Problems in the Pac-12? Larry Scott faces league issues that go beyond satellite camp vote; Punt, Pass & Pork
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has his share of detractors within the league, largely because they dislike his management style and the fact the Pac-12 Network—Scott's signature creation—has not generated the kind of revenue for which conference members had hoped. Those detractors have mostly kept their voices cloaked in off-the-record statements and behind-the-scenes complaints, though every once in a while a not-so-subtle shot about Pac-12 Network revenue generation goes public. Scott's detractors work at the member schools and in the league office, but one prominent guy who never complained about the commissioner was UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero. That's what made it so odd when Scott chose to take Guerrero to task for screwing up the Pac-12's vote on the satellite camp issue. In the end, that decision could damage Scott far more than it does Guerrero.
At a College Football Playoff meeting in Dallas last Wednesday, Scott told multiple reporters that Guerrero "did not vote the way he was supposed to vote." While the slip-up on the satellite camp issue ultimately falls at Guerrero's feet, Scott's public chastising of him could have a more lasting effect on the league. Guerrero explained to SI.com on Wednesday night why he voted the way he did. That explanation did not satisfy lay people who have never served on an NCAA committee, but among Pac-12 ADs—who know the league, in its preparation materials, did not code the satellite camp issue as a "directed vote" in which Guerrero had to vote a certain way regardless of the circumstances—it made sense even if they disagreed with the outcome.
The NCAA Division I Board of Directors will probably revisit the satellite camp ban this week due to several unintended consequences, so the odds remain high that the Pac-12 will get what it wants (no ban) on the issue. Scott, then, had little reason to lay 100% of the blame on Guerrero. Any issues with Guerrero's vote could have been handled privately and in person when the ADs and Scott meet in Phoenix next month.
No matter where the thermostat is set, Scott will walk into a chilly room for those meetings. Had an AD publicly criticized Scott in the way Scott criticized Guerrero, that AD might have been hit with a reprimand or a fine from the conference office. Scott likely isn't subject to discipline, but his actions may have increased the number and ferocity of his enemies within the league. Guerrero was never one to criticize Scott, either on or off the record. Even last Wednesday, he declined comment when asked about Scott's public rehashing of the situation. UCLA chancellor Gene Block has also been an ally of Scott's; it remains to be seen if this development will strain their relationship, and Scott can't afford to make many more enemies in the league.
The simmering bitterness in the Pac-12 is rooted in a revenue gap that—given recent events—may never close. Scott agreed to a 12-year, $3 billion first-tier media rights deal in 2010 that temporarily put the league at the top of the market, and he helped create the Pac-12 Network with the intention it would fill the coffers of member schools for decades to come. When creating the network, he decided that the conference would create it from scratch and own 100% of it. The Big Ten, meanwhile, owns 49% of its network. Fox owns the other 51%. ESPN owns 100% of the SEC Network and pays the league a percentage of total revenue. To limit start-up costs for ESPN and for the SEC, the network and conference decided to headquarter it at an existing ESPN facility in Charlotte, N.C. The Pac-12 created a facility in San Francisco, one of the nation's most expensive real estate markets.
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The Pac-12 Network has lagged behind the Big Ten and SEC networks in revenue generated for its schools. In a recent letter to boosters, Washington State athletic director Bill Moos wrote that the school received only $1.4 million in revenue from the Pac-12 Network in 2015. In the same letter, he wrote that when the network was announced in '11, the conference projected revenue between $5 million and $6 million per school. By contrast, a back-of-the-envelope calculation based on SEC and College Football Playoff distributions in '15 estimated the SEC Network provided an additional $5.5 million per school in its first 10 months of operation. The Big Ten Network, meanwhile, is rolled into a rights package that paid each of its schools $12.5 million in '15 (not counting first-tier TV rights). The best estimate for the amount that the BTN generates per school is between $8 million and $10 million a year.
Last Tuesday, Sports Business Journal's John Ourand and Michael Smith reported that beginning next year Fox will pay the Big Ten $250 million per year for half of a first-tier package that currently generates $100 million a year in total. Assuming ESPN, Turner, NBC, CBS or some combination of those spends at least $150 million per year on the other half, the Big Ten is about to quadruple what it gets for its first-tier rights. The revenue gap between the Pac-12 and the SEC and Big Ten is only going to grow, and there isn't much Scott can do about it.
His scorched-earth negotiating policy alienated DirecTV, the nation's largest satellite provider. (Shockingly, companies don't enjoy doing business with entities that encourage that company's customers to leave in favor of direct competitors.) The Pac-12 Network still doesn't have a deal with DirecTV even though AT&T—a company the network does have a carriage deal with—has purchased DirecTV. The Pac-12 Network's subscriber fee, reportedly 80 cents per month inside the league footprint, is dwarfed by the SEC Network's $1.40 in-footprint fee. That math is exacerbated by the number of subscribers each conference network has. According to media research from SNL Kagan, the Pac-12 Network has 11 million subscribers. The Big Ten Network has 60 million, and the SEC Network has 63 million. And those relatively few subscribers are not necessarily happy. The Pac-12 Network's use of regional feeds has left viewers scrambling to find games they want to see and has forced them to watch some of those in standard definition*.
*The Pac-12 Network produces events in high definition. It is up to the cable or satellite carrier to decide whether to place them on an HD or SD channel. But the network could have insisted in its carriage deals that those events must always be carried in HD.
Scott could sell an equity stake in the network for a one-time cash infusion, but that would still do little to close a revenue gap that will extend for years absent a new revenue stream. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has covered the Pac-12's television misadventures better than anyone, and his projections for the gap going forward are staggering. Based on deals already signed and an estimate of the Big Ten's forthcoming deals, Wilner estimated last year that each Pac-12 school will receive at least $10 million less in media rights revenue per year than each SEC or Big Ten counterpart.
The gap isn't entirely Scott's fault. He can't give his schools the huge alumni bases Big Ten schools have. Nor can he make Pac-12 fans care as passionately about their schools' athletic programs as SEC fans care about theirs. But just as the blame for the satellite camp vote falls on UCLA's Guerrero, the blame for this predicament will fall squarely on Scott.
That blame was tossed around in private before last Wednesday night. Don't be shocked if it becomes much more public following Scott's decision to throw Guerrero under the bus.
A random ranking
Here are my top 10 Prince songs. Rest in peace, purple one.
1. "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man"*
2. "Darling Nikki"
3. "Little Red Corvette"
4. "Purple Rain"
5. "When Doves Cry"
6. "Diamonds and Pearls"
7. "I Would Die For U"
8. "Let's Go Crazy"
10. "I Wanna Be Your Lover"
*Prince might have made sonically superior songs—though apparently this one is technically quite amazing—but this will always be my favorite. Back in the days before satellite radio, podcasts and Spotify, my old Toyota Corolla and I had to make some very long drives on a regular basis. In those times when I was tired and couldn't find a decent station, I knew I could crank up Prince meeting a woman on the rebound in a bar at 10:35 on a lonely Friday night. That song would always wake me up and keep me going.
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1. As mentioned above, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors is likely to revisit the satellite camp ban this week. No one voting on the ban apparently thought of the potential consequences for recruits if Group of Five coaches weren't allowed to work Power 5 camps—something both groups want—so it would not be the least bit shocking if the ban gets tossed. The leagues that want a ban would then be asked to go back and write a more carefully worded rule.
If that happens, the coaches who were planning satellite camps will probably reinstate those plans. That includes Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who planned to have coaches work camps at Florida International, Rutgers and a few other schools. The Razorbacks also had preliminary plans to hold a camp at Cowboys Stadium. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is an Arkansas alumnus. "I was shocked by [the ruling] the other day," Bielema told Jack Arute and me Friday on SiriusXM's College Sports Nation. "We were ready to rock 'n' roll. I was kind of in favor of them."
Bielema also provided a little backstory for how the satellite camp issue has evolved. If you've been reading this space, you already know the first Power 5 staff to think of teaming with a lower-level school in a recruit-rich state was Oklahoma State's, which partnered with Division III power Mary Hardin-Baylor to work camps in Texas. It was Bielema who took brochures from those camps to the SEC's spring meetings in Destin, Fla., a few years ago to let conference coaches know about the practice. (Given Arkansas's location, Bielema's intent was likely to convince the SEC to change its rule so Razorbacks coaches could fan out.) At the time, James Franklin was the coach at Vanderbilt. The next year, he had moved to Penn State. Franklin's Nittany Lions staff began working camps in Georgia and Florida. When Jim Harbaugh arrived at Michigan, he saw what the Penn State coaches were doing and decided to build on it.
And here we are.
If the board overturns the ban, expect coaching staffs to spread out across the country. This would be good for recruits, who would get a lower-cost option to meet multiple staffs in person. It would be most interesting in SEC country, where it would soon become obvious that the only reason the league had an existing rule was to keep its own coaches from invading one another's territory. "If you get the SEC in this thing," Bielema said, "it could get a little silly."
2. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin tossed a little shade at his school's biggest rival while driving past during a recruiting trip last week.
Kiffin shorted the 2014 Auburn team 25 points, but the end result was the same. We have three more weeks of the Kiffin travelogue to follow before the spring evaluation period ends.
3. Nebraska receivers coach Keith Williams is one of the more creative social media users in the coaching profession. So is Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith. This week, it appeared the coaches turned their Twitter accounts against each other. It began when Williams tweeted this …
Smith then retweeted this from Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.
Then came a series of subtweets from both parties.
LoL— Keith Williams (@wideouts) April 22, 2016
The Cornhuskers and Buckeyes will meet Nov. 5 in Columbus.
4. Read about Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst's excellent idea to flip assistant coaches for a portion of spring practice. The idea is that players could learn from the guy who teaches the position group those players are supposed to beat.
5. The remainder of First-and-10 will take you step-by-step through what happens when eight USC offensive linemen get stranded on an elevator. At first, remain calm.
6. Be aware that even though the fire department knows of the predicament, it may not be able to immediately extricate eight O-linemen.
7. Next comes bargaining.
8. Then fear.
9. Then gas.
10. Then rapping …
What's eating Andy?
We have three more days until the draft starts. I'm sure everyone's favorite source, Anonymous NFL Scout, has one more big story in him.
What's Andy eating?
Occasionally, when I revisit a place I've enjoyed in the past, I'll scroll through a few recent online reviews. Maybe the place has changed management and gone downhill. Maybe the place has a new, secret, off-the-menu treat for loyal fans. This is valuable information, but these aren't the only reasons I read the reviews. Sometimes I just want to see why a person would pan a place my taste buds know to be good.
On my last visit to Athens, Ga., I had a few minutes to kill. So I clicked on the most recent Yelp reviews for Kelly's Jamaican Foods. Kelly's makes some of my favorite jerk chicken, but the authentic Jamaican touches—the scotchbonnet pepper-enthused jerk sauce, for example—get combined with traditional Southern fare. On a warming table full of sides, rice and peas sits next to macaroni and cheese. Combos featuring jerk pork or curried goat are served with huge hunks of cornbread and a cup into which diners may draw iced tea so sweet it could be spread on pancakes. These items are served by two ladies who would rather watch Deal or No Deal than respond to questions from whiny college students questions about whether the jerk sauce is too hot. (If you have to ask, the answer is yes.) These factors make Kelly's a delightful hole in the wall.
Apparently, a Yelper named Brittany from Alpharetta, Ga., was not charmed by any of this. Brittany could not understand why Kelly's first 96 reviews had garnered an average of rating of four-and-half stars. She listed five issues. After refreshing my memory of Kelly's with a jerk chicken/jerk pork combo with rice and peas and macaroni and cheese, I will now respond to each complaint.
Brittany's first grievance: 1) The setting is kind of run down and it looks really dirty. They also received an 85 on their restaurant score as of 1/16/16. I don't need to guess where the 15 points went.
Some of us feel places should pay more attention to the food than the ambience. If Kelly's had cleaner floors or had walls that didn't sag, valuable time might have been taken away from the preparation of jerk chicken. Presumably, Brittany wasn't blindfolded en route to restaurant. The state of the building is quite obvious from the outside. If that is objectionable, why walk in and eat? Some of us prefer our holes in the wall have actual holes in the wall. The Subway next door likely scored a 100 with the health department. Kelly's probably had 15 points subtracted for being too damn delicious.
Brittany's second grievance: 2) The woman who is supposed to greet customers has the worst attitude. She doesn't say hello or smile when you come in, she just stares at you; she's standoffish and cold.
Brittany clearly never considered that her demands on this woman's time might be keeping the lady from a date with Howie Mandel and models holding briefcases. She gave you jerk chicken that can fill the belly and clear the sinuses. Don't expect small talk.
Brittany's third grievance: 3) I ordered the small jerk chicken plate with mac and cheese and rice and peas. For over $9, the portion size was filling. However, the food was just dumped onto the plate. It was so messy and haphazard. At least try to plate the food properly instead of splattering it everywhere.
So sorry, your majesty. For the considerable sum of nine American dollars, one should expect the food to be piled into a cheeky culinary mountain in the middle of a piece of bone china, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and topped with a mint sprig. Or, since it's about to get dumped down your gullet and into your stomach—where it shall be dissolved by acid and broken down into its constituent parts—perhaps it's more efficient to simply place the tasty food on the plate in the quickest possible manner.
Brittany's fourth grievance: 4) When it comes to flavor, the jerk chicken itself was actually really good. The meat had a lot of flavor and spices and it fell off the bone. Now to the sides ... they were just awful which was really surprising. The mac and cheese was soooo bland. It was crazy ... if you've ever made even Easy Mac, you know that cheese can add a lot of flavor so I'm not sure why the mac and "cheese" tasted like there was NO cheese in it. The mac and cheese also had red stuff on it. When I asked what is the red stuff, the answer I got was "cheese." Well, I have never seen red cheese so I still have no clue what that is.
Perhaps, because of Brittany's intrusion into this woman's game-show-watching time, she felt that Brittany didn't deserve to know about paprika. After her horribly inaccurate description of the flavor of perfectly fine mac and cheese, I'm glad that secret wasn't divulged.
Brittany's fifth grievance: 5) The rice and peas was soo bland as well! Just absolutely zero flavor and very dry. The meal came with cornbread, which tasted nice, but had a thick cake-like density instead of the normal soft, crumbly yet melt in your mouth cornbread texture.
People from different countries cook food differently than grandma did? Wait until Brittany finds out that some of them say words differently, too. (And you're supposed to have them put a little jerk sauce on the rice and peas. Don't ask so many questions about the cheese and Kelly's might do that for you.)