Mailbag: Small Pac-12 buyouts, what’s next for the Pac-12 Networks and ACC, schedules for WSU and OSU, our thanks to you

Most of the hottest coaches in the Pac-12 have small buyouts

Every Friday, the Hotline mailbag is published. Send questions to with the subject line’mailbag’. Or follow me on Twitter at @WilnerHotline.

Please keep in mind that some of the questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

I’m seeing all these Pac-12 coaches on lists for schools with vacancies. Don’t Oregon, Washington, etc., have big buyouts or some other way to protect them from getting poached? — @brycetacoma

Only Oregon has significant safeguards. Even so, the schools that are most likely to pursue Dan Lanning in the coming seasons will have deep pockets and desperate donors.

Before we get into the dollar figures, here’s some background on the conference’s overall buyout situation: It’s pitiful.

And it’s pitiful because the schools went after up-and-coming coaches.

When you lack the resources to secure A-listers, that’s not a bad strategy, but the nature of those negotiations typically results in low-end compensation figures with small buyouts.

Kalen DeBoer, hired in late 2021 after two seasons at Fresno State, earns $4.2 million in Seattle and reportedly has a $12 million buyout.

Arizona’s Jedd Fisch earns $3.25 million with a reported buyout of $5.5 million .

Last year, Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, who was also a rookie when he took over as head coach at his alma mater, received a contract extension — but only to $5.1 million. His buyout is $3 million .

(Salary information sourced from USA Today’s salary database.)

Any Big Ten or SEC school, as well as some Big 12 schools, could afford those buyouts without hesitation.

Lanning’s situation is unique. Oregon was extremely proactive in renegotiating Lanning’s contract earlier this year, which was a wise move by athletic director Rob Mullens. He earns $6.6 million per year with a $20 million buyout.

However, Lanning would only leave Oregon for schools that can afford the buyout and provide competitive advantages not available in Eugene, such as access to enough talent to compete for national titles every season.

We’re talking about Alabama and Georgia, if and when they have openings.

Lanning is not leaving Eugene for Texas A&M, Michigan State, or any other school with a lot of money but a difficult path to the NCAA tournament.

National championship.

For various reasons, the other coaches mentioned here pose greater flight risks than Lanning.

DeBoer is from the Midwest; Fisch has no ties to Tucson or Arizona; and Smith’s school faces an uncertain future.

In each of these cases, the contract offer could include a significant raise.

We won’t even try to predict how the hiring process will unfold, but you can bet that sports agents will exploit the schools for every last penny.

Does Jonathan Smith love Oregon State enough to get them out of his contract (by taking the Michigan State job) given their expected financial woes ahead? — @JeffOtis

If I understand you correctly, Smith’s departure would benefit OSU by reducing its financial exposure ahead of the Pac-12’s dissolution.

And, in that case, the Hotline strongly opposes the premise.

Smith’s departure from Corvallis would be detrimental to the Beavers. Even if his exposure increases by 50% during contract negotiations, the Beavers should do everything in their power to keep him.

Smith isn’t just a great coach; he’s a great coach for Oregon State. He knows what works in Corvallis because he is an alumnus.

The Beavers could hire ten coaches with comparable credentials but no ties to OSU, and none of them would fit the way Smith does.

Almost four months later, I’m still perplexed as to why the Big 12 didn’t add Stanford and Cal when it added the Four Corners schools. — Doug W

In many ways, the Big 12 is a poor fit for Stanford and Cal, and vice versa.

They aren’t really part of the conference, at least not to the same extent that Arizona, ASU, Colorado, and, by extension, Utah are.

Although there is no geographical fit with the ACC, everything else about that conference works better for the Bay Area pairing.

The Olympic sports, which are so important to each school’s athletic identity, are better suited to the ACC than the Big 12.

They are far more institutionally aligned with the ACC’s elite academic schools than the Big 12 universities.

Furthermore, both Stanford and Cal have sizable alumni bases on the East Coast, particularly in the New York-Washington corridor.

To put it another way, they have nothing in common with a Southern Plains conference and everything in common with an Atlantic (or Pacific) Coast league.

And, from what we understand, the Big 12’s media deal with ESPN and Fox allowed the conference to easily add four schools, but the finances were more complicated.

The Four Corners works for the Big 12 in every way, as does a 16-school configuration.

Let’s say the ACC loses two schools each to the Big Ten and SEC (Florida State, Clemson, Virginia and North Carolina). Could the rest of the ACC, plus UConn and maybe Memphis or someone else, stay together? They’d still have their TV deal. — @JustR_02

The ACC’s deal with ESPN runs through 2036 and is keeping the conference together; without it, the ACC and the Pac-12 would have gone extinct.

It’s possible that the top football schools and brands will opt out of the agreement at some point. In that case, the conference as a whole could break up, or the remaining members could stick together.

The addition of Stanford, Cal, and SMU helped to protect the ACC from realignment.

According to sources, if the conference’s membership falls below 15 schools, it will breach its contract with ESPN. It could withstand the departures of Clemson and Florida State as it is currently being built (beginning next summer).

It is unknown whether the ACC would consider adding more schools.

Do you think there’s another college football conference that might disband, as the Pac-12 will next season? Or do you consider what is occurring with the Pac-12 to be an anomaly? — @cool_brezze

The Mountain West’s future beyond the 2025 season is unknown, as some or all of the schools may end up competing under the Pac-12 banner.

Given the existence of their media rights and grant-of-rights agreements, we do not expect any of the Power Four leagues to disband in the next six or seven years. (The Big Ten’s agreement will be the first to expire, in 2030.)

However, as we approach the 2030s, the current conference structure may disintegrate as the top football schools form their own league of 24 to 32 members.

The rest will be demoted to the second level.

And there’s a slim chance that economic pressures will force the Power Four to restructure before 2030.

Can you summarize the fate of the Pac-12 Network and its employees? Does it continue to exist beyond the end of the current media contract, or are the obligations over at the end of the academic year? Can the lease of the San Ramon facility be broken if it ceases to exist? — @RockDawg3

The Pac-12 Networks’ distribution contracts with Comcast, Dish, and others are set to expire at the end of the 2023-24 school year. In this respect, the

Networks will go down in history as one of the worst strategic decisions in modern college athletics.

The production studio, which is now located in San Ramon (in the Bay Area), has a multi-year lease that is estimated to cost $1.5 million to $2 million per year. We don’t know the terms, but breaking the agreement will be costly — it’s one of the [many liabilities that the conference faces.

The studio and equipment could be used to broadcast Pac-12 games in the future, whatever shape that takes with Washington State and Oregon State.However, that is a significant unknown.

Finally, we are pleased to report that, according to multiple sources, the conference provided employees with severance packages that were described as surprisingly fair given the circumstances.

How much of a benefit will it be to the six schools going to either the Big Ten or ACC for them to have greater TV exposure through the Big Ten and ACC Networks, compared to what they have now with the Pac-12 Networks? — @JustR_02

The short answer is that any network is superior to the Pac-12 Networks, which have an estimated 13 million subscribers.

Fox owns and operates the Big Ten Network, while ESPN owns and operates the ACC Network. Collaborations with major media companies provided negotiating leverage for widespread distribution and significant revenue.

The platforms will benefit incoming schools in a variety of ways, but perhaps not to the extent that we might have anticipated a few years ago. NIL opportunities now drive recruiting more than media exposure.

But, in general, yes: the conference-affiliated networks will provide broad benefits that the Pac-12 Networks and their disastrous business model did not.

If Washington State and Oregon State can schedule enough Power Four opponents for the 2024 season, would that give these schools any advantage for the conference winner earning an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff, recruiting, retaining coaches and staying relevant? — @CelestialMosh

First and foremost, the ‘Pac-2’ is very likely to occur. WSU and OSU will compete as a two-team conference under the Pac-12 banner, barring a last-minute snafu, as the Hotline reported last weekend .

The conference champion, however, will not receive an automatic berth in the College Football Playoff. Due to a change in the CFP selection rules, the Cougars and Beavers will have to qualify through the at-large route.

The playoff will begin next year with the five highest-ranked conference championships and the seven highest-ranked non-champions. The latter is WSU and OSU’s competitive pool.

Second, their 2024 schedules will be devoid of Power Four opponents.

The Cougars will play Washington in the Apple Cup, while the Beavers are under contract with Purdue (in Corvallis) and will likely continue the Civil War with Oregon.

Unless there is a last-minute change, their schedules will be heavy on Group of Five opponents, particularly Mountain West teams, and one or two FCS opponents.

There’s also a chance that WSU and OSU will play a home-and-home series against each other.

What are the ‘Pac-2’ going to do for all their sports besides football? Play as Independents? — @NMinmyheart

Independent competition is not an option — not even Notre Dame’s Olympic sports are Independent. Except for football, the Irish compete in all ACC sports.

Oregon State and Washington State are attempting to form a comprehensive alliance with the Mountain West.

Their football teams would compete under the Pac-12 banner but would play in their respective conferences.

six games against MW opponents, as well as their basketball teams and Olympic athletes

Sports teams would compete as MW affiliate members.

If that plan fails, the Beavers and Cougars will play Independent football and try to place their basketball and Olympic teams in either the West Coast Conference or the Big Sky Conference.

West, or a combination of the two.

However, there is still much work to be done in terms of logistics and finances.

Wouldn’t 1) Oregon State beating Oregon, thus knocking the Ducks out of the CFP, combined with 2) Arizona beating Washington in the conference championship, thus knocking the Huskies out of the playoff, and 3) the Wildcats finally winning a conference title but not getting to play in the Rose Bowl, be a fitting end to Pac-12 football as we know it? — @bogeycat85

The Hotline couldn’t have summed up the most Pac-12 ending ever better: It would be a shocker if two CFP contenders were eliminated and a first-time champion did not play in the Rose Bowl… and yet so completely predictable.

It’s not as impossible as it appears.

The Beavers defeated Oregon last year; Arizona held the Huskies to a seven-point game in September in quarterback Noah Fifita’s first start; and, as you noted, the Wildcats have never won a Pac-10 or Pac-12 championship.

championship during their 45-year tenure in the conference.

If they win this year, they will be assigned to the Fiesta or Cotton Bowl because their white whale, the Rose Bowl, is unavailable.

The semifinals of the CFP will be held in this city.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving side dishes? — @kmasterman

Thank you for asking about sweet potatoes.

Also, thank you to all Hotline readers for your continued support this year (and every year). This operation would not be possible without your assistance.

I hope everyone had a joyous and safe holiday.

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas — with the conference

The transfer portal and early-signing window, coaching changes, NFL declarations, and the Pac-12 legal battle — this will be the busiest stretch of the year in college football.

Every step of the way, the Hotline will be there to provide news and analysis of every twist and turn.

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