After his starring turn at the NFL Draft this past weekend in Chicago, Lynn Swann is in town house-hunting this week. But after the new USC director of athletics gets his home squared away, we’d like to see him take up another home-finding assignment.
We’d like him to explore all the possibilities for USC to find a conference that’s forward-looking and part of the future with all the right broadcast TV deals – from the national networks to its own network – that make sense in this very much changing – and challenging -- broadcast environment going forward the next decade.
We write this watching the UEFA Champions Cup between Real Madrid and Manchester City live from Madrid as a testament to how much things have changed.
And we say this at a time when we’re waiting for the official announcement of a reported cooperative satellite camp in Ft. Worth to be hosted by TCU featuring this trio of college football big boys – Alabama, Ohio State and USC.
But we’re also hearing that there are programs in the Pac-12 not at all happy at the prospect of USC’s involvement. And if they could, would like the conference to say “no can do.”
And why not. The entire recent history of the Pac-12 has been a one-way street away from USC and for the benefit of the other 11. That must change. Remember last week when it came out that USC went with the Pac-12 11-1 vote to permit such camps, even though it might not be in USC’s interests to open up Southern California to outsiders to come in and camp here, USC went along with the majority of the conference even against its own selfish interests.
If only there were ever some reciprocation. But that’s not the Pac-12 way. So here we are, thinking about how this all plays out at a time when the Pac-12’s TV deal is falling way behind the SEC’s and the Big Ten’s in producing revenue and its league network has become a laughing stock with at best 20 percent of the dollars and the viewers of those two despite its much higher costs.
Time for some long-term – not to mention out of the box -- thinking the more we learn about the belt-tightening for rights fees from the cable TV folks, who like ESPN, which has lost 7,000,000 subscribers in recent years and are watching their dollars big time. They’ll still pay, of course, for the NFL and NBA, but only for the good stuff.
And the colleges better pay attention. Keeping on doing something just because you’ve played one another for 100 years – well, keep that for the history books but not for the game plan for a sound fiscal future.
So here’s what we’re thinking right now as the 10-team Big-12, for example, tries to decide what to do for the future of its league that would like to expand to 12, get a championship game and improve its playoff chances. We’re told the three Texas schools – Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, say no, not much interested in adding the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati or Houston.
Here’s our thinking. What if there were some sort of alliance. Some sort of reshaping. Some sort of winnowing out so that the dream of Larry Scott could be realized. We’re not talking today, tomorrow or the next year or two.
But before the next wave of big TV deals are signed in the early 2020’s, what if USC, with Lynn Swann’s leadership – the reason he was hired, according to Max Nikias – takes this opportunity to exert USC’s historic place in the Pac-12.
What if Lynn says that USC is tired of a league that, despite being home to the world’s TV and media and communications hub in Southern California, took its TV networks to the high-priced real estate of San Francisco’s Embarcadero where even Silicon Valley millionaires no longer want to live?
What if Lynn takes his TV expertise the next few years to see if there’s a better way – for USC? What if, just as the Big East did with a reorganization into the non-football private schools that produced a great TV deal, as far as exposure, and an NCAA champ in Villanova, while letting football-playing Syracuse and Pittsburgh go to the ACC, there’s a better way for USC and a select group?
And what if that might go hand in hand with a better way for the Big 12? OK, you say, but USC is locked into another six years of the Pac-12 owning all of USC’s TV rights. What about that? How does USC get around that?
Well, what if USC and let’s say Oregon and Washington and Stanford and Arizona State and either Arizona (for basketball) or Colorado (for the Denver market) decided that the way to go might be to align with six of the Big 12 teams – Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU (for Dallas-Ft. Worth), Texas Tech (since the Texas schools go together) and either Baylor or Kansas (for basketball) in a 12-team East-West conference?
What if half the league or more relocates? Where do the TV rights go then? They would be the league. What about that?
One TV exec tells us a conference like that, at a time when rights fees are going to be tougher and tougher to get higher and higher, would be a killer, doubling the money each of those schools receive now. And when you're talking going from $25 million a year to $50 million, you're talking the kind of money university presidents pay attention to.
Sure, you’d be saying goodbye to Oregon State and Washington State and maybe UCLA – although obviously keeping them as a rival on the schedule – since you’d already have the LA market. Although we could probably be convinced to include the Bruins.
But just as Notre Dame realized that playing a half-football schedule in the ACC made sense, so might this. And if you went to eight teams from each league for that 16-team super-conference Scott couldn’t put together, there would be room for UCLA and Cal.
But the networks are telling the world they do not want to pay big bucks for bad games. Or for games in Manhattan, Kans., Corvallis, Oreg., Pullman, Wash. or Ames, Iowa. It just doesn’t make a great deal of sense. There’s only one Green Bay. After that, it’s every man, program and conference for itself.
One thing we’d like to see Lynn jump into is an immediate reform of the Pac-12 Networks. No more San Francisco. Not when there are plenty of much less costly places and an unbelievable amount of talent here in LA.
When the NFL Networks, Fox Sports and the Tennis Channel were locating their headquarters, none of them chose Northern California.
No more $1 million-a-year Pac-12 Networks execs making the ridiculous regional programming decisions that cut the LA market, for example, out of all but the USC and UCLA Pac-12 Tournament games for replay broadcasts.
No more a network that has at best, 12 million subscribers to the 60 million for the SEC and the Big Ten. And while the Pac-12 can never catch up all the way, it must stop losing ground with its stuck-in-the-mud dealings with DirecTV.
We’re thinking USC can be the catalyst here and starting now. Nothing should be off the table. A conference can’t keep making decisions as to what’s best for the least of its members at the expense of those on top, as tough as that could be for the little guys.
The time is now for USC to start thinking these thoughts. There's plenty of time to get this right. But you have to have it on your radar.
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