What is the biggest reason USC opted to leave the history and tradition of the Pac 12 for the Big Ten? We will get to that answer in a moment.
Ask a fan of a team who has had success at the G5 level what bothers them the most when it comes to national perception and you will hear something similar whether you are a fan of UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, Boise State and others. It's the national media's constant attitude of looking down at those programs that have had success and with those "they are good but they don't play the same game or the same schedule that challenges you week in and week out"....or "they just don't have the same caliber of player and wouldn't have the same success in one of the big leagues." Then add the fans of the mid level and lower level P5 programs who get insulted when you try and compare your program to theirs. They laugh and tell you "we are in a P5 conference, you are in one of those little leagues no one cares about."
I said years ago when Boise State was rolling and ranked every week and those media elites and some P5 program fan bases would say "well, do it against SEC competition every week" how insane that was. My point was to give Boise State the same media money and allow them over a few years to build the same facilities and recruit at that level and let's see what happens. I believe today, more than ever, that it applies to Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and other top G5 programs that invest in football and have fan bases and facilities that are every bit the equal of most mid and lower level P5s and in some cases bigger media markets that deliver more potential viewers and streaming customers.
What if some of you lower level P5 programs swapped places with those top G5 programs and instead of getting $30-$50M in media money you suddenly got $5-7M? And instead of home and road games in your league at some of the biggest brands in the sport your schedule offered few, if any, games against those big brands? You see the game here?
But when, how and why would any P5 program be swapping places with a G5 program? Well, we may soon find out.
Here's the disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with any of the P5 programs, who may think they are not on the low end of P5s, and all have their history, academic successes, locales and past sports moments that make them unique.
Oregon State and Washington State are great schools with passionate fans and all the things anyone would say about their university. But they may find out very soon what their real value on the open market is. With the news of USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten, Oregon and Washington appear to be hoping a similar invite comes their way. Maybe it will or maybe it won't. But if the Big Ten thought Oregon and Washington were must-haves they would have taken them with USC and UCLA. Oregon's biggest fan, Nike's Phil Knight, reportedly is hoping his Ducks can land in the SEC or Big Ten. Knight knows the Pac 12 is not the same league without the Trojans and Bruins.
In the meantime, the Big XII may be eyeing Pac 12 schools as it seeks to solidify its future. Most observers see the Big XII looking at Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado as well as Utah. The Big XII would take Oregon and Washington in a heartbeat. Would it take Oregon State and Washington State? Uh oh. You see the game here? What if the Big XII takes the two Arizona schools and Colorado and maybe Utah but Oregon and Washington find another home. What happens to the Beavers and Cougars? What if the Big XII is not interested because their media partners tell them Oregon State and Washington State offer little media value and would not increase the conference's media pie? The two schools might have to turn to........a G5 league, perhaps the Mountain West. Not so funny any more, is it? Imagine being in a league with USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington and making $40-45M per year and then you look at a league whose media deal may not pay you $4-5M while a few of those G5 teams(UCF, Cincinnati, Houston) you used to look down at were looking at making $25-40M per year in their new league?
I don't wish Oregon State and Washington State any ill will. I just point them out as an example of a P5 program that doesn't have the same perception when it's not standing in a pack with the brands that have given the Pac 12 its value. Which brings us back to our first question we asked, which was why did USC want to leave the Pac 12?
That gets us to the next stage of where a number of P5 programs are about to learn their value.
USC knew the current Pac 12 media deal was not as good as the SEC and Big Ten and a new Pac 12 media deal will still lag significantly to the new SEC and Big Ten deals. Then add the fact the Trojans have wondered for years why other conference members are getting an equal share of media money when USC has been the leading brand. Fans in Corvallis and Pullman might tell you they offer value, but it ain't the value of what USC brings. Regardless of the Trojans record the last few seasons, it still is the most valuable brand in the league. Oregon has had success for years, but USC still is the leader in media value.
I said years ago the day would come where the largest brands in the sport would start asking the question and we have reached that point. Why do those smaller and less successful schools who rarely compete for titles or lack the support we do get an equal share of our revenue? Why don't we, those who deliver on-field success, big TV ratings and have the largest fan bases- get more of the pie?
The buzz is the ACC, another conference trying to figure out who and what they are, has talked about a revenue model that does not offer equal shares to all but rewards teams for their on-field performance and how they deliver large audiences that bring real value to their media deals. Clemson has to wonder why they don't get a bigger share after a decade of dominance. Alabama and Georgia have to look at Vanderbilt and wonder the same and there are a number of Big Ten schools that haven't competed for a title for decades and simply do not deliver what Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and a few others do.
It used to be the theory that the backbone of a conference was all viewed each other as an equal. That sounded good decades ago but times have changed. If tomorrow Jim Phillips- commissioner of the ACC- told Boston College, Syracuse, Duke and Georgia Tech that in order for the conference to stay in existence they might need to take less media money and see a greater share go to Clemson and potentially others because they generate bigger football ratings and have more success on the field. Would they say no? What other option would they have if Clemson, FSU, Miami and North Carolina could leave if they didn't take less? You see the game here?
Crazy idea? In 2020, the Mountain West voted to give Boise State more money in their media deal. That was related to a new TV deal the league struck that would have eliminated the extra money the Broncos were making in a unique deal with ESPN. Heck, the Pac 12 might be thinking of making the same more money offer to Washington and Oregon and my guess is they are not making that offer to Oregon State and Washington State.
There are low level P5 programs in the ACC, Big Ten, SEC that are nervous these days. Not because they may get kicked out of their league( we will save that one for another day) but because they know there are growing whispers about leagues looking at rewarding its most valuable brands. That would mean you might have to take a little less or maybe a lot less and if you have no leverage you have little argument if you want to stick around.
And that's where some mid-to-low level P5s are about to realize their real value. Some might fight to stay at the P5 level. Others may know they have no choice but to accept less to remain in the party. Everyone acts tough when they stand behind the bigger brand and yet when asked to stand alone the view may be very different. Times are indeed changing in college football and so may the image of some schools that have thought differently of themselves...
Final note: In 1985, the ACC and CBS began a new media deal. The two-year package for the then eight-team league totaled $3.4M- not per team...but total.