Back in the day—the Pac-8 days, to be exact—the now-Pac-12 conference was known as USC and the Seven Dwarfs. USC was the Big Boy and was expected to play a Big Ten team every year in The Rose Bowl game.
Oh sure, every now and then a hiccup would occur. Between 1968 and 1977, USC won six of the 11 conference titles.
Fast forward to 2011, when the Pac-12 was formed.
Oregon, Stanford, Washington and Utah won at least one conference title during that time, with Utah being the latest. USC also won a conference title. On paper, one could say that the conference is diverse.
A contrarian, however, would argue that the conference is weak and no team has really stepped up since USC was hammered by the NCAA’s sanctions for impermissible benefits and lack of institutional control in 2010.
Of all the teams that have joined the conference since the inception of the Pac-8, only one has truly benefitted: Utah.
Hear me out.
The Arizona schools joined the Pac-8 in 1978 and the conference was renamed the Pac-10. Arizona State won the conference title in 1986 and 1996. Arizona won it in 1993. Since the conference expanded in 2011 to 12 teams with the additions of Colorado and Utah, the Arizona teams have floundered. Colorado has been in the conference basement while Utah has steadily improved over a decade.
The Utes won the conference last year and are favored again this year by Phil Steele. Go Utes. They deserve the accolades. But this isn’t about Utah. It’s about USC. And why it needs to leave the Pac-12.
The Pac-12 conference champion has turned in some truly ugly performances in its top-tiered bowl games. The Pac-12 champions have gone 5-7, including an Oregon blow-out loss to Ohio State in 2014.
The bowl games’ embarrassment aside, the real eye-opener is conference revenues. It is not pretty.
According to an Andrea Adelson ESPN article, in the 2020-21 season, “the ACC 990 form shows total revenue was more than $578.3 million, the highest gross revenue in league history, [while] the Pac-12 reported total revenues of $344 million — down 36% over the previous year.”
The ACC distributed an average of $36.1 million per school. “The Pac-12 reported an average distribution of $19.8 million per school, a decrease of 41% over the previous year,” according to Adelson.
Duke got around $36 mil? USC got around $19 mil. That’s embarrassing. No offense, Duke football.
Of course, the conference produced a myriad of reasons for the revenue losses, including media revenue decreases, game cancellations and post-season bowl games.
But whose fault was that?
The Pac-12 cancelled numerous games because of the Covid-19 pandemic but other Power 5 conferences were less inclined to throw in the towel in 2020. The Big Ten decided to play upwards of a half season. The ACC and SEC played anywhere from a half to full season.
Champions aren’t afraid to play.
In 2021, the downward trend of revenue for the Pac-12 continued.
According to USAToday’s Steve Berkowitz, the numbers for the Pac-12 were a stark comparison to the ACC, Big Ten and SEC’s.
SEC: $833 M (+$105M vs. FY20) B1G: $679.8 M (-$89M) ACC: $578.3M (+82M) Big 12: $356M (-$53M) Pac-12: $343.5M (-$190M)
It’s not just the (lack of) revenue that makes the Pac-12 a basement dweller. The Pac-12 was ranked No. 5 in 2022’s Power 5 conference strength by Phil Steele. That’s last place, for those confused.
So the conference is….. a dud. But is there anything else that could change its perception?
The Pac-12 may not have played a lot of football in 2020, but it did play a lot of politics.
The Conference of Champions is the Conference of Activism. Its offices are in one of the most polarizing states in the Union. Instead of seeing TV ads with football or basketball players showing off trophies or championship rings, the Pac-12 Network airs ads of athletes bragging about its climate change awareness, inclusivity and diversity.
That message may appeal to a West Coast recruit, but those Southern boys aren’t buying it. And those Southern boys have a lot of rings. Just sayin’.
If you are a 5-star athlete, are you going to the SEC where championships are expected? Or are you going to the Pac-12, where USC celebrates being named the (back-to-back!) champion of “Zero Waste Challenge“?
Now don’t get me wrong here. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to leave this planet in a better place, nor is it wrong to want diversity and inclusivity. But a testosterone-laden 5-star football recruit isn’t choosing metal straws over a 10-carat bling-bling on his finger. Let’s get real, people.
Dammit, can’t USC have it all? Not in the Pac-12.
Question: if the Pac-12 were winning more revenue-producing championships—in football and basketball, to be specific—would its TV ads still have the same message?
One could blame former Pac-12 conference commissioner Larry Scott. He was in over his head. And unfortunately, his ego appeared to have prevented him from making a deal with satellite TV carriers such as Direct TV. As of now, Pac-12 Networks is not available on satellite TV.
I would include a poll of how Pac-12 fans living outside the Pac-12 footprint feel about a lack of access to their teams’ game on TV, but this site is rated G.
While that may not seem like a big deal to most football fans, it is a huge deal for USC fans. Like Notre Dame, USC is a private school with a huge football fan base that is spread across the United States.
Because of the Pacific Time Zone, most West Coast football starts late on Saturdays in the fall. If you are a Trojan fan living in New York City, watching a 7 pm (local time) USC game means you’re watching the opening kickoff around 10 pm.
And yet, Scott did nothing to change this. Beside polarizing the Trojan fan, what about the rest of college football fans (or AP voters!) who want to see how good Oregon or USC is? They are in bed, sleeping like a champ after a hard day watching elite football teams in prime time.
This brings us back to USC (thank you for your patience) and how it can do things to improve its situation. Hiring Lincoln Riley as its head coach was a great start. Now let’s put this Ferrari in 5th gear and let it rip.
Honest question here: If USC left the conference to play in the Big Ten or SEC….who would suffer more? The conference or USC?
Yeah, you know the answer to that.
While the transition to any of those conferences would be a little rough—the level of play in those two conferences is much higher—USC would thrive after the initial shock.
With NIL deals now a large part of recruiting, USC can hold its weight because it is in one of the most desirable media markets in the country. The SEC and Big Ten would LOVE to have USC join its conference. There would be an immediate pipeline to California—one of the Top 3 most fertile recruiting grounds—and the conferences could have add a footprint in a West Coast state.
USC would have to give up its ties to the Rose Bowl game (unless it joins the Big Ten) but the Sugar Bowl is looking like a better venue.
USC v Alabama or USC v Washington State? USC v Texas A&M or USC v Oregon State? USC v Michigan or USC v Arizona? USC v LSU every damn year or USC v UCLA?
You get the picture.
USC’s TV revenues would substantially increase. USC’s athletes would see an increase in their exposure. USC’s strength of schedule would increase tremendously. How many times has a Pac-12 team suffered the humiliation of being overlooked for a bowl game due to conference SOS?
There’s the elephant in the room that also needs to be addressed.
The eventual formation of Super Conference is inevitable. Moving to a Big Boy conference now makes sense. Waiting until the invites are almost all extended does not make sense. The fact that Oklahoma and Texas made their move to the SEC should alarm Pac-12 fans. Notre Dame is already heavily aligned with the ACC. Things aren’t as stable one thinks.
Finally, moving to the Big Ten or SEC means USC football would be on a major network when all the “Big Boys” play. No more of this Friday night B.S,. no more half-empty stadiums due to fan apathy and no more insanely weird kickoff times.
Sure, the fans would have to travel farther away. But give SC fans a reason to tailgate like a true Southerner, and they are all in.
Tailgating in The Grove? Yes, thank you. Tailgating in Baton Rouge? Yes ma’am, pass the Jambalaya. Tailgating in the Swamp? Chomp chomp! Tailgating in the Big House? [shudders]
USC has been carrying its conference’s back for decades. It’s time for USC to go to greener pastures.
Yes, there are kinks to work out in regards to television rights, athletic wear licenses and such, but a good lawyer and a handful of wealthy boosters should sort out all the minutia.
Feelings will get hurt. I’m looking at you, UCLA and Stanford. My money is on you following USC.
Winners want to play where winners play.
It’s time for USC to move on and expand the legacy of its storied football program.