6 min read

A Prisoner's Dilemma

A Prisoner's Dilemma

Last night, Jeff graced us plenty of tweets meme-ing the above photo of new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark after word broke that the Big 12 had said "nah fam we good" to a potential outright merger with the Pac-12.

It seems like just yesterday we were hoping for a Big 12 invite and there was some worried talk that the Pac may invite a few of the Big 12 schools to kill the league. But alas, like we BYU fans have known for decades, their arrogance got the best of them and not wanting to associate with "flyover country" has led to their demise.

They're talking to ESPN about renewing their deal. Fox has already told them they're not interested. The Colorado Board of Regents met last Friday and has a second meeting Wednesday with this agenda:

Now I am not a rocket scientist, but having to special meetings for your board of regents to discuss your conference affiliation in the span of 4 business days seems like something you would only do if something was about to happen.

Keeping the Gang Together

No Big 12 school is going to take a Pac offer today. And why would you? They rebuffed you a year ago and have always thought you were a second class citizen but now they come asking you for help? Pfft.

Not only that, in May, sports data advisory firm Navigate released projections on distributions in the coming years:

Note, this is considering total distribution - as we discussed last week there is more to this than jsut TV money.

So here we see a 4.5mm gap between the Big 12 and Pac.

Pre USC  and UCLA departure. Before the LA market was pulled out from under the rest of the league leaving Phil Knight supposedly begging the Big 10 to take his Duck-ing school.

The gap between the two leagues will not be close. The Big 12 which a year ago was supposedly DOA but here we are, with them calling shots and national personalities saying out loud what BYU fans have gloated about for the last 3 weeks:

Nobody in their right mind thinks the money is going to be the same, so here's the options, which are going to be driven by Oregon and Washington and Stanford:

Stay Together and Make Less

This is for old time sake. Maybe you invite SDSU and Fresno to the party to get back to 12 (but that cuts your money even more), but you keep the majority of your historical ties together. But it comes at a cost.

And to get a worthwhile TV deal, you need a longer Grant of Rights to lock up Oregon and Washington (and maybe Stanford) to prevent them from leaving for their hopeful Big 10 invite. But you're still taking a haircut.

And your 2 biggest brands left have one foot out the door already. The third is hoping that their rival gives up Independence for a Big 10 invite. Not comforting either as a league member or as a media partner.

Uneven Revenue Sharing

This is a touchy subject. But the Pac is already familiar with it - schools got more money in the Pac-10 era if they appeared more on TV (back when not every game was televised).  So Oregon and Washington say that they are willing to stay and sign a long term deal, but in exchange they want a bigger piece of the pie.

One slight problem: the other 8 schools are now getting even less.

There is no scenario in which the Oregon Ducks are going to do what is best for the other 9 members of their current conference as a whole and that is why the Big 12 is in charge here.  Colorado already has a history with the Big 12. The Arizona schools (primarily UA) have flirted with teh league since the 2020 COVID season and many feel it is a better cultural and institutional fit at this point in time.

If they can go to a more stable league and make even slightly more money, they will do it.

I'm Not Sold on Oregon and Washington Being Key

Being in a conference is a weird thing. The biggest brands don't want to go alone because they like having the padded wins - we will never see the blue bloods break off to form a single 12-16 team league because that means some of them have to become the bottom feeders.

But within the conference there's also a level of clout that comes from the brand. Even if you're Indiana or Purdue you still get to tell recruits that "you get to play Big 10 football" and that means something. And for a lot of schools, that association is how they have skated by for a long time while other G5 schools built up a bigger brand and following because they did something those lower P5's could not: win against their schedule.

You could flip some things around, but no matter what you conference schedule for the entire league is going to be .500 and somebody has to lose in every game played. If a new team comes in and is consistently at the top, everybody below them gets knocked down.

So now we have Oregon and Washington. Teams that have played against USC and UCLA for a century. Big brands...tucked up in a hard to get to part of the country that is losing football talent and desparately needs the also shrinking talent pool in California.

The Oregon Ducks, which did not have a 10 win season until 2000. Now, they've had 12 of those since 2000 which is the 6th most in that time, but they are not a historical juggernaught of a program. Their first 2 top 25 finishes came in 1948 and...1994 (which is also the same year as Utah's first T25 finish). Prior to 2000 they had just 5 conference championships: 1919, 1933, 1948, 1957 and 1994

They are the epitome of a new blood - nearly unparalleled success for the last 2 decades, but there's 80 years before that that was pretty ho hum. So what would happen if Phil Knight can't buy his way into the Big 10?

If they are in a league where they had to backfill with UNLV, Fresno, Boise, SDSU, SMU and Air Force?

Just like they were not the Oregon they are today until 2000,  if their circumstances change, they will not be the Oregon they are today in the future.

Would it be nice to get them and their brand boost today? Of course.

Could they overplay their hand, get stuck in the MW 2.0 (which I will forever affectionately call the WAC-12) and fade away? Also on the table.

"Additive" vs "Dilutive"

These words have been tossed around the last few weeks and it was clearly reported that the Big 10 told Oregon adn Washington they don't bring enough to the table. And while adding Arizona and Colorado may not increase the total share for the Big 12, it would do something even more important:

Destabilize your biggest threat.

Yeah it may hurt payouts now, but if you go from in line with the ACC and Pac in revenue to taking the Pac out? That's worth hundreds of millions of future dollars.

Of the brands worth anything in the Pac (sorry Cal, Oregon State and Wazzu), it probably doesn't matter which of the 4 the Big 12 takes. And if you get 2 you really start the pandemonium of fighting for the last 2 spots.

And because values change when associations change as well, maybe you look outside the Pac as well. If you want stability, you want teams that want to be there, not programs that are using you as a backup plan.

A school like Memphis could be catapulted to being on par wtih how we view Utah or ASU or Colorado today given the association of a P5 league.

Would I take them for the sake of taking them? Of course not.

But if I were Brett Yormark, I would focus on getting 2, then figure out whatever 2 you want next. And if anybody drags their feet hoping for a better offer - move on without them. Change the calculus and give it time and win football games -  everything else will sort itself out.

And if that means Utah gets left in the WAC-12 because they convinced themselves Stanford was going to let them tag along to the Big 10, well, here you go: