17 August, 2023
This forthcoming cycle of league realignment is more unclear than the previous one in several ways. At least the first time, which was earlier this month, we knew who was involved, where the money was going, and who was dispersing it.
As the four surviving Pac-12 schools try to determine where they will play in 2024, take into account this rarity: Money is not now a top priority for California, Stanford, Oregon State, or Washington State.
In fact, Power Five schools are guaranteed to lose money by switching conferences for what may be the first time in realignment. That is a result of the Pac-12 practically collapsing and the Pac-4’s remaining alternatives being restricted.
Finding a conference to call home in 2024 is currently the top priority. Compared to the $21 million they are expected to make in the final year of the Pac-12 contract, Oregon State and Washington State are obviously of little worth. No matter where they end up, it is almost certain that they won’t match that amount.
Both the Mountain West and American are vying for any Pac-4 combination. With three years left on its contract with CBS and Fox, the MWC will be paying schools about $4 million in television rights annually. The AAC’s agreement with ESPN has 10 years left to run and pays about $7 million per institution.
Both times, the conferences’ rights holders would need to contact their affiliates again to request more subscription money.
Although Stanford and probably Cal have a little more juice than the others, it’s unlikely that rightsholders will demand significantly higher prices for those four brands. The Bay Area schools narrowly missed joining the ACC last week, where a full media rights share is close to $40 million yearly, by one vote. (It’s probable that Stanford and Cal would have received less than the entire share each year if they had been approved.)
What then is the top priority today? Branding. Because of this, starting in 2024, the 34 teams that make up the Big Ten and SEC will (arguably) have some of the strongest rivalries in sports.
This emphasizes claims made inside the sector that realignment has attained a certain level of critical mass. It’s over for the time being but not necessarily forever.
According to industry insiders, neither conference is really interested in adding schools like Clemson, Florida State, etc. Not that such mobility would be permitted by the ACC’s ostensibly “ironclad” transfer of rights agreement.
When compared to how such schools see themselves, that speaks a lot about the reality of the market.
Down the food chain, surviving becomes more important than making a lot of money.
Even if Oregon State and Washington State are admitted to the Mountain West for the existing $5 million fee, CBS and/or Fox would still have to fork up an additional $10 million annually.
(It is questionable whether the Pac-4 adds value to already-existing rightsholders in the MWC, the Group of Five conference that presently has the majority of the market. If the league might need to work with a streaming partner like Apple to close an agreement, MWC sources declined to comment.)
The truth is that those institutions will have to make significant budget sacrifices in order to remain in the FBS, regardless of how realignment shakes out. There is currently a $11.5 million annual athletic deficit at Washington State. Even Cal, which might be able to join the ACC if the weather changes, needs enormous institutional support for athletics and must pay off its annual stadium debt.
In America, where colleges currently make a little more money with ESPN as a partner, the scenario may be different. Realignment offers ESPN the chance to secure additional games in the fourth broadcast window (10 p.m. ET or later), despite several stories about cost-cutting. Although Arizona and Arizona State brought some of those windows with them to the Big 12, it has seen that inventory diminish with the demise of the Pac-12.
Would several extra games featuring Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State be worth the extra cost? Not quite a murderer’s row, though.
It is now appropriate to question whether or not rightsholders are just exhausted. Networks are now compelled to consider the bottom line due to a reckless restructuring and budgetary constraints.
Media rights for the Big Ten and SEC have increased at a compound annual rate of 10% over the past 30 years. The Pac-12 has spent the past year accepting that a linear partner would not compete with it.
All of this in no way implies that a home won’t be found for the remaining Pac-4. It is meant to imply that media rights are at their lowest position ever, to the point where colleges may for the first time have to lower their revenue in order to survive during realignment.
Stanford will have to face some consequences if the ACC doesn’t end up being a suitable landing site.
It is one of the most esteemed colleges in the entire world. A broad-based sports department that extols the athletic/academic ideal is a significant contributor to this. But does it place enough value on winning big sports championships? More people inside the department than those outside have posed such query.
Stanford, Cal, and the ACC still seem to have some mutual interest. However, sources informed CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander that the Bay Area institutions were only one vote away from joining the league last week. Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, and NC State abstained from voting in favor of ACC expansion, which needed the support of 12 out of the 15 presidents.
Many people are aware of the irony that Stanford and Cal are attempting to join the ACC and remain competitive in football and basketball by leveraging their renowned academic reputations.
Either that, or compete against groups like San Jose State, Fresno State, UTSA, East Carolina, and FAU in the same conference. Of course, I have nothing against those institutions from the MWC and AAC.
That forces Stanford to make a significant decision about whether to transfer one of the most recognizable higher education brands in the world to a Group of Five conference, wait it out with the ACC, or perhaps even pursue independence in football.
It shouldn’t be a huge problem, in a way. Currently, Stanford’s numerous teams participate in five separate conferences.
However, there are explanations for why Stanford wasn’t transferred to the ACC or Big Ten. The Bay Area market was not seen by the latter as a sufficiently relevant media market. Due to this, both schools had to run, regardless of the absurdity of their location. Stanford and Cal were just not given their fair portion of ACC income because Clemson, FSU, and Miami, among others, complained about it. Additionally, the shortest driving journey for both ACC schools would be 3,100 miles.
The only option left for Stanford and Cal to compete for championships may be to join the American or Mountain West conferences. Or you could choose to become independent. That raises the question of whether Stanford would be more like Notre Dame or BYU as an independent.
The Fighting Irish have established a name for themselves around the world, and Notre Dame’s identity is its independence. Before entering the Big 12, BYU experimented with independence for 12 years, sacrificing a significant portion of its visibility on the national scene.
While ACC commissioner Jim Phillips should be commended for embracing the “cultural” fit of the Bay Area institutions, it’s not like the conference requested transcripts when Stanford and Cal came calling. In fact, six of the conference’s 15 programs are members of the esteemed American Association of Universities.
The ‘Pac-12’ as it stands might find a way to survive. For a league that is nearing the end, there are still important problems to be resolved, according to sources.
If all four schools remain in the Pac-4 or join another conference, it might have major implications from a semantic standpoint. Who exactly is the owner of the name “Pac-12″? Can the brand lose its independent status if it does continue to exist as a part of a modified league?
According to the NCAA’s statutes, a conference must consist of eight teams (there is a two-year grace period).
Could the Pac-4 keep its NCAA autonomous status if it could get four schools from another league to join them? Its ineligibility for the NCAA Tournament? A big conference’s inclusion in the College Football Playoff?
One source advised considering the CFP’s limited liability features. The Pac-12 continues to belong to that LLC.
In addition, the Pac-12 Network infrastructure and $13 to $15 million in basketball units accumulated over previous NCAA Tournaments are a problem. Then there is the not so little matter of the Pac-12 owing Comcast $50 million as a result of overpayments. That will affect the final result.
So many issues are still open.
A FBS conference effectively losing three-quarters of its membership was never considered. It’s all new,” a source pushing to keep the Pac-12 alive claimed.