Prior to Thursday, the Pac-12 expected its media rights negotiations to proceed in an orderly manner later this year and lead to a long-awaited jackpot.
Instead, the end of the rainbow will bring only salvation.
The Pac-12 presidents on Tuesday authorized commissioner George Kliavkoff to begin formal discussions with media partners and seek the best possible deal to preserve the conference following the departures of USC and UCLA.
If the options are deemed unsatisfactory, extinction could follow as at least four schools seek membership in the Big 12.
We have no doubt that Kliavkoff will take a bold approach. Remember, the Pac-12 went through this very exercise last summer, when it explored expansion following the SEC’s additions of Texas and Oklahoma.
In fact, the Pac-12 established an expansion committee to evaluate schools based on their competitive, financial and institutional fit. To some extent, the legwork necessary has already been completed.
Two points before we name names:
1. There are no obvious options, no schools that would add significant financial or competitive value.
When the Big 12 expanded last fall following the Pac-12’s decision to not raid the conference, it had four easy answers in BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Houston. The Pac-12 has no equivalents, in part because of the paucity of major college football programs in the western half of the country.
2. The great unknown is whether the 10 remaining presidents and chancellors will consider schools that never would have cleared the bar in prosperous times.
Will they invite universities that were once deemed unfit for membership on academic, religious, geographic or political grounds?
If the presidents are flexible, Kliavkoff has intriguing options as he plunges into valuation discussions with ESPN and Fox.
Now, to our list of potential new members …
San Diego State: The Pac-12 presidents have never considered California State University schools, which are not members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), but it might be time to reconsider.
Long after USC and UCLA are gone, Southern California will remain the heart of Pac-12 recruiting – exposure in the region is vital.
Put another way: San Diego is approximately 90 miles from Mater Dei High School’s campus in Santa Ana, comparable to the distance between South Bend, Indiana, and Chicago; College Station, Texas, and Houston; or Athens, Georgia and Atlanta.
Without the Aztecs, who are building a new football stadium and have a basketball program frequently ranked in the Top 25, the Pac-12 would have no presence within 300 miles of the Los Angeles basin.
There are survival scenarios that do not involve expansion. But if the conference adds members, SDSU should be near the top of the list.
Southern Methodist (SMU): If the conference desires a foothold in Texas, the Mustangs stand as the easiest add. Unlike Houston, they were not invited into the Big 12 and remain in the depleted American Athletic Conference.
SMU carries the obvious religious affiliation and is neither a member of the AAU nor an R1 research school.
Also, this is the worst possible time to welcome Texas politics into the conference given developments following the Roe vs. Wade ruling.
The Mustangs, however, have an endowment in excess of $1 billion and are No. 68 in the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of national universities – higher than every remaining school in the Pac-12 except Stanford, Cal and Washington. (That’s impressive academic prowess.)
If Kliavkoff wants to sell the presidents and TV partners on something bold, a move into the heart of Big 12 country is the obvious answer.
Fresno State, Boise State or UNLV: Any of these Mountain West schools could be added in tandem with San Diego State, although it’s easy to imagine how that would be received on many Pac-12 campuses.
None of them add media value or clear the traditional academic bar, and UNLV has one of the worst football programs in captivity. But when you aren’t operating from a position of strength, standards must change.
With regard to Fresno State, we’ll say this:
California’s Central Valley is home to 6.5 million people – it’s the equivalent of Seattle and Portland combined – and a good portion of them are Bulldogs fans.
Gonzaga: This is the boldest stroke available to Kliavkoff, albeit one that does not involve football and thus carries limited media rights value. (Then again, there aren’t any football options with significant media right value.)
Snatching the Zags from the West Coast Conference – as a basketball-only member – would give the Pac-12 instant credibility and a reasonable competitive response to UCLA’s departure.
If the conference opted to expand its basketball offerings, it could also attempt to poach Saint Mary’s.
Then again, every school in the Pacific Northwest might object to adding the Zags. If there’s a tiger prowling in your backyard, why let it inside the house?
That’s our list, folks. If you’re a bit underwhelmed, the Hotline suggests you spend some time with a map.
The Pac-12 passed on the best B-list option, Houston, last summer, and there hasn’t been an A-lister available since the fall of 2011, when the presidents turned down Oklahoma.
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