There used to be a time when the news cycle of spring college football was about what new players had arrived, who might be the new quarterback and lots of fan optimism. But these days we spend more time on who is leaving via the transfer portal, how much money does the collective need to acquire and retain players, is your coach on the hot seat and if you did fire your coach who do you want to replace him.
But even those topics take a backseat more often than not to conference media deals, expansion and realignment.
There is no shortage of rumors and plenty of people to spread them.
So let's dive into some of the bigger stories and give a guess to what might happen to the many stories out there:
PAC 12 MEDIA DEAL
I do not want the Pac 12 to dissolve. I don't think it's good for college sports and hope the league stays intact. But will it? I do not know. What I think I know is the many rumors about a new media deal have been all over the place with few real facts out there.
The moment Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark landed a media deal the Pac 12 now had a measuring mark. The Pac 12 decided to wait when there may have been good deals on the table over the last year. It may not have kept USC and UCLA but by waiting until now it finds itself in a spot where current Pac 12 members are waiting for Commissioner George Kliavkoff to deliver a deal that is on par or better than the Big 12 and not be almost exclusively a streaming package.
The new SEC and Big Ten media deals have gobbled up most of the best timeslots on Saturday. The ACC and Big 12 have then been slotted in the Pac 12 is now scrambling.
I still believe they will land a decent media deal that may include ESPN and Apple or Amazon as a streaming partner. The dollar amount may fall just below the Big 12 but I expect the spin to be that if the league reaches certain viewer levels with its streaming partner the total number will be greater than the Big 12. Kliavkoff will want to claim victory over Yormark with a "bigger" deal. Both may end up in the $50M range when you add up the media money with, college football playoff, bowl and NCAA Tournament dollars.
I don't mock the streaming partner for the Pac 12 because streaming is the future. But I am not sure this media deal is the time to have the majority of your content on that platform. College football is about Saturdays and TV channels fans always know where to go to find a game. And yes, Big 12 fans need to know a there are a fair amount of football and basketball games that will air on ESPN+ in the new media deal.
The Pac 12 and every conference needs a partnership with ESPN, unless you are the Big Ten. If you are a partner of theirs, they cover you. If you are not they barely recognize your existence.
So I will call for the Pac 12 to announce a new media deal the week after the Masters and it will be a short five-year deal with ESPN and Apple that will pay between $25-28M per school but promoted with streaming benchmarks to be met that will increase that to more than the Big 12's deal just below $32M per team. I think Apple will want a Friday night game of the week, which I also expect the Big 12 to schedule something similar to get better clearance in a prime time slot. But the question the Pac 12 will have to deal with internally is what do Oregon and Washington do? Do they agree on a deal and commit to stay in the league for at least three years? They both hold out hope a new commissioner in the Big Ten is pro-expansion. And do the Ducks and Huskies try and force a media deal where they get a bigger cut for a longer commitment?
Even with a decent media deal the Pac 12 will have to deal with those two schools and their wandering eyes.
BIG 12 EXPANSION
The Pac 12 media deal will determine if the Big 12 expands. This past week saw presidents of both Arizona and Arizona State publicly comment on a new Pac 12 media deal and their commitment to the conference. Both suggested that even the money in a new deal comes in just below the Big 12, they likely would not leave a league they have been partners with for decades.
I do believe the Pac 12 likes the academic makeup of its league and that will go a long way in their willingness to stick together. But it always comes down to money. And what if the media deal for the Pac 12 is well below the Big 12, say $6-8M less per school. You could argue that is not enough of a difference to leave but $7M over five years is $35M and that pays for a lot of non-revenue sports, new facilities and coaching buyouts.
I do think Yormark has planned to be public about a willingness to expand and has had a few stories put out there to cause a public discussion. But I also think privately, either him or third party individuals have had discussions with media industry experts who are advising Pac 12 schools as well as presidents and athletic directors about what the Big 12 can offer. Why would he not? He wants to move quickly if the Pac 12 media deal falls well short of his. He already knows what he can offer since his media partners have been part of any internal discussion about expansion. Yormark has a list of schools to target and they already know he's waiting if they want to talk.
Ahh, talk. Many from Pac 12 country jumped on the interviews given by both Arizona presidents to bark at Big 12 folks to indicate that no one is leaving and no one has had any talks with the Big 12. Does anyone really believe a sitting president in the Pac 12 would openly talk about any discussions he may have had with the Big 12? They don't need to and Yormark doesn't need them to. But if they didn't listen to Yorkmark, or whoever might be speaking for him, they wouldn't be doing their job, which is to do what's best for their schools.
I know Yormark has openly talked about increasing the value of Big 12 basketball, the best basketball league in the country this season, and he's openly talked about how attractive Gonzaga is. I just don't think it's a priority. While Yormark, if he's still around as commissioner in a decade, may seek to sell basketball rights independent of football, but not now.
For those who say the Big 12 can go after Memphis, South Florida, SMU, San Diego State, Boise State or anyone else in the Mountain West if they want to expand. Why? Those schools will always be available. None of those schools are getting an invite to the SEC, Big Ten or the ACC. The Pac 12 might want SMU and San Diego State but they will always be there as well.
My guess is if the Pac 12 gets a media deal that is favorable and it appears members are content, then I think Yormark stands pat. I do not think he moves to go the G5 route again. If the Pac 12 deal has an out in three years, he can go after the same schools he has targeted currently.
If the Pac 12 deal is well short of the Big 12, Yormark goes full-court press on Arizona and Colorado. He doesn't need to add four. He can add one, two or four. It may take one domino to fall for the Pac 12 to fall. Does Arizona have to come with Arizona State? My guess is likely but who knows. But again, I think there is a very good chance the Pac 12 media deal keeps the league together.
ACC REVENUE DISTRIBUTION
Before we talk unequal revenue payouts in the ACC, I do think the league is not ruling out expansion because it allows the ACC to re-open their media deal with ESPN. Former ESPN boss John Skipper said recently on "The Dan LeBatard Show" podcast that by adding a few Pac 12 schools immediately increases the per team payout because the ACC Network would get more per subscriber by moving into states that currently do not have an ACC school.
Commissioner Jim Phillips has been given the task to find more revenue and expansion is one path. If the conference is holding out for Notre Dame, they will wait a long time. The Irish new media deal with NBC is strong and their affiliation for other sports in the ACC is a model that works and the football scheduling partnerships is valuable for the ACC.
But what if the ACC goes for it an extends an invitation to Stanford and Cal? Oregon and Washington? My guess is Oregon and Washington would not return that call immediately and Stanford and Cal would likely only be interested if they felt the Pac 12 was falling apart. But what about an all-out merger between the ACC and Pac 12? Some think that would lead to a completely new media deal but how much per school? I just don't think ESPN wants a league that big.
Now to unequal revenue distribution with FSU, Clemson and North Carolina athletic directors openly talking about how valuable they are and why they think they deserve more money. They can show all the charts and TV ratings about what they are worth but they still need the votes from others to give them more. If the others vote no where is FSU, Clemson and North Carolina or Miami going? The Big Ten and SEC do not appear to want to grow right now. They have no leverage.
I've written about this before and talked on the show about this. I believe the ACC, and eventually every surviving conference, will have a base payout for every school but then set up a bonus pool based on success on the field and TV ratings. If you think you are worth so much then prove it on the field and on TV. That's how schools will end up getting more. If Clemson was paid more than others when they were winning and playing for national titles, who would argue they weren't worth more.
My call here is the ACC rolls out this model in the coming months. Other leagues will eventually duplicate in the coming years. The ACC will monitor the Pac 12 media deal and perhaps there is an expansion option out there, but I am not sure it's realistic.
The SEC is not the biggest conference in the country(the Big Ten is with more alumns in all 50 states and the biggest media markets) but it is the best football league in the country.
The league adds Texas and Oklahoma for the 2024 season. The media money is incredible. The TV timeslots are desired by everyone else, except maybe the Big Ten. Which means the league's media partners want more conference content than bad non-conference games. While the public debate has been out about what three permanent opponents each team will have, the move to a nine-game conference slate is really the bigger deal.
Eight more conference games is worth a lot more than Furman-South Carolina, La Tech-LSU, Wofford-Georgia. But most SEC schools already have four non-conference games under contract for years to come. Getting out of some games will cost money if you can't move them to a different year. That is why the league may put off the nine-game schedule for a couple of seasons to allow teams to figure out which games to move or buy out from. But make no mistake, a nine-game SEC schedule is coming.
It will be interesting to see how schools approach non-conference scheduling in years to come. There is little to no evidence that the playoff committee has kept an SEC deemed playoff worthy out of the four-team format because of a weak non-conference slate. And with the field expanding to 12 teams, why would SEC teams schedule tough non-conference games. A 10-win SEC team with seven conference wins is likely one of the six at-large teams to make the field, Most football observers think the SEC will get four teams in every year and the strength of the league alone will be the reason. If LSU wins seven or eight conference games it won't need a non-conference win at Michigan to get in, but a loss in Ann Arbor could hurt their cause.
One team to watch if the SEC goes to a nine-game schedule in 2024 is Florida. The Gators have non-conference games under contract with FSU, Miami, Samford and........UCF. If the Gators need to move a game let's be honest they are not touching the FSU game. They are not moving the Miami game and play at Miami in 2025. Which brings us to the bigger question, does Florida drop or move Samford or UCF? AD Scott Stricklin will do what he thinks is best for Florida Football. Would he call UCF AD Terry Mohajir (and I have no knowledge of any conversation)and ask if he's open to moving the 2024 game to 2027 or 2029. Florida already has four non-conference games scheduled for 2025 and 2026. UCF has a few open dates to fill on their non-conference schedule. A game in 2027 might not work for UCF since they are scheduled to play five conference road games this upcoming season. If they play five conference road games in odd numbered years they already have a road game scheduled at North Carolina in 2027 and don't need a seventh road game. The two are scheduled to play in Orlando in 2030 and in Gainesville in 2033. Mohajir actually has a few non-conference games that he has not released for a variety of reasons so there are not that many open dates for UCF in years to come.
The optics of such a move would be a social media volcano. The spin would be justified by one side and laughed at by the other if there is an attempt to move the game in 2024. Maybe Stricklin chooses to move off the Samford game, but the new 16-team SEC will make it even harder to win games and coaches like to win.
Florida is not the only school that will deal with who to play and who to not and who to buyout, but it is an issue SEC schools are already planning for. Stay tuned on this.
Final note: A cucumber is a fruit and has more in common with watermelon that other vegatables.