A couple of must wins for Washington State coming up. As big as they come.
The Oregon game on Homecoming Saturday? Oh, no, the Cougs don’t have a prayer, unless a Pac-10 replay official is manning the security X-ray at the Eugene airport. Same for the Arizona game on Dad’s Day. No, you can write those off now.
But the meetings of the conference’s athletic directors today and Thursday, and presidents and chancellors on Oct. 21 in San Francisco?
“If I’m at Washington State for the next 10 years,” said athletic director Bill Moos, “this may be the most important juncture we face in that decade.”
This is the launch of the Pac-12, with newbies Colorado and Utah set to join the league in 2011, and in the next two weeks the conference must decide how to divvy up television revenue, how to align itself into two divisions and where – at least for the time being – it will stage its championship game.
Nothing will be settled this week. That will be left, as it should be, to the CEOs. But the ADs may come to a consensus on a recommendation, or at least narrow the options for their bosses.
“In the Big Ten’s conversations on the same topic, there was a lot of head-butting among the ADs,” Moos said, “much like we’re having. But in the end, their presidents came through and said there should be equal stakeholders in the sharing of revenue.”
The divisional split is the sexier issue – it’s more about competition than accounting. But if it’s not an afterthought to Moos, it’s a secondary concern – as long as the revenue issue breaks Wazzu’s way.
“It’s been grossly out of whack,” Moos said. “Even USC and UCLA will admit to that.”
But that’s about all they’d admit.
The unequal sharing of TV revenue is stark – the participants in any televised game split 64 percent of the money, with the other eight collecting just 4.5 percent each. Moos also outlined a policy that dates back to 1964 – that in a network TV game that reaches 51 percent of the country or more, the participants share 55 percent of that more lucrative take.
“I was the AD at Oregon for 12 years, and during that time we were the winningest program in the Pac-10,” he said. “We had one of those national games. USC averaged four a year.”
That’s why the Trojans have made $80 million in TV revenue since 1997 – while the Cougars banked $45 million.
“Granted, they bring the big market and the star power,” Moos said. “But these aren’t the Johnny McKay days.”
And that goes for the vote, too. In the Pac-10, eight votes were always needed to change revenue policies, and the two Los Angeles schools could always count on Washington – with its hefty budget surplus – to vote for the status quo. But now Huskies AD Scott Woodward has come around for equal sharing – UW is, after all, trying to fund a $250 million renovation of its stadium. Other schools face their own crises. Oregon State is running a $5.9 million athletics deficit. California just dropped baseball.
Even Oregon is siphoning $19 million from the “Legacy Fund” established by moneybags shoemaker Phil Knight to cover construction costs and interest debt on its $227 million basketball arena.
The two new members will naturally want a bigger slice. And now a 9-3 vote in the Pac-12 will carry the day for change. Perhaps the presidents will vote for a graduated adjustment of the revenue split – but the feeling is, they’ll appreciate the way it’s done in the Big Ten and SEC, and realize the problems unequal distributions have caused in the Big 12.
If that’s the case, then Moos can live with just about whatever the league decides on divisional alignment. His preference, of course, is having the Bay Area and Northwest teams together. The so-called “zipper” plans – which split the geographic rivals into different divisions though ensuring they’ll play each other – have apparently been disdained by commissioner Larry Scott as too confusing. Scott is also wary of a neutral-site title game being able to sell out in the beginning.
But what’s that to the Cougars right now?
“I’ve got an aggressive agenda in regard to facility enhancements, getting recruiting up to par and attracting top talent,” Moos said. “To pay for those things, we have to create revenue streams – and this could net us $10-15 million. With a budget of $30 million, that’s a significant bump.”
And if there isn’t a significant bump, the Cougars will be back to climbing a significant mountain.