? — @JonJaco06054241

I will state here exactly what has been offered in this space previously:

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