Mailbag: Are Kliavkoff, Pac-12 presidents up to existential challenge?

The Hotline mailbag is published every Friday. Send questions to [email protected] or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline.

Please note: Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Almost everyone agrees the Pac-12 needs to expand for long-term viability. Why should we have any confidence Pac-12 leadership will actually do it, as opposed to hoping things will magically go back to the way they were? — @bogeycat85

This cuts to the root of the existential crisis facing the Pac-12: Will Commissioner George Kliavkoff and the university presidents make the right decisions with regard to media rights and expansion?

If we’re being honest, Pac-12 fans should be anxious.

They should be anxious because the conference has already been blindsided once, by the departures of USC and UCLA.

They should be anxious because the presidents and chancellors have a history of bad decisions on the most significant issues.

And they should be anxious because there are two sharks, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark, looking for a chance to drive a stake in the Pac-12.

That said, there are significant counterweights to each area of concern mentioned above:

— In theory, Kliavkoff is now a grizzled veteran of the college sports swamp, won’t get caught unaware of back-channel machinations that could kill off his conference and has a realistic grasp of the Pac-12’s place in the media rights ecosystem.

But only time will tell.

— Many of the university leaders who approved misguided media strategies in the past have moved on. Only UCLA’s Gene Block and Arizona State’s Michael Crow remain from the group that hired (and enabled) former commissioner Larry Scott and approved the Pac-12 Networks’ business strategy. Block is leaving for the Big Ten, and Crow’s influence has diminished.

(Granted, the situation atop the org chart appears awkward with Washington president Ana Mari Cauce serving as board chair while her school eyes the Big Ten.)

— As for circling sharks, Warren seemingly doesn’t have the votes to expand (in the short-term) and Yormark doesn’t have the money (via his media contracts with ESPN and Fox) to make an offer that none of the Pac-12 schools can refuse.

Those situations are fluid, however.

Kliavkoff has said he feels “no urgency” to finalize a media deal. But the only way to guarantee the Pac-12’s future — whether or not that includes expansion — is to secure an agreement as soon as possible.

If the Pac-12 signs a deal with Amazon, could Kliavkoff also sell them the Pac-12 Network for a one-time fee? Or is it even worth anything? — BearFlagFan

There are two separate and distinct components involved in this topic, so let’s make sure everyone is clear:

1. The inventory of games (football, basketball, Olympics sports) that are bound to the Pac-12 Networks through the spring of 2024.

2. The networks themselves, which include the infrastructure, technology and human resources and are wholly owned by the institutions.

The broadcast rights to the game inventory could be sold to Amazon, Apple, ESPN, Fox or any other media company — either as one package or sliced and diced.

If Amazon ends up owning broadcast rights, the company probably would buy or lease the Pac-12 Networks’ infrastructure. Why? Because Amazon doesn’t have production facilities of its own for live sports. (Those ‘Thursday Night Football’ broadcasts are actually produced by NBC.)

In fact, Amazon could use the Pac-12 Networks infrastructure to produce other sporting events.

So, yes: The networks themselves have market value. How much? That remains to be seen.

If Amazon buys the rights to games currently on the Pac-12 Network, is it possible for them to keep the current channels with their respective cable/partner. Instead of it being called the Pac-12 Network, they’ll call it Amazon TV or something like that? — @olsens805

My expectation is that Amazon would show Pac-12 sporting events on Prime Video. There’s no need for the company to pay Comcast or DISH when it has the Prime platform available; it would be a waste of money.

Remember, Amazon’s expansion into the live sports space isn’t about showing live sports; it’s about showing live sports as a means of expanding its e-commerce operation, collecting your credit card and personal information, and setting up shop in your living room for time immemorial.

Do you anticipate expansion news in January? — @lilcmac5

Based on a recent conversation with one of the Hotline’s most-trusted industry sources, I would peg mid-January to mid-February as the likeliest window for a media rights deal.

And given that Kliavkoff has stated the expansion piece would come after the media rights contract and subsequent grant-of-rights agreement, it could be March or April before the Pac-12 resolves the expansion issue.

With how Utah has handled themselves the last two years on the field, will the Utes be just fine when realignment strikes again? — @DrBTru

It depends on your definition of “just fine.”

The Hotline doesn’t foresee the Utes landing in either the SEC or the Big Ten if (when) those conferences expand again. (That point could be the end of the 2020s or the middle of the 2030s, as we outlined a few months ago.)

However, the Utes are an obvious option for the Big 12, which would happily gobble up any of the top-tier programs in the Pac-12 or ACC if the current Power Five structure liquifies.

The expansion calculation for the SEC and Big Ten is about more than wins, losses and conference titles.

It’s also about geography, media value and institutional fit. Does Utah make more sense for the Big Ten than Washington, Oregon and the Bay Area tandem of Stanford and Cal? Not in our view.

Will the Big Ten eventually add more than four schools from the western third of the country? Not in our view. (In fact, the Hotline believes the conference could move into the ACC footprint, not the Pac-12, when it decides to expand again.)

But however it shakes out — whether it’s the Power Five, Power Four or Power Three — Utah will be included.

Are you still optimistic about SMU to the Pac-12? — @SoCal_Pony

The Hotline believes expansion is more likely than not for the Pac-12.

If one school is added, San Diego State has a slight edge over the Mustangs, in our opinion.

If two schools are added, SMU stands an excellent chance of receiving an invitation.

In areas that matter to university presidents, the Mustangs make more sense than many options in the Mountain West.

What does Cal do at quarterback? — @parsa_s

Hope and pray that the transfer portal delivers a high-level talent — and that new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital can make use of his connections in Texas.

Coach Justin Wilcox has a massive mess of his own making. He needs to get it right.

For a variety of reasons — and many are outside of Wilcox’s control — the Bears are not built for quick turnarounds. The deeper they sink, the more arduous the recovery process.

I don’t see quarterbacks Sam Huard of Washington and Ty Thompson of Oregon, both former five-star recruits, sitting on the bench for a third year. Where do you think they will land? — Bret Mecchi

Huard’s case is difficult to predict because of the deep family ties to Washington’s program. As frustrated as Huard and/or his inner circle might have become, they could be equally excited about the chance to develop under Kalen DeBoer.

But if we remove the legacy component, you’re correct: Top quarterback prospects typically don’t accept reserve roles for more than one year.

Will Thompson leave Eugene? I don’t have any insider information.

The Hotline’s default position is that players are likely to transfer to their home state or region. Thompson is from the Phoenix area, so an opportunity in Arizona or Southern California might be his preference if he decides it’s time to leave Eugene.

Players have until the middle of January to enter the transfer portal, and then a second window in early May.

For the past three seasons, Washington State has dealt with a lot of staff and player turnover. Will it ever be possible for teams like WSU to keep their best in this new era? — @SirCharles_OG

Certainly, roster stability is more difficult to achieve with the transfer portal and name, image and likeness. But that will be true for most programs in most years, and it works both ways — the Cougars (and others) will have more opportunities to replace players they lose.

Does it carry a greater wallop for the lower-resourced programs? Perhaps. But I also see potential benefit for the likes of WSU and Oregon State, which can provide attractive landing spots for former blue-chip recruits who have become disgruntled at blue-blood programs and are seeking a second chance.

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The rate of staff turnover pre-dates both NIL and the portal — the Cougars were losing coordinators and key assistants under Mike Leach, too — and is largely a result of resources.

The Cougars cannot match the salary scale offered by wealthier programs, which makes identifying coach talent an essential skill.

Jake Dickert made two shrewd coordinator hires in Eric Morris and Brian Ward. Yes, both are gone. But that should give WSU fans hope that Dickert has an eye for talent.

Why is realignment Twitter the best Twitter? — @Y_Soup

It’s the topic the general public knows the least about — and that includes many members of the media — because there are so many layers to the decision-making process: presidents and chancellors, regents and trustees, TV executives and media consultants.

And yet, everyone cares, everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks they have access to insider information.

It’s crazy talk all the time.

What is former Washington State coach Nick Rolovich up to? — @Kemosahbeh

Other than suing WSU for wrongful termination, I have no idea.

He’s probably holed up in a bunker somewhere, watching football.

Would you rather have Eggnog or fruit cake for your holiday treat? — @2022SportsGuy

Great question.

I would rather have neither.

But the Hotline wishes everyone a healthy and happy holiday season. Thanks very, very much for all your support.

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*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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