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Roundtables: The School & The Conference.

Discussing Chancellor Carol Christ and Commissioner Larry Scott.

Sather Gate Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

1. What are your thoughts on Carol Crist’s criticism of the Pac-12? https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/14/cal-chancellor-carol-christ-expresses-three-sets-of-concerns-about-the-pac-12s-direction-criticizes-the-conference-office-itself/

Kevin Wu: Spot on. Just as a pure spectator, I often feel like our conference is giving our schools the short end of the stick. Sure, our top football and basketball programs will be just fine. But, Cal is neither. It’s clear the Pac-12 is doing things to maximize their earnings, but it often feels like the student-athletes and fans experiences are seconding to the moneymaking aspects of their business. Chasing TV money is important, I get that. But, at what cost? Chancellor Christ’s criticism of the conference’s scheduling habits is a perfect example of priorizing money over well-being. I sometimes feel like the Pac-12 conference administrators are no better than the NCAA administrators. And, just look at all the flack the NCAA gets.

Nik Jam: She said a lot of true things about the Pac-12 scheduling. Although the whole “1-2 weeks before the game” time announcing is what every conference does, not just the Pac-12, and that is how its been for many years. I think she knows that, but still. She is right about student athletes being screwed by these new scheduling habits (like basketball getting Wednesday-Sunday roadtrips) and I’m not sure the Pac-12 Network ratings justify such tradition-breaking scheduling.

Nick Kranz: My questions is what power does Chancellor Crist have to influence positive changes? I certainly agree with her concerns, but as far as I’m aware Cal is locked into a media rights contract that will continue to lead to these sorts of problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have a chancellor able to diagnose problems . . . but I’m not entirely sure what Cal can do in response.

thedozen: I enjoy the fact that Christ pushes back against the behemoth that big conference athletics has become. However, like some others on here I wonder how much power she has to change how the Pac-12 operates.

boomtho: I agree with a lot of her criticisms, though I will note it’s easier to point figures at the Pac-12 given her position, as well as the fact she wasn’t involved in the original negotiations. Still, to be clear: I think she’s accurately and fairly called out a number of issues of the Pac-12’s reliance on cable TV/football revenue, the adverse impact the TV schedule has had on in-person/fan experiences (especially for mid-to-lower tier teams like us), and how the Pac-12 projections simply haven’t materialized. It’s going to be very interesting to follow what she tries to do at Cal, starting with naming an AD.

Ruey Yen: I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I think a major NCAA reform (players being paid, etc.) is happening soon that will reshape the college sports system. From her complaints about the Pac-12, I think Carol Christ will be a good leader for Cal going into these changes. I also get the sense that she will hire a new AD who is more of an original thinker and adept with the incoming changes to the whole college sports landscape than your standard “football is everything” AD.

2. Roleplay! You are Larry Scott. What’s the first step you would take in trying to improve Pac-12 national coverage and revenue?

Kevin Wu: If I were Larry Scott, I’d fight tooth and nails to get the “real” prime time slots for my football and basketball games. I’m talking starting games in the 4-6pm PST time slots. If you want to be legitimate, you’ve got to be seen across the entire country, and especially on the East Coast. There is an East Coast bias in play -- there always was and always will be. We can’t whine about it anymore over here on the West. Just accept the fact. If our on-field/court product is really as good as we think it is, then we need to fight for the same coverage that the other conferences have. By the way, this also means getting our games off of the Pac-12 Networks -- which is like JV compared to the ESPN and FOX networks.

Nik Jam: I’d just give DirecTV what they want, even if it means lessening deals the other TV providers have, because right now the Pac-12 needs more exposure. When a game is on P-12 Network (see Arizona-ASU on Dec. 30 or when Cal upset #1 Arizona in 2014) it is virtually guaranteed that it’ll be irrelevant nationally. If you’re not going to budge on DirecTV at least give more options for people to watch the game online (a $5 a month subscription) and more ways to watch online (Roku, PS4, Xbox One do not have apps as far as I know and that’s not acceptable) This way, it doesn’t feel like punishment when a poor Pac-12 FB team, or a non-conference basketball game, gets the Pac-12 Network coverage instead of ESPN. I saw a lot of complaints on social media about where Arizona/ASU ended up, and it seemed like the conference just shrugged and said “Too bad.” They could have found a way to get more eyes on that game. Maybe even made streaming P12 Network online free that day. As Nick stated in his article, the Pac-12 has an insurmountable deficit in fans. It is just something we will have to deal with forever. But we can’t make it worse by limiting options for exposure.

Nick Kranz: With the obvious caveat that I am woefully unaware of the various factors and dynamics that determine how this stuff works: Surely there must be some way to improve distribution of the Pac-12 network? Many issues the Pac-12 faces are almost unsolvable problems related to immutable geography or slow-to-change culture/demographics. But if the conference were to swallow their pride and change the ownership structure or distribution price point of the Pac-12 Network, then they might immediately be able to improve access to what was supposed to be the crown jewel of their new media structure.

thedozen: Make games start earlier whenever possible. Some Pac-12 football games go so late that I end up watching the 4th quarter in bed. I’m not a fan of 8 PMstart times for hoops, either. I can only imagine what it’s like for any Pac-12 fans or analysts on the East Coast.

boomtho: I agree with a lot of the points already mentioned:

-Figure out what it would take to strike a deal with DirectTV, and just get the damn thing done

-Work with the TV partners to get better start times. I really don’t know what’s in the realm of possible - but I would even explore things like adding an extra weekday game in exchange for getting all the conference starts in the 12:30-6PM window, as an example

-Longer term, I know the vision was to have the Pac-12 Networks solely owned by the universities as a contrast to what has been done with other networks (like the SEC). However, those conferences’ closeness to ESPN has really made their lives easier, in terms of exposure, start times, hype, etc. I really would explore what the finances could look like to shift to a model where the Network was partially owned by ESPN

Ruey Yen: At this point, having the Pac-12 Networks (remember, it’s plural as there are often 3-4 different events at the same time) deal with ESPN is not going to solve a lot of problems. ESPN already owns a bit of the SEC Network, B1G Network, and Longhorns Network that the good start time (to be competition to all the programmings in those ESPN affiliated channels) will not be given to the Pac-12. Like Nick and Boomtho had said, Larry Scott got to cave and get DirectTV to pick up the Pac-12 Networks so all the bars that have the NFL package will have the Pac-12 channels in HD as well. It is insane that in this year 5 (it started in August of 2012) of the Pac-12 Networks, bars still need special TV arrangement (Dish Network or Comcast Sports Package in certain area) to show the games. From my involvements in arranging for game viewing in DC and then Philly, I have often experienced bars that got the special packages to cater to Pac-12 fans to still struggle in finding our games. It’s the long game, but step 1 is to have the exposure to build up the demand.