The Hotline mailbag is published every Friday. Send questions to [email protected] or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline.
Please note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.
In the unlikely scenario that the University of California Board of Regents forces UCLA to stay in the conference, do you think the top choice for expansion remains San Diego State? Or is the Southern California location no longer needed for the Pac-12? — @JohnBanister3
What is the percentage likelihood of UCLA not going to the Big Ten? — @SoCal_Pony
Let’s address the second question first, because it has been a hot topic since Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said the Bruins would be better off financially in the Pac-12 than moving to the Big Ten. (That math only starts to work if you make a big assumption, as we laid out on Wednesday.)
The Hotline has always believed the chance of a UCLA reversal, enforced by the regents, is slim. That said, it’s not zero, which makes this an issue worth monitoring.
Much more likely, but still not near 50 percent, is the imposition of a subsidy — a means of UCLA reimbursing Cal for revenue lost because the value of the Pac-12 media contract decreases without a campus in Los Angeles.
Chance of a UCLA reversal: 5-to-10 percent.Chance of a subsidy for Cal: 20-to-25 percent.
The most likely scenario is the UC regents discuss and bluster for a few more months, and the matter fizzles.
We should note that immediately after California Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized the move (in July), one of the Hotline’s most trusted sources speculated that the pushback was a leverage play:
The regents would attempt to hold UCLA’s membership hostage in order to force the Big Ten to take Cal (and Stanford), as well. And we haven’t dismissed that as a possibility, not for a second.
(Imagine how that ploy might be received in Columbus or Ann Arbor?)
The whole situation would have been much cleaner if the Big Ten had taken Stanford and USC — there would have been limited political blowback with two private schools.
But Fox was calling the shots with Big Ten expansion. After all, the league’s media rights are owned by the Big Ten Network, and Fox owns 61 percent of the Big Ten Network.
Our entrenched belief is that Fox wanted to corner the Los Angeles market — to prevent ESPN from grabbing a slice — and therefore arranged for UCLA, not Stanford, to become USC’s partner.
Think about it: UCLA football doesn’t move the needle, and Fox extracted the value of the L.A. market with USC. Why else would it take UCLA, other than to make sure ESPN couldn’t retain a foothold? (UCLA basketball, while additive for programming needs, would have been a secondary consideration.)
Clearly, the media component — what best suited Fox’s needs — was the impetus for the decision.
In the (highly unlikely) event that UCLA remains in the Pac-12, the dynamics change dramatically.
We addressed this several weeks ago, but it’s worth another mention: How would the Big Ten respond to the Bruins being hauled back into the Pac-12?
The simplest move would be to add Stanford.
Or it could offer membership to Stanford and Cal, and perhaps Oregon and Washington, thereby detonating the Pac-12 and freeing up the Bruins to leave unencumbered.
But in the event that UCLA’s move is reversed and the Pac-12 remains standing, the conference would have less reason to invite San Diego State.
Does the College Football Playoff expansion announcement, plus Amazon entering the sports streaming space, cause USC and UCLA to reconsider their move to the Big Ten? Or are they still 100 percent gone? — @LocustAutoX
USC is 6,372 percent gone.
UCLA is 100 percent gone … unless it’s forced to return.
Can the Pac-12 partner with Amazon to carry the Pac-12 Network games next year, like they would a cable provider? — @UtahPuntTeam
Excellent question, because it hits on two worthwhile issues.
First, the Pac-12 Networks have distribution contracts (with Comcast, DISH, etc.) through the 2023-24 academic year — the same timing as the Tier 1 agreements with Fox and ESPN.
The earliest any content currently on the Pac-12 Networks could be distributed elsewhere is the fall of 2024.
And that’s an extremely likely outcome.
As we addressed in a deep dive into the Pac-12 Networks infrastructure, all the cutting-edge technology is fully in place. The conference is capable of producing live events at a low cost for an outside distributor.
It’s hardly unreasonable to think that Amazon or Apple would buy the distribution rights to Pac-12 football and basketball, with the Pac-12 Networks handling the production. But that couldn’t start until the 2024-25 school year.
Arizona is a basketball school. If the Pac-12 and Big 12 offer similar money, why would Arizona choose to remain in the Pac-12? — @Gordon_McP
No doubt, Arizona has different calculations because of the basketball program’s primacy on campus and success nationally. In some respects, including basketball, the Wildcats are more of a Big 12 school than a Pac-12 school.
However, that’s not the only piece to consider.
Academically, Arizona is more aligned with the Pac-12.
Its alumni base is in the Pac-12 footprint.
Its recruiting base is in the Pac-12 footprint.
And its Olympic sports are better off — much better off — in the Pac-12.
Also, the Wildcats aren’t going alone. They would need a partner, and we are not convinced Arizona State, Colorado or Utah wants to join the Big 12.
In our view, the Big 12 is Plan B for all of them, to be acted upon only if remaining in the Pac-12 isn’t viable.
If the Wildcats bolted in rogue fashion, alone, the Pac-12 could replace them with San Diego State and, in some ways, would be no worse for the exchange.
But the broader point — one made frequently on social media over the past two months — is valid: Arizona’s competitive calculation is different because of basketball, and because UCLA is departing.
Do you believe Oregon would sign a Pac-12 grant-of-rights deal that has teeth? — @mlondo856
Kliavkoff addressed that on ‘Canzano and Wilner: The Podcast‘ earlier this week when he said of the remaining schools: “I think (they) will sign a grant-of-rights agreement if we put the right agreement in front of them.”
The right deal for Oregon might not be the right deal for Utah, for example. But generally speaking, we don’t expect Kliavkoff to ask any of the schools to sign away their media rights for the long haul.
In fact, if we had to guess, Kliavkoff’s strategy is the opposite: He wants a short-term deal, one that expires in the summer of 2029, a year before the Big Ten’s agreement concludes.
That would give the Pac-12 a chance to feed at the media trough twice, in between the Big Ten’s meals.
And one more point: The timing of the current deals is precisely the reason the Pac-12 is in this position.
While its schools have been locked into a long-haul Tier 1 deal orchestrated by former commissioner Larry Scott, the Big Ten signed a short-term deal in the late 2010s that allowed its media rights contract to expire in 2023, a year before the Pac-12.
Had the Pac-12’s deal expired first, the L.A. schools would have been locked up and unavailable for the Big Ten.
What have you heard about the Pac-12/ACC merger (or alliance)? It seems there was at least some talk of it. Anything still going on? — Olsens805
Will the Pac-12 switch to eight conference games with this next TV deal? — @CougarboardL
We paired these questions because the answers are connected.
First, any partnership with the ACC would exclude a merger. If the ACC attempts to add members, its media agreement essentially becomes void and schools would leave for other conferences (Clemson and Florida State to the SEC, for example).
If the ACC and Pac-12 were to work together, the most likely outcome would be a scheduling partnership — and that’s the connection to the question about the Pac-12 moving to eight league games.
Kliavkoff and Merton Hanks, the chief of football operations, are researching ways to add value to the Pac-12’s football inventory. One option is a series of games against ACC opponents, perhaps at neutral sites (Los Angeles and Las Vegas).
To create room on the non-conference schedules, which are packed many years into the future, the Pac-12 would drop to eight league games.
The ACC already plays eight and wouldn’t have to change.
LSU got probation for recruiting violations during the COVID dead period. They are different situations (one player, self-reported, fired the one coach), but does that indicate anything for ASU’s possible sanctions? — @chriswaz
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The situations are more different than alike in one crucial regard: With LSU, there was a single assistant accused of, and sanctioned for, violations.
At ASU, numerous members of the coaching staff allegedly are involved, perhaps including the now-former head coach.
In other words, it was systemic in Tempe — and that’s why the NCAA could levy severe sanctions: lack of institutional control, failure to monitor, etc.
And we’d point you to the statement on LSU that was released by the NCAA, which clearly indicates it doesn’t take kindly to violations in the COVID dead period (via ESPN):
“Although the [committee] has encountered more egregious conduct in past cases, the violations in this case represent intentional misconduct that should be of concern to the membership. The COVID-19 recruiting dead period was intended to protect the health and safety of prospects, student-athletes and institutional staff.”
We think the Sun Devils will get walloped.
If Oregon State beats USC on Saturday, do you think the Beavers will crack the AP top-25 poll? Or will they still be “receiving votes”? (Can you sense my sarcasm?) — @OhItsPM
If they win, the Beavers will be ranked.
I guarantee it.
Washington quarterback Michael Penix so far looks like a once-in-a-generation talent. Do you think coach Kalen DeBoer can plug-and-play quarterbacks into his system, like Jake Haener at Fresno State, with similar results? Or is Penix the Washington version of Cam Newton? — @LiveInHothAK
Once-in-a-generation quarterbacks are the Justin Herberts and Andrew Lucks. Penix isn’t that good.
The evidence suggests Penix is a talented quarterback and that DeBoer’s system turns good quarterbacks into extremely efficient quarterbacks.
He did it with Penix at Indiana, with Haener at Fresno State and again with Penix in Seattle.
And we suspect he’ll do it with Penix’s eventual successor.
Can you name the last team to be 3-0 with a victory over the No. 19 team and still not be ranked? — @MattMayhew
I can, and I did.
In our preview of the Week Four action, we addressed Washington State’s unique situation. The lack of respect from voters is next-level stuff.
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