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September 27, 2012
With major markets spread north and south, far and wide, the Pac-12 conference shouldn't have to play second fiddle to any other major conference, including the seemingly almighty SEC. Here's my easy five-step plan for domination of college football by the Pac-12 conference.
1. Spend the money wisely: By all accounts, the Pac-12's new 12-year TV deals with ESPN and Fox announced in 2011 are worth $3 billion, and along with the birth of the lucrative Pac 12 network in August, should produce a financial bonanza for the conference. Reports of payouts to each of the 12 members approaching $25-$30 million annually (making the total payouts to the 12 schools from all TV deals about $4.3 billion) are closer to the truth than some cynics would like to believe. Why is the Pac-12 able to make a ton of money? The Pac-12 Networks are wholly owned by the conference, meaning a huge financial windfall down the road for the conference.
According to published reports, the Pac-12 networks could distribute, by themselves, $10 million per year per school in a few years when distribution and advertising have been established. That would be in addition to the $20 million or so each school is already receiving from ESPN and Fox contracts. Cha-ching.
Now that the ink is dry, what is the Pac-12's next step? Find innovative ways to spend the newfound wealth. In college athletics, that typically means one thing - facilities. Across the board, we're seeing conference schools do that. Oregon State is building a fantastic new basketball practice facility and plans more upgrades to Reser Stadium. Washington essentially demolished Husky Stadium and rebuilding it from the ground up at a cost of $250 million. Washington State has made major renovations to their football stadium with plans for more.
What's paying for these improvements? The new TV deals, of course. Without a doubt, new facilities will lead to better recruiting locally and nationally (recruiting budgets around the Pac-12 will skyrocket over the next few years) and an improved image throughout the country.
2. Hire, retain and pay great coaches: In addition to improved facilities and expanded recruiting budgets, what happens when schools secure a financial windfall through athletics? Spiraling salaries (also known as "annual guaranteed compensation" in order to distinguish them from the plethora of bonuses coaches earn as well) for head football coaches. According to a recent report in USA Today, six Pac-12 head coaches have crashed through the $2 million per year salary barrier - Arizona State's Todd Graham ($2 million), California's Jeff Tedford ($2.3 million), Oregon's Chip Kelly ($3.5 million), Lane Kiffin ($2.41 million), Washington's Steve Sarkisian ($2.43 million) and Washington State's Mike Leach ($2.3 million) are all being well compensated for their time and effort.
Oregon State's Mike Riley earns $1.413 million annually, but if the Beavers keep winning in 2012, he could see that figure rise rapidly in future years. These figures prove yet again that coaches are often the greatest beneficiaries when schools anticipate dramatically increased revenue from new television agreements. Spiraling salaries will lead to bigger name coaches taking second and third glances. The more zeroes in the paycheck means even greater interest on the part of 'big name' coaches.
Within a short period of time, a couple of years at the most, I expect football coaching salaries in the Pac-12 will rival those in the SEC and Big 12.
3. Recruit, recruit, recruit: Actually, the best way for the Pac-12 to quickly close the gap on the SEC and Big 12 is through recruiting. The Pac-12 did a nice job in 2012 with seven of the top 28 schools in the Rivals.com rankings hailing from the conference compared to 11 of the top 31 teams coming from the SEC, and five of the top 31 representing the Big 12. Really, though, it was a very good year for the Pac-12 and SEC in terms of signing the best high school talent.
However, the gap between the SEC and Pac-12 for 2013 is very wide. Southern Cal is pulverizing the competition locally and nationally with 11 commitments among players in the Rivals 250. According to that player ranking, the top four prospects on the West Coast have all committed to the Trojans. Southern Cal, in fact, has pledges from four of the top 12 players in the country for 2013.
Right now, six of the top 12 schools (eight of top 15 if you want to include No. 14 South Carolina and No. 15 Vanderbilt on the list) in the Rivals.com team rankings are from the SEC. The next Pac-12 school after Southern Cal at No.1? Washington at No. 17. Arizona is No. 22 and UCLA stands at No. 24. Oregon is No. 30, but the Ducks have been hurt by a small class so far (11 commitments, though seven are four-stars).
4. Build superior defenses: What's unusual about the NCAA team rushing defense statistics entering Week 5 of the college football season? Stanford and Oregon State are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in rushing defense. I realize the college football season hasn't reached the midway point yet (and the Beavers have only played two games), but that ranking could represent a watershed moment for the Pac-12. When is the last time the Pac-12 had multiple teams in the top 10 of rushing defense? The Dead Sea Scrolls might contain the answer.
Stopping the run is paramount, of course. But the Pac-12 won't truly become a national power - and a threat to the SEC as college football's top conference - until its teams start popping up on a regular basis among the Top 20 defenses in the country. Last year, California led the Pac-12 in total defense, but they were ranked just 25th in the country behind six SEC schools.
5. Keep Larry Scott as Commissioner: Was it a coincidence that the Big East recently hired a high-ranking TV executive as its new commissioner? No. Since Scott became Pac-12 commissioner in 2009, the league has negotiated multi-billion TV deals, added two schools and mostly raised its media profile around the country. Because of the new TV deals with ESPN and Fox, college football fans in the Eastern Time Zone can actually watch Pac-12 football now on Saturday afternoons and nights.
Scott worked in professional tennis for over a decade and mastered the art of the deal as he negotiated lucrative sponsorship packages. Those business skills proved helpful in gaining greater exposure for the athletic teams in the Pac-12 through bigger and better TV contracts and the creation of the Pac-12 network.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is universally recognized as the top conference chief in the NCAA with the Big Ten's Jim Delaney behind him. Together, Slive and Delaney are generally regarded as the top two power brokers in college football. However, Scott should be joining them at the head table fairly soon as the Pac-12 grows in stature (and gets increasingly wealthier off the TV contracts and Pac-12 network) and becomes more prominent on the national stage.
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