Survival is officially the most valuable CFB currency, and the Big 12 has a lot of that currency to wave around right now
Oklahoma and Texas are headed to the SEC. The Big 12 announced that this year would be the last year that the Sooners and the Horns will be conference members. They will leave the Big 12 a year earlier than expected (er, a year earlier than contractually obligated, but most expected them to leave early) and join the SEC for the 2024-2025 academic season.
That is the same time that USC and UCLA will abandon the PAC-12 and move to the Big Ten Conference.
It is also the same time that the College Football Playoff will expand from four to 12 teams. There will be six at-large bids (each Power 5 conference, the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference winner, and then the six highest ranked teams).
Suffice to say, 2024 will be a wildly different year in the college football world.
In the year and a half-ish between now and then, there are a lot of things that have to be sorted out. Oklahoma and Texas figuring out their exit from the Big 12 was a big piece of the 2024 puzzle.
Now, the PAC-12 has to figure out who they are going to be in the future. The conference currently sits at 10 teams. Those 10 teams (despite what those 10 teams want to believe about themselves) are really similar - at best - to the vast majority of schools in the Big 12 and ACC. Their TV contract negotiations are a disaster. Their expansion options are a disaster. Their future is uncertain.
That said, it wasn't very many moons ago that the Big 12 was reeling after Oklahoma and Texas announced they were leaving. They didn't have a ton of clear-cut options and their future was in peril as well. The Big 12 figured it out. Whose to say that the PAC-12 can't figure it out too?
In fact, let's see what we can do at GEHB to help plan the future. Today, Rakoto the Magnificent is going to present solutions to all of the conference predicaments, and I'm going to do it free of charge. You're welcome, America.
Step 1: A bitter reality check
If you've ever met me in real life, one of the first things that you noticed about me is that I am not a size medium. Trust me, I won't be offended when you look at me and say, 'wow, that belt is doing a hell of a lot of work for you, Jeff.' You're right. It is.
That's an important admission though. Over the last year, I've taken steps to quell any additional weight gain. I need to take the next step and lose some weight, but for now, the fact that I am not gaining weight is a small victory for me.
Imagine if I had never accepted that I should change my lifestyle a little bit. Imagine if I never recognized that I wasn't a 180-pound illustration of health. If I didn't recognize that I had a problem that I needed to fix, how could I possible address the problem that I was facing?
The PAC-12 is a lot closer to my physique right now than they are to the 180-pound illustration of health, and they need to recognize that. The Conference of Champions without USC and UCLA is a bunch of schools that we all know a lot about in the state of Utah, but that nobody really cares about east of the Rocky Mountains. That doesn't say anything about the current quality of football team. That doesn't say anything about the current quality of university. That doesn't say anything about any of that, it's just the facts: none of those schools really move the needle for anyone anymore.
And that's okay! Most schools don't move the needle at a national level. In fact, it's the very fact that the 12 schools in the future Big 12 Conference don't move the needle at a national level that helps provide stability for the conference right now.
The schools and markets that move the needle have been pillaged by the SEC and Big Ten. They're gone. If you haven't been a subject of the pillaging, you just don't matter as much as you want to. (Except you Notre Dame, you continue to be the exception.)
Sure, there are still schools like Miami or like Oregon that move the needle more than schools like UCF or Oregon State, but at the end of the day, Miami and Oregon are much closer to UCF and Oregon State than they are to USC or Michigan.
That's not a slight. That's just reality. The sooner that is accepted, the sooner real solutions can be identified.
Step 2: You're not a victim, you're just a loser
TCU wishes they could have been invited to the SEC with Texas and Oklahoma. They don't have to say it out loud for me to know that's true. BYU wishes they would have been invited to the Big Ten instead of the Big 12. They're grateful for the Big 12 and super happy to be there, but they don't have to say it out loud that they wish they could have been geographically blessed the same way that Indiana was.
TCU, BYU, and the rest of the new Big 12 schools weren't blessed, though. They just lost the race. For most, they lost the race in like 1950 and then lost again in 2023, but they lost. They're not victims of anything, they're just losers in a very competitive environment.
But college football isn't a zero-sum game. As TCU proved, even if you lost the race you can still win on the field. That's what's so great about football. TCU, without the benefit of an expanded playoff, proved doubters wrong when they made the Playoff this year. They didn't need the SEC or Big Ten to do it.
They could have whined and licked wounds forever, but they didn't. Instead, they fought hard and won on the field and they will continue to try and win on the field in the future.
Our PAC-12 friends need to learn that lesson. Today reports came out that the PAC-12 is frustrated that the Big 12 secured a TV deal before they did for a perceived discount. The quote from The Athletic was "it's tough to sell your house when your neighbor across the street sells his house for a low price."
Bitch, get over it! (said in my best Dave Chappelle voice)
The game is competitive and there are many ways to win. When TCU beats Michigan in the Playoff, do PAC-12 fans look at that and say, "Well, TCU gave up more than 50 points. That's not real football. So that doesn't count."
No. Because winning the game doesn't follow a certain script.
If the Big 12 undercut you on price in the name of conference security, it's not their fault you couldn't get a deal closed yourself. They didn't lose the game for you, you lost the game yourself.
If you lose a team playing a triple-option offense, it doesn't change the fact that you lost at the end. If you play an air-raid offense and lose, it doesn't change the fact that you lost.
You just lost.
You're not a victim. You're not unique. You are a loser.
Every school in America has been a loser at some point in their existence. How you respond to those losses is how you determine the worth of your program. Right now, the PAC-12 folks seems to be pointing the finger and complaining about how they lost instead of just accepting that they lost this game and they need to re-group and re-calibrate so they don't lose the next one.
The Big 12 might have left a few million dollars on the table, but they didn't do it for funsies. Instead, they invested that few million dollars into a security policy that they are already enjoying the benefits of. That isn't settling for pennies, that's a collective decision to invest in your future.
So, PAC-12, stop whining. You're not victims of bad negotiations, you're losers in the TV contract game.
Step 3: May 1st is going to matter a whole lot in this Rakoto Plan
Decisions have to be made by May 1. So, that leaves people with most of February, all of March, and all of April to figure their shtuff out.
If I'm the PAC-12, I add San Diego State and SMU tomorrow. Do they move the needle? No. Not at all. But what other choice do you have? There isn't one. You have to add them immediately. You don't have time to fiddle around. You have to do whatever it takes to provide a TV network with the inventory they want to fill slots on their network. Don't hesitate. Add them immediately.
If I'm the Big 12, I'm taking the 100-million dollars that OU and Texas will leave on the table in exchange for leaving the conference early and I am waving that in front of any PAC-12 school who will listen.
Think about it. "Hey, Arizona, instead of sticking with the PAC-12 and taking a massive paycut in exchange for playing in Dallas every once in a while, take a $30M bonus from us and come play in Ft. Worth every once in a while. You can even fly into the same airport if you want!"
Money is an asset. Security is an asset. Figuring out how to quantify a return on assets is what makes good leaders great leaders. Brett Yormark and the Big 12 schools could take their money, put it in their pockets, and hope for the best. They could invest in facilities or in stadium upgrades with their extra OU/UT money. 10 years ago, that's what everyone would have told them to do.
But, security is also an asset. Yormark and Big 12 schools could use one asset to amplify another.
Step 4: Okay, you said there would be solutions
Does this solution have a BYU tint to it? Of course it does. I'm a BYU fan. But, given where things are right now, security is more valuable than money and the Big 12 has more security than money. So, the Big 12 is also maneuvering from a position a strength relative to the PAC-12. My solution reflects that.
I mean, what did Northwestern do other than be in the right place at the right time?
The Big 12 has been brutally beaten over the last decade. But now, at long last, they are in the right place at the right time. That's a win that has been long-desired for the Big 12. The PAC-12 had many opportunities to kill the Big 12 in the last decade but they snooty-bootied their way beyond the Big 12 and hoped it would die on its own. They were in the right place at the right time a decade ago but failed to capitalize on the opportunity in front of them.
The Big 12 won't make that same mistake.
So my solution? A poison pill offer.
The Big 12 is playing a competitive game of survival right now. They have proven that they will sacrifice money and do things in an unconventional way in the name of security. They've done it once and I believe they will do it again.
So, now that I have finality with OU/UT's future, what is the first thing I'm doing if I'm Brett Yormark? I'm calling Washington State.
It's already clear that the Big 12 wants to add Gonzaga and beef up their already elite basketball conference. If I'm Yormark, I'm giving the Bulldogs a regional fit and calling their neighbors an hour to the south to give them a lifeline. I'm adding Washington State.
Why the Cougars? Because nobody is talking about them. They aren't a fit for the Big Ten ever. They aren't one of the movers or shakers in the PAC-12. But they exist, and right now, that's all that I need them to do.
Wazzu has been overlooked by their conference mates and they have been taken for granted. It's not a natural geographical fit for the Big 12, but they, in my mind, are the most likely to say yes to an invitation from Yormark. If they say yes, the rest of the PAC-12 has no choice but to panic.
And panic is what I want, if I'm Yormark.
A nine-team PAC-12 won't survive. They're already considering additions of SMU and SDSU. If they have to add one more are they going to add Fresno? Will Stanford ever concede that their peers are Fresno State and SMU? Maybe - but I certainly don't think they'd do it quickly. And himming and hawing on a decision is what Yormark wants to see.
All he needs is a little bit more instability in the PAC-12. If adding Wazzu offers that, then it's more likely that he is able to snag the already-wavering Arizona schools, or the former Big 12 friend Colorado, or an upset and egotistical Washington and Oregon.
Think about it. "Hey Washingon. We're adding Wazzu. And if you come, you can have $30M from the OU/UT money and buyout as a one-time welcome to the conference. But you have to say yes right now."
That's what I'm doing. That's my solution.
That doesn't fix the PAC-12 as a conference, but that means there are four life rafts available to the nine remaining schools and those nine schools can fight for them.
For the other six? Well, they can do what Cincinnati had to do when the Big East died - fight for survival. They can do what BYU had to do when the PAC-12 added Utah and blew up the Mountain West - survive as an independent and hope for a brighter future. They can do what Boise State has had to do for 20 years - thrive on a national level in an obscure conference that plays on a blue field.
The PAC-12 has proven that they care about money more than survival up to this point. Yormark and the Big 12 chose survival over a few extra dollars. It seems to me that there is only one solution that will play itself out over the next few months - the conference that provides the best survival environment, not financial environment, will be the conference that cashes the biggest checks in a decade. If George Kliavkoff can convince his members that Amazon and streaming is the way to survive then more power to him. As for me and my house, though, I'd trust ESPN and Fox in the game of survival.
And if the Big 12 offers a poison pill-type spot to a team who nobody is paying attention to, survival becomes even more critical.
It's a gamble, but it's a gamble worth taking.