ESPN Seeking to Control College Football

Big 12 on the brink: Texas’ cash grab, the Pac-12’s next move, the CFP’s future and ESPN’s master plan

None of the remaining Big 12 schools are good fits for the Pac-12

Jon Wilner (OC Register —  It has been four days since the thunderous news from the Southern Plains. Texas and Oklahoma appear SEC-bound sooner rather than later; the Big 12 churns toward liquefaction; and the Pac-12 is open for business — “We’d be foolish not to listen if schools call us,” commissioner George Kliavkoff said — but seemingly without any A-level options.

What does it mean?

Here we go …

— While jumping to the SEC makes perfect sense for Oklahoma, it would be very un-Texas for Texas.

The Longhorns are better suited politically, culturally, academically and competitively for the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12 than they are for the SEC.

But in this case, money doesn’t talk; it screams.

Yes, the Longhorns could bask in a similar jackpot by joining the Big Ten. But that doesn’t suit ESPN’s master plan, and ESPN is the key player in this transformative event. (Much more on that in a moment.)

— On the surface, a lockstep move by the Sooners and Longhorns to the SEC would be good for the Pac-12.

Why? Because its relative position within the Power Five hierarchy improves.

The Pac-12 was never going to catch the SEC competitively or financially — the stronger conference would simply increase its advantages. (And become a greater threat on the West Coast recruiting trail.)

But a peer league, the Big 12, would be immeasurably weakened, leaving the Pac-12 still standing as one of the Power Four.

Whether the Pac-12 benefits in the long run, however, depends on what comes next.

— While Kliavkoff is absolutely right to consider all options, the Pac-12 should not expand for the sake of expanding,  because other schools need a lifeboat … because the SEC has grown to 16.

Bigger is absolutely not better if the result is a devaluing of the Pac-12 brand and the formation of a fragile mishmash of universities that are scattered across half the country geographically and across multiple universes culturally and academically.

The financial component is a key piece, of course: Expansion is not about increasing the size of the revenue pie; it’s about increasing the size of the revenue slices for the existing members.

Any newcomer would have to add value for the collective, over and above what could be generated by the 12 schools in their next media rights negotiations.

That value is almost exclusively tied to one sport: Football accounts for approximately 85 cents out of every dollar paid out in media rights.

None of the remaining Big 12 schools make sense for the Pac-12, in our opinion.

The only viable option for the conference is a football-only alliance with some combination of schools (or conferences) that creates media value by scale.

— The strengthening of the SEC and kneecapping of the Big 12 is, in our view, entirely about ESPN.

Specifically, it’s about ESPN’s master plan, as directed by the Disney overlords, to reallocate resources within a changing media landscape.

As ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro told Variety before the Texas and Oklahoma news broke:

“We have a five-year plan and also, we have a ten-year plan, and we are actively looking at our rights and evaluating what’s coming up, and what we can go after.”

That plan obviously includes college football, but with a laser focus on total ownership of two immense properties: The SEC regular season and championship game; and the expanded College Football Playoff.

ESPN already controls the former, thanks to the recent acquisition of the SEC’s ‘Game of the Week’ package (formerly owned by CBS).

And ESPN is hoping to acquire the latter, if the CFP decides to renew its agreement instead of taking the expanded playoff package to the open market.

With those two properties locked up, ESPN could simply dabble in everything else, including the Pac-12, based on the need to fill ESPN+ programming needs and specific broadcast windows on the linear network, such as 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday nights.

(Were Texas and Oklahoma to join the SEC, then ESPN could abandon the Big 12 altogether, since the only brands worth owning would have become part of the network’s golden goose. From the perspective of Disney’s ROI, the resource consolidation makes perfect sense.)

For years, there have been not-so-quiet whispers of college football morphing into English soccer, with a group of 30-32 schools creating a version of the Premiership and the other 90-something programs existing on the second tier.

One could argue that the SEC, with Texas and Oklahoma and Alabama and LSU and Georgia and Florida, would be that very Premiership.

Or framed differently: Competitively and economically, it would be a mini-NFL.

The revenue and cross-promotional opportunities for Disney — we have long envisioned the Houndstooth Hatterhorn ride at Disney World — would be limitless.

— All of which places immense importance, for the Pac-12 specifically and the sport generally, on the timing of playoff expansion.

The current contract with ESPN expires after the 2025 season.

Contractually, expanding prior to that point would force the playoff to renew its rights with ESPN.

Only by waiting for the current contract cycle to expire could the CFP take its rights to the open market and potentially lure multiple bidders to the table. But five years is a long time to wait for the 12-team event.

ESPN and, by extension, the SEC, undoubtedly want the CFP rights locked up as soon as possible. That would secure a monopoly on two of the sport’s three key media properties — the other being the Big Ten, of which ESPN currently owns a portion.

The long game is easy to spot: Disney would control the rights to the expanded CFP, the SEC, the ACC and part of the Big Ten.

At that point, it could have tepid interest in the Pac-12, which has placed itself at risk by deliberately not partnering with ESPN on long-term Tier 1 rights or the Pac-12 Network.

Such a shift might push the Pac-12 into a deeper partnership with Fox or motivate the conference to pursue agreements with CBS, NBC, Turner, etc.

Except that ESPN’s monopoly of the expanded CFP could dampen the interest level that other media companies take in the sport.

Why would Fox, CBS, NBC, Turner, etc., shell out hundreds of millions annually in media rights payments if there is no possibility of promoting their coverage of the sport’s biggest event (the CFP) and no opportunity, ever, to broadcast the sport’s biggest brands (the SEC).

There would be no end game to justify their cash outlay.

It’s all interconnected, all the pieces — the present and future, regular season and postseason, Group of Five and Power Five.

And right now, ESPN is designing the board, in addition to playing both sides of it.

ocregister.com

__________

TrojanDailyBlog members  —  Always feel free to add information or topics to the TDB which don’t necessarily pertain to any particular moderator post or member comment.

 

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Scioto
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Scioto (@scioto)
July 26, 2021 4:07 pm

I think a lot had to do with the whole Urban Meyer/Zach Smith fiasco in 2018, but he also just wasn’t “in tune”. But I think he did some really good things for the university. Current President is Kristina Johnson, Stanford grad. She’s loved and respected. Has shown better acumen at balancing academics and athletics at a university like Ohio State.

Scioto
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Scioto (@scioto)
July 26, 2021 4:02 pm

My reply is not at all directed at you. That tweet is complete absolute bullshit. Excuse my French, and I apologize if profanity is disallowed on this site and I won’t curse again. The Big Ten, like the PAC 12, is comprised of AAU member schools. There is the Big Ten Research Consortium, which generates $1 billion or more of revenue for the Big Ten universities. The Big Ten Network paid out $55 million to each athletic department last year. By contrast, when the SEC’s exclusive deal with ESPN goes into effect in 2023, each SEC school will get a… Read more »

John Weld
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John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
July 26, 2021 2:15 pm

Jack McGuire of Barstool Sports is reporting that Ohio State and Michigan have been contacted about their interest in joining the SEC in order to form a ‘Super Conference’.

If this is true, would the SEC consider asking USC to join?

Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
July 26, 2021 2:31 pm
Reply to  John Weld

I hope so, that would be the end of the cat for sure.

John Weld
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John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
July 26, 2021 10:24 am

Drake Jackson from USC has been nominated to 2021 Butkus Award List.

CHICAGO, IL / ACCESSWIRE / July 26, 2021 / The Butkus Award® honoring the nation’s best linebackers kicked off its 37th annual selection process today by announcing its collegiate and high school preseason watch lists.
Each watch list contains 51 linebackers, mirroring the legendary “51” pro jersey associated with the Award’s namesake Dick Butkus, who was recognized by NFL Films as the best defensive player in football history.
The Collegiate Butkus Award watch list includes candidates from 51 universities, including returning finalist Devin Lloyd of Utah and five returning semi-finalists.

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
July 26, 2021 10:01 am

Pretty sure that all of the dominos are now falling toward one large football super conference. Too much money to be made. USC will always be included just by their location alone. You can’t ignore the television market on west coast and even when down for a period of time, USC is still the marquee program on this side of country.

im all for the shakeup, it makes it interesting. Just keep ND and the gutties on the schedule. The rest can all be changed as far as I am concerned.

Golden Trojan
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Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
July 26, 2021 9:59 am

NCAA settles with Todd McNair for undisclosed amount.

John Weld
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John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
July 26, 2021 10:05 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

The NCAA has settled a defamation suit filed by former USC football assistant coach Todd McNair, whom it accused of violating ethical conduct rules during its investigation into whether former Trojans star Reggie Bush and his family received improper benefits while playing in college, the sides announced on Monday. The settlement was reached through mediation. The agreement comes more than a decade after McNair sued the NCAA in a California court, alleging NCAA officials “arbitrarily and capriciously decided to ruin [his] career to further their own agenda.” He sought damages for libel, slander, breach of contract and negligence. “After ten… Read more »

John Weld
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John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
July 26, 2021 9:45 am

Rick Caruso was on the KTLA moring show and said the following about the possibility of him running for mayor, that he’s weighing a potential run to become the city’s next mayor. “I’m being encouraged to do it, asked to do it, I’m having conversations about it and I’m thinking about it,” Caruso said. “I love this city, there’s no doubt about it. There’s a lot of ways I can help the city and I try to — to do my best — so it’s something I’m considering.” This should finally put to bed his motivations for taking over the… Read more »

Golden Trojan
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Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
July 26, 2021 10:01 am
Reply to  John Weld

I wonder if any of the USC dirt will stick to Caruso when he gets down in the mud of LA politics?

Terrific Tommy
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Terrific Tommy (@terrific-tommy)
July 26, 2021 10:44 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

That’s all we need — to be dragged thru the news negatively because of the autocrat that’s Mr. Caruso.

redondob
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redondob (@redondob)
July 26, 2021 12:04 pm
Reply to  John Weld

As I have been saying for years, you have to look all decisions at USC through the lens of how it will impact Caruso’s personal ambitions.
He will claim that he saved USC from the evil alumni and turned it into the woke institution that will appeal to LA voters.

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
July 26, 2021 2:27 pm
Reply to  redondob

True dat, and that is why I hate people who change their feathers/principles for personal gain.

Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
July 26, 2021 2:33 pm
Reply to  redondob

Caruso is bad news no matter where he is.

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
July 26, 2021 2:25 pm
Reply to  John Weld

This explains why Rick has become such a lefty as compared to when we were frat bros at the SAE house in the late 70’s. He sure as hell was not a woke liberal back then….

Scioto
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Scioto (@scioto)
July 26, 2021 8:51 am

On this morning’s Buckeye Scoop “Morning Scoop” podcast, which is free, the insider being interviewed alleged UT and OU approached the Big Ten concurrently with the approach to the SEC. Big Ten was interested in UT, but not OU because it’s not an AAU member. He also said USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Colorado have approached the Big Ten, and USC is pushing hard and doesn’t have the political issues UCLA or Cal would have (and OSU alumni and fans want Michael Drake no where near OSU ever again). Take it FWIW.

Golden Trojan
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Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
July 26, 2021 9:36 am
Reply to  Scioto

Sounds like a lot is going on behind the scenes throughout the Power 5 conferences including Pac 12 and USC. The notion that USC is sitting on its hands is not true. How this all plays out will be crazy. So what is the deal with Michael Drake and OSU? It’s not like OSU suffered athletically during his tenure. People on this blog seem to have issues with Folt but she seems mild compared to the PC/wokeness of UCB/UCLA.

Last edited 1 month ago by Golden Trojan
Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
July 26, 2021 8:27 am

I think it is time right now to put out the concept of a new conference, invite Texas and OK to join in with USC and ucla and what ever other teams would fit. Before long that window will be closed. Texas in the SEC is a big mistake for them, not sure if it is a good idea for OK. I literally hate the idea that espn (the clown network) is in the drivers seat.

illinoisusc
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illinoisusc (@illinoisusc)
July 26, 2021 7:53 am

Good article……Texas and Oky might regret joining the big boys. The days of cruising thru their schedule playing teams like Kansas St with a “big game” against each other at the end to determine the winner will be over. I wonder if they considered the merits of the Big 10 completely. Much more similar in type of school. Research type schools with very large enrollments. They still would have been playing teams like Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota each year to fatten their records. The revenue, with them included, would have been sec level or better. It is to our advantage… Read more »

rleeholder1
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rleeholder1 (@rleeholder1)
July 26, 2021 3:55 am

All I can say is that I’m tired of ESPN and, as I call them, the East Coast Sh*t Heads controlling sports. I turn off “Stephen A” faster than my Grandpa use to mute commercials with remote control, when they first came out for TVs. I’m to the point where I boycott ESPN and their East Coast bias as much as possible. I stick with NFL, NHL and MLB networks, even if I have to pay for them.

San Diego Trojan
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San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
July 25, 2021 10:21 pm

Really well written article which makes so much sense in so many ways. You have to have a product that people want. Leverage. The conference currently has none, Larry Scott and his advisors really lacked the foresight. He should have worried less about a PAC 12 network that catered to the Western time zone, and tried harder to get the best exposure nationally. We deserve better than late night time slot filler for the east coast. If we were experiencing the kind of run we had during Pete’s years, ESPN and Fox would come begging to put us on prime… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
July 26, 2021 2:31 pm

Yeah, but the rest of our “colleagues” in the PAC-12 couldn’t wait to twist the knife in our hearts when the capricious ncaa came calling. F’ the PAC-12. They have not served our interests at SC in decades.

UtahTrojan
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UtahTrojan (@utahtrojan)
July 26, 2021 7:04 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Can you imagine how bad LS could screw this up?