Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 85° Partly Cloudy
Sports >  NCAA football

Pac-12 stock report: The voting value of an alliance; chief threat to the season; positive poll position

Aug. 21, 2021 Updated Sat., Aug. 21, 2021 at 8:30 p.m.

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Commentary on Pac-12 developments off the field …

Rising: Pac-12 alliance options.

A few weeks ago, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff met with his counterpart in the Big 12 to discuss a potential partnership and the state of affairs in major college sports.

Then came reports of Kliavkoff meeting with the commissioners of the ACC and Big Ten about a possible alliance.

Add those to whatever discussions with college sports stakeholders have not been made public, and Kliavkoff is staying true to his commitment to consider any and all options.

But will anything come of these conversations?

The Hotline has yet to discover a prosperous path with the remaining teams in the Big 12, but there are two apparent options with the ACC and Big Ten.

It might be easier to consider them in buckets:

— The cash bucket.

The challenge for Kliavkoff is to find ways to increase the value of the Pac-12 media rights without increasing the size of the conference, since no obvious expansion options exist.

A scheduling alliance featuring annual cross-conference matchups — perhaps with a flex component to create the best matchups based on preseason rankings — could potentially be attractive to one of the major networks.

But this piece is potentially complicated by media contracts: Fox currently owns the rights to Big Ten and Pac-12 football inventory but not to the ACC, which is wholly tied to ESPN into the 2030s.

— The voting bucket.

In our opinion, this is the most significant component to any tripartite alliance, at least in the near term.

There is growing concern within the sport that power is consolidating around the SEC and, by extension, ESPN.

The network will own the rights to all SEC games starting in a few years and wants to become the sole owner of the expanded, 12-team College Football Playoff, as well.

As we outlined weeks ago, ESPN ownership of every SEC game and every CFP game is potentially bad news for everyone else, because it could limit the resources other networks are willing to plow into the sport.

With a playoff format resembling the NFL model, college football would be better off with a postseason broadcasting arrangement that also mirrors the NFL’s model: The four major networks share the early rounds, and the Super Bowl rotates across FOX, CBS and NBC.

A comparable approach for the CFP would create competition for the broadcast rights and drive up the price.

It would also give the likes of CBS, Fox and NBC (and possibly others) more reason to invest in the sport’s regular season, thereby countering the growing hegemony of ESPN and the SEC.

The problem is timing: If the playoff expands prior to the 2026 season, ESPN would have exclusive negotiating rights.

And that, folks, is where an alliance could have its greatest impact — as a voting bloc in the CFP expansion strategy.

Falling: Chances of an uninterrupted season.

Breaking news from Reno on Tuesday evening provided a stark reminder of what might be the Pac-12’s chief challenge this season.

According to an ESPN report, Nevada will relocate its training camp to Stanford because of the smoke from the massive Dixie Fire in Northern California — the same smoke that has darkened skies as far away as Salt Lake City.

The greatest single threat to the Pac-12 season might be air quality, not airborne transmission — wildfires, not COVID.

Recall the devastating situation last September, when smoke would have forced cancellations along the West Coast if the teams hadn’t already been shut down for COVID.

Rising: Pac-12 poll position.

The AP preseason poll was released Monday and included five teams from the Pac-12. That’s not a record, but it’s as many as the SEC and two more teams than were featured in the Coaches poll.

The preseason rankings aren’t significant, but they aren’t meaningless, either.

They help establish expectations — the same expectations that impact whether coaches are hired, fired or granted extensions after the season.

They help set a foundation for ascending the top-25 polls once the season begins. It’s far easier to reach the top 10 — and become more attractive for national TV broadcasts — if you start in the high teens or low 20s, rather than being unranked.

And while we lack hard evidence on this point, it stands to reason that the polls carry some level of influence (perhaps subconscious) on the playoff selection committee’s initial rankings.

So the preseason polls seemingly have some impact. And the Pac-12 couldn’t have hoped for much more from the AP voters, a group of 63 media members that includes yours truly.

In the interest of transparency, here are the rankings for Pac-12 teams in the AP preseason rankings and their placement on my AP ballot:

Oregon: No. 11 AP/No. 11 my ballot

USC: No. 15/No. 20 my ballot

Washington: No. 20/No. 22 my ballot

Utah: No. 24/No. 16 my ballot

Arizona State: No. 25 AP/No. 13 my ballot

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.