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Friday, April 23, 2010
Opening the mailbag: How does the Pac-10 survive (thrive)?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

To the notes.

Robert from Seattle writes: Who does the Pac-10 ultimately answer to? The fans or to the presidents? A follow-up not-so-quick question. If the Pac-10 wants to survive as a conference, what do they do?

Ted Miller: Who does the Pac-10 answer to? Easy: $.

Commissioner Larry Scott's charge going forward is to maximize sports revenue, which means football and men's basketball (but mostly football). Of course, he doesn't want to completely compromise the culture and values of the conference -- academic or otherwise -- but my guess is his first interest is revenue.

He has two basic issues ahead of him that he'd like to have a handle on before he goes off to negotiate new media/TV deals after the first of the year (the Pac-10's contracts with Fox and ESPN-ABC expire after the 2011-2012 academic year).

The first is expansion: Would adding teams increase revenue per team? The 10 existing members want their pie slices to grow, not get smaller, with expansion. So he's looking for teams that: 1. are interested in joining the Pac-10; 2. would increase revenue. Much of that, of course, is tied to the idea of creating more value -- real and perceived -- when negotiating new TV contracts.

The second issue -- if he cannot bring the presidents an expansion plan that works -- is defending the Pac-10's interest if expansion becomes the rage back east.

If, suddenly, a 16-team Big Ten and 16-team SEC are nose-to-nose for domination, Scott has to figure out what that means for the Pac-10. At the BCS meetings, Scott said he doesn't necessarily believe that would force the Pac-10 to follow the leaders. Maybe. But maybe not.

It's possible that the new, powerful super-conferences would make demands, such as second automatic berth in BCS bowl games (and perhaps an option for a third) as well as other special accommodations. That could create a significant revenue imbalance.

Moreover, Scott has to be aware of what might happen if there is a long-term and significant revenue imbalance between the Pac-10 and the super conferences.

For example, what happens if the SEC-16 starts to pay assistant coaches an average salary of $750,000, while Pac-10 assistants average just $250,000?  Or think about this: What if Florida offered Mike Stoops $2.5 million to leave Arizona to become the Gators defensive coordinator? Or what if the existing imbalances in facilities become so pronounced that a significant percentage of recruits from southern California start heading east?

The Pac-10 could suddenly learn what it feels like to be a non-AQ conference. Heck, it could become a non-AQ conference.

Still, as I wrote on Thursday, we are wallowing in speculation and hypotheticals.

Ultimately, Scott's job is simple: He's going to try to improve the Pac-10's position in the marketplace, but, failing that, he needs to at least maintain it.

Matt from Athens, Ga., writes: When is the last time a USC player was not drafted in the 1st round? Does that point to any talent drop-off at USC or is it more particular players not fitting teams' needs in a given year?

Ted Miller: Last time? All the way back to ... 2007.

This is a good note from the Orange County Register though: "In the 75-year history of the National Football League draft, USC (63), Miami (56) and Ohio State (53) have produced the most first-round selections. On Thursday night in the 2010 first round, they combined for zero."

As for USC's talent, I don't think this is a moment to say the sky is falling. USC figures to have perhaps six players go in the next two rounds: Everson Griffen, Taylor Mays, Charles Brown, Damian Williams, Joe McKnight and Anthony McCoy. That ain't too shabby.

Michael from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Your Pac-10 predictions discount an Arizona team the returns almost the entire talent-ridden offense that, despite new coordinators, will run the same offense. As for the defense, it's still a Stoops team that always ranks high defensively, star talent or not. What's keeping the Cat's out of Pac-10 favorites?

Ted Miller: First, those aren't "predictions" -- they are "power rankings." They are based at the present moment. Things can change (and probably will).

A few points.

First, Arizona not only lost two coordinators, it lost two very good coordinators in new Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes and new Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. That can't be written off. The new foursome of co-coordinators are all smart, respected coaches, but it's prudent to take a wait-and-see attitude to how this unusual arrangement will work out going forward.

Second, Mike Stoops knows defense, without a doubt. But just like everyone else he needs players. As for "always" ranking highly: The 2007 unit ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring defense and fifth in total defense.

Third, the 2010 defense must replace seven starters, including both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and half its secondary. That seven includes three second-team All-Pac-10 players from each level (tackle Earl Mitchell, linebacker Xavier Kelly and free safety Cam Nelson). Moreover, they are counting on a pair of JC transfers to start at linebacker. I'm skeptical of JC transfers until proven otherwise.

Now, despite all this, the Wildcats still look like a bowl team -- in large part because, as you note, the offense should be able to score on anybody. Therefore, they are a member of what I see as the Pac-10's extremely competitive and deep middle. I rank USC, Oregon and Oregon State as a clear top three. But from Nos. 4 to No. 8, you could arrange and re-arrange teams and not get much of an argument from me.

Luke from Philadelphia writes: I am a fan/follower of PSU and the Big Ten. But I am really excited about what looks like a lot of changes out there in Pac-10 country. Naturally I hate USC, so seeing them humbled last year was awesome. It's great to see the rest of your conference rise up and bring more drama to the season and the Rose Bowl. What's the feeling out there in the west? Did Pac-10 fans traditionally feel proud of USC for being the football flagship and thus feel sad about their becoming mortal in 2009? Or are they as happy as I am to see some drama in the conference, even if it means the Pac-10 could actually lose a Rose Bowl or two?

Ted Miller: Not getting a sense of any sadness from the other nine teams of USC slipping back -- potentially slipping back, I should type -- particularly when I was in Westwood last week.

A wide-open Pac-10 is more fun. For a while there, it felt like everyone was playing for second place behind the Trojans, though it's important to note that three times during the Pete Carroll Era, USC only shared the title with another conference team (2002, 2006, 2007).

As for pride in USC, it was more a case of a desire for more sympathy and less "Pac-1" ridiculousness. The Trojans would have dominated any other conference just as they did the Pac-10 from 2002-2008.

Would they have won seven consecutive SEC titles? Probably not. But I also think that if USC had played in the SEC, it would have won more national titles during that span.

Gerald from Norcross, Ga., writes: How's the Eric Berry versus Taylor Mays comparison looking?

Ted Miller: Fair to say that Berry is the decisive winner after going No. 5 overall. Heck, Pete Carroll even rated Mays below Texas' Earl Thomas by taking Thomas over Mays with the No. 14 pick.

And how about this: Who would have thought that Mays wouldn't even be the first Pac-10 safety selected (Cleveland just picked Oregon's T.J. Ward with the sixth pick of the second round)?

Tough day for Mays no doubt. But he'll eventually get drafted and have plenty of opportunities to prove his doubters wrong.

Craig from Corvallis, Ore., writes: Do you think that a super conference for the Pac-10 would be considered if it partially revived the old Southwest Conference? The conference could have two divisions, the pacific and southwest. The Pacific would be composed of the original Pac-8 members. The Southwest would include the Arizona schools and six Texas schools. Unfortunately, some of the old Southwest members would have to be left out (I know Arkansas would not mind, they are probably very happy in the SEC). I think the best fit would include: Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, SMU, TCU and Texas Tech (or Rice). It would be a bold move by Larry Scott but very interesting for the world of college football. I think it would be interesting to see SMU brought back to the forefront of college football after their long dark-age.

Ted Miller: The Country-Western Conference!

It would be even better if you dropped Baylor and added Oklahoma, though that breaks from your old Southwest Conference theme.

This is an interesting idea, and not a bad one. I think the chances of something like this happen are decidedly remote, but I've read ideas that were far worse.