Mailbag: Desperation, thy names are Stanford and Cal; an ACC power play(?); Pac-12 had no Luck and more

Leaping into the arms of the ACC carries significant risk for the Bay Area schools

The ACC’s proposed payments for Cal and Stanford don’t seem that much higher than what they’d earn in the Mountain West or American. And travel would be worse. So why are Cal and Stanford pushing for the ACC? — @ebrohinho

Because they are desperate to stay in a power conference, so desperate that they have made significant concessions to appease the four ACC schools opposed to expansion.

Essentially, the Cardinals and Bears are on their knees, shamelessly pleading for a way out of an awful situation that they have created.

The Bay Area schools received no offers from the Big Ten during either of its western raids (the L.A. schools in 2022 and the Northwest schools in 2023) due to the subpar state of their football and men’s basketball teams in recent years.

Now they find themselves with the ACC as their only hope for power conference status, the only way to join forces with the major college elite.

So desperate are Cal and Stanford that they are willing to join a conference based in Charlotte and schlep their Olympic sports across the country…

That they are willing to accept lower ACC revenue shares…

And willing to commit to the ACC’s media rights until 2036, an eternity in college athletics…

The financial details must be worked out in negotiations, but we have a framework to work with.

On a laddered basis, the Cardinals and Bears would receive lower revenue shares (compared to other ACC members).

The Bay Area schools would receive quarter-shares (approximately) in the early years of their membership, with the amount increasing until 2036. According to one source, the average over time would be around 50%.

That would put each school about $15 million behind, with the gap gradually closing.

Yes, the initial ACC media revenue would be comparable to what the two schools would receive if the Pac-12 was rebuilt.

Stanford, which has more money than it can spend, will compensate for the lower revenue internally.

Cal lacks the institutional resources to cover the revenue gap, but it does have UCLA.

The University of California Regents attached a condition to UCLA’s move to the Big Ten last year: the so-called Berkeley tax, which would require the Bruins to subsidize Cal by $2 million to $10 million per year for the loss of Pac-12 revenue caused by UCLA’s departure.

We believe the Pac-12’s subsequent collapse, combined with Cal’s predicament, will compel the regents to impose a subsidy on the high end of that range. As a result, the Bears could offset reduced ACC revenue through the fee imposed on UCLA.

(The Bruins are expected to receive an average of $65 million per year from the Big Ten’s media rights agreement. Remove $10 million for the Berkeley tax and another $8 million to $10 million for increased travel costs, and UCLA’s net annual revenue from the Big Ten could fall into the mid-$40 million range, excluding postseason events.)

To put it another way, despite the reduced shares required for ACC membership, the Bay Area schools have financial mechanisms in place to remain competitive.

The more important issues are securing their media rights until 2036 and transporting their Olympic sports across the country.

For years, the schools refused to fully participate in the necessary evils of college sports, which would have aided their football and basketball programs’ competitiveness.

Why? Because those evils were incompatible with the academic missions and institutional cultures on either side of San Francisco Bay.

Yet here they are, desperate for admission to an Atlantic Coast Conference, ready to send their athletes across the country and prime examples of the very evils they purportedly opposed.

Years of bad decisions have left them with no other option.

Could the ACC make a bigger power move and sign Oregon State, Washington State, and San Diego State at lower prices? This would provide ESPN with more western programming inventory and reduce travel for all schools by assisting with scheduling logistics for all sports. —@NJ4Liberty

Anything is possible, but that scenario strains reality to its limits.

These schools do not meet the ACC’s academic standards and do not have elite Olympic sports programs. They also do not provide access to the Bay Area media market or Silicon Valley wealth.

Meanwhile, with Stanford and Cal in the ACC and Utah, BYU, Colorado, and the Arizona schools in the Big 12, ESPN would have plenty of inventory.

The Cougars and Beavers simply don’t fit anywhere else in the Power Five — er, Power Four — because of geography and resources, rather than competitive success and fan passion.

There is a lot of talk about football, as well as generalities about other sports. As far as I know, Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer hasn’t said anything. What about men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and baseball? — J.Richardson

Except for a few comments from football coach Troy Taylor, no Stanford executives, administrators, or coaches have made a public statement about the situation (as far as we can tell). They have also done nothing behind the scenes to promote their story through the national media megaphone.

It is entirely up to them. And, just as the Pac-12 chose radio silence for months as rumors and speculation eroded trust and patience, it’s a massive public relations risk.

Do Pac-12 women athletes have any legal recourse regarding their unexpected move to other conferences? — Dave Hayashid

They do, indeed. It’s called Title IX, and it’s the reason why USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington compete in all sports in the Big Ten.

Otherwise, they risk being accused of unequal treatment of athletes in Olympic programs.

Title IX is one of the reasons schools are in this situation: By treating football, with its massive scholarship numbers and operational expenses, the same as golf and swimming, Title IX distorted athletic departments’ financial models and created a system in which they must constantly chase media dollars.

However, due to Title IX, that pursuit must account for Olympic sports, preventing them from falling behind.

The Title IX issue is much more nuanced, but that is our broad view of the issues against the backdrop of realignment.

If any of the teams leaving the Pac-12 changed their minds and decided not to leave for another conference, is there a penalty or buyout at this juncture? — Dave Hefner

What are the exit fees for the teams that are leaving the Pac-12? We’ve heard of San Diego State and their $34 million exit fee. Surely, there must be something for the Pac-12. — Tom Zupan

I can’t claim to understand the legalese buried in the membership agreements signed by the Big Ten and Big 12 schools.

But what reason would any of the Exiting Eight have to change their minds during their next contract cycles? (The Big Ten’s media contract expires in 2030; the Big 12’s contract expires in 2031.)

The landscape may look very different by then. Is it different enough to necessitate another reshuffling?

That is a subject for another mailbag… or a book.

There are also no exit fees for Pac-12 schools leaving next summer. The contracts with ESPN and Fox are set to expire, so they would not violate the grant-of-rights agreement; additionally, the conference bylaws do not include an evergreen exit fee.

However, for Washington State and Oregon State — and possibly Cal and Stanford — the situation is more complicated than simply joining the Mountain West.

If the schools remain members of the Pac-12 legal entity, they may have access to tens of millions of dollars in assets.

Can you comment on the Pac-12 bowl arrangements, contracts (rumored to be intact for another three years) and how that factors in the calculus on the value the Beavers and Cougars have as the last two standing? — @ttowncoug

In the fall of 2020, the Pac-12 began a six-year contract cycle with its bowl partners, which will last until the 2025 season — or the first two years of a reconstituted Pac-12.

However, we don’t know about the force majeure clause: do the contracts allow the bowls to cut ties in the event of a massive unexpected event? (During the pandemic, we witnessed force majeure at work.)

And would the departure of eight schools be sufficient legal grounds for terminating the contracts if Stanford, Cal, WSU, and OSU set about rebuilding the conference?

That is one of many issues being investigated by attorneys and financial officers both inside the conference and on the campuses of the four remaining schools.

Conference realignment may be acceptable in football, but it is absurd in other sports. What is your projected timeline for football-only conferences across the country? I’d like to go back to 2010 for non-football conference. — @262Bear

A football-only structure, if it occurs, will most likely not occur before the Big Ten’s next contract cycle (starting in 2030) and most likely not until the SEC’s next cycle (2034).

However, the second half of the 2030s could see something that looks more like the NFL than college football as we’ve known it for the past 100 years.

Do you believe things would have turned out differently if the Pac-12 had hired Oliver Luck instead of George Kliavkoff? — @WHS1969

If “different” means “better,” well, it couldn’t possibly be worse, could it?

Luck would have been the anti-Kliavkoff in many ways, someone steeped in the complexities of college sports, with contacts throughout the industry and no learning curve required.

We spent five months writing about the need for presidents to hire someone who truly understood college football… like Oliver Luck.

Instead, they brought in an outsider.

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