Conference strength has typically run in cycles, and the Pac-12 had better hope that truism remains true because, well, woof. The league went a record-worst 1-8 in bowl games in 2017-18, but in a sad way that’s just a tip of the iceberg.
The league hasn’t had a winning bowl record since 2015, which also happens to be the last time one of its members won a New Year’s Six game. Since Oregon reached the inaugural College Football Playoff title game, the Pac-12 has placed one team in the last four CFP fields — a 2016 Washington team that lost to Alabama 24-7.
The Pac-12 has placed one team in the final AP top-10 in the past two seasons combined — Washington State this past season, who was No. 10.
There are many causes and many solutions to this problem, but the roots are all the same: money. The Pac-12 needs more of it.
According to an internal projection provided to USA Today last year, the Pac-12 will distribute $38 million to its members in 2023 — which sounds incredible if you’re still living in 2010, but is absolutely distressing when you remember the Big Ten distributed $51 million last year. The ACC was previously Conference 5 of the Power 5 leagues, but later this year they’ll launch an ESPN-powered network of their own, just like the SEC, which will become the home of the reigning football national champions and the biggest and best conference in men’s basketball.
“You have to flash back,” Oregon AD told The Oregonian. “Yes, it’s not what we want, that’s for sure. But we did make great progress in this deal. In the old Pac-12 TV deals we were basically on regional TV and our resources were way behind. When this new deal was done it closed the gap both in visibility and in resources, but the gap has widened again. We have to figure out how to close that gap. Resources do matter. We don’t have to have everything that everyone else has but we have to remain in a range that makes us competitive. And right now, we’re drifting out of range.”
The Pac-12 is in preparations to negotiate its next round of Tier 1 TV deals when the $3 billion deal it signed with ESPN and Fox in 2011 expires in 2023-24 — a contract that seemed revolutionary at the time but now seems like (relatively) small potatoes — but then again, everyone else will sign TV deals in the middle of the next decade, too.
Amid the realignment craze of 2010-11, the Pac-12 bet on itself by funding and launching its own TV network, rather than partnering with ESPN (SEC, ACC) or Fox (Big Ten), and that bet has come up snake eyes.
The conference has floated the idea of selling an equity stake in itself, but that’s a short-term fix, not a long-term solution.
So, what is the solution? If anyone out there has it, the Pac-12 offices would love to know.
While we’re at it, two more questions: What happens if and when the Pac-12 truly does drift out of range? And, given the conference’s performance over the past three years, are we sure it hasn’t happened already?