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Pac-10 Conference Expansion Reflections: Greed, Naivete & Shot Gun Marriage With Utah

Utah is not in the 12-Pac yet. It seems like the former tennis executive from the East Coast, who doesn't seem to have much of a feel for the West Coast culture in Pac-10, is hell bent on adding Utah into our conference by the end of this week. Over here we have always been excited about adding Colorado to our conference. Not so much about excitement about Utah. It is not going to matter much at this point because business minded CEOs like Larry Scott, who is chasing after the golden goose that is TV market, doesn't seem to be all that concerned about preserving tradition and identity of the conference.

As mentioned last night, what has been really repulsive about the expansion discussion from last few weeks is the overt display of naked greed. We are not naïve. We knew in the back of our mind how college sports is all about the dollars. However, I don't think even the most cynical fan imagined how the power trip of TV networks and conference executives (who don't really care all that much about tradition and integrity of the game) would play out so out in the open. In widely blogged piece, Andy Stapes reported how it was Fox Sports Network that played a pivotal role in keeping the Longhorns in the Big Tex (12-2) conference for now:

In the white paper, Beebe hinted at the possibility of a far more lucrative deal with Fox, which to this point has carried Big 12 games only on its regional cable networks. Though the Big 12's larger ESPN/ABC contract doesn't expire until 2016, the Fox deal is up next year. That allowed Beebe to float the idea of an almost immediate shot of new revenue.

"Conversations with Fox indicate their bullishness about competing in the future for our rights, and they have already made overtures about their willingness to pay exponentially higher rights fees than those in our current agreements," Beebe wrote in the paper. "A primary driver of higher rights fees are competitors for the rights and all information is that there are more serious bidders about to enter the marketplace."

Again note how there is not TV deal in place yet. Once again the move was being made by pure projections and nothing concrete in paper. Like I said last night, the solution doesn't seem to be a viable one. Pat Forde call it "temporary." It sure appears that Texas has been exposed as player, who cannot be trusted. Yet there we were just last week, when so many wanted to jump in and get hitched with the Longhorns, just because of some ridiculous projections of $20 million per school that was leaked to traditional media. Yet it is the same traditional media that is reporting now about how Texas played the Pac-10:

*** Meanwhile, after knowing the terms of the Pac-10's proposal,  the Longhorns change course and ask for something they know they won't get: an unequal share of the superconference revenue and their own network.

(Citing a source close to the Pac-10's expansion negotiations, the Denver Post reported the following:

(In the 11th hour, after months of telling us they understand the TV rights, they're trying to pull a fast one on the verge of sealing the deal in the regents meeting," the source said. "They want a better revenue-sharing deal and their own network. Those were points of principle. ((The Pac-10)) wants to treat everyone fairly. It's been that way for months of discussions.")

*** The Pac-10 responds exactly the way Texas expects: It doesn't budge.

Well, I am glad the Pac-10 didn't budge. Good for Larry Scott. The disturbing question is what made him believe Texas so naively in the first place? The question is why is he in such a freaking hurry to add a desperate Utah program, which will jump into the conference no matter what pathetic deal you offer (and it is not like Utes are so attracting that if Pac-10 doesn't take them they will get pursued by another BCS conference ... they won't).

We sure hope Scott is going to move about these issues in a methodical way that will preserve the identity of our conference by preserving its long standing rivalries, matchups, instead of jumping at the instant gratification of grabbing a second tier TV market.

Going back to Utah, here are the expansion advocates primary arguments to immediately add Utes to the mix:

  • Adding Utah will immediately add more revenues to the conference coffer
  • Adding Utah will give the conference a revenue generating conference championship game
  • The addition needs to happen now because time is not on the Pac-10's side

So let's start with the revenue angle. Jon Wilner from the San Jose Mercury News has been one of the better reporters on this story. He has come up with the most relevant numbers yet concerning a 12-Pac with Utah (emphasis mine):

The 12-team Pac-10 would split into two divisions and hold a football championship game. Although the per-school revenue wouldn't approach the $20 million mark, it would be at least 25 to 30 percent greater than the current annual payout of $8 million to $9 million per school, a source said. (Football championship games alone are worth $12 million to $15 million per year.)

And by adding the television markets from Denver (No. 16) and Salt Lake City (No. 31), the "Pac-12" might have enough TV sets within its geographic footprint to create its own TV network.

So the best information on this to date is coming from some anonymous source who couldn't produce any documents that showed exactly how those revenue projections were made. The report cannot substantiate whether addition of a second tier TV market is necessary for creation of Pac-10's own TV network. Note the tepid use of "might." Don't foget these are the same type sources - read gullible Pac-10 officials - who were getting played by Texas for all these weeks.  Someone tell me why we should trust these naive officials who seems to be envisioning ponies for everyone?

Also, speaking of revenues, I have not seen any number from any UCLA sources about how adding Utah helps our school. I have heard nothing from Dan Guerrerro or Gene Block. From what I see is it looks like, it will be Utah that will benefiting by diluting the conference intake, without brining much to the table except for wagging that second tier TV market, which arguably is more loyal to BYU.  

Second, let's talk about this hypothetical "championship" game? How the heck is it going to work? Raised that question yesterday and still haven't seen any satisfactory answer that tangibly shows that the championship game would generate excitement and be played out infront of packed stadiums. Here is a news flash ACC tried out the championship games too in Jacksonville. So far it has appeared to be total disasters generating as much "excitement" as meaningless NFL exhibition games. Perhaps the will be "fun" in its first year or two but the novelty is going to wear off fast.

Moreover, I strongly suspect a championship game will end up costing the conference with BCS bids. Even with our pathetic TV contracts, we have come tantalizingly close to getting two BCS teams in the past (UCLA in 98 and Cal in 04 immediately come to mind). With a championship game in play, it will give the BCS decision makers a ready make excuse to automatically exclude the second 12-Pac team no matter how deserving it. I don't buy the argument that Pac-10 will get the same treatment as SEC because ... well ... we just don't have a great TV K in place.

Third, there is the classic we must do this now or the world will end argument. It is popping up all over the internets that action needs to be taken now. Over at Utah, the optics are hilariously pathetic:

Air Traffic Control

As Larry Scott was completing his tour of the Southwest, nervous fans from Utah and Kansas anxiously tracked Scott's every move on the web. When Scott's plane submitted flight plans Sunday night for a destination of Kansas City, Ute fans could be heard jumping off the ledge and Kansas fans began to celebrate. Then Scott flinched.

Yuck. So why is that we need to add these guys to our conference now? Someone else will snatch them up? ROFL. Yeah, the Big-10 representatives are rushing down to Salt Lake City! I am sure SEC really wants them!! Oh wait, Big-Tex (12-2) would really love to have them too (even though their conference is built on house of cards). So why does Larry Scott have to be so jumpy to get our conference into a shot gun marriage with these guys? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Yeah, so the time is of essence argument doesn't really work. Those guys will jump whenever we want them to. It can be now or it can be few years from now.

I will end this note on Larry Scott. I appreciate the initiative he has shown in recent weeks. It all sounds nice and refreshing change than the statute we had occupying the commissioner's seat in recent years.I also appreciate that fact that ultimately he didn't budge and give into demands from Texas. However, that doesn't mean that we accept all his moves without questions. So far, he has proven to be very naïve in his dealings with Texas. He still got played and at least in the public forum it appears he didn't realize the interplay among various athletic department cultures tying up Texas schools.

There is no problem that he is going for "it." However, the bottom line here is that he can't just bank on forward thinking ideas, he also needs to execute those ideas while preserving and strengthening the core of our conference. To date neither he or any of the conference officials have provided anything convincing that establishes adding Utah helps strengthening the core of that conference. So if the deal is done by the end of this week without any explanation, color me extremely unimpressed. It will get even uglier, if Scott fails to secure a much better (not just marginally better) TV contract in the coming years .

This discussion should not devolve along a silly "traditionalists" v "expansionists" divide. IMHO that completely misses the point. We are all for progress and making our conference stronger. We just want to make sure it is being done in a sensible way that preserves the core of our conference, and most importantly strengthens and advances the best interest of UCLA.  From what we have read to date, color us unimpressed and unconvinced.