PANIC IN THE PAC 12
By George Somerville
George takes a look at why Mel Tucker’s exit from Colorado this week should be cause for wider concern for the Pac 12.
Mel Tucker’s departure this week from Colorado shouldn’t just be a massive disappointment for Buff’s fans. It should also send shockwaves throughout the “Conference of Champions” all the way to its Headquarters at 370 Third Street in San Francisco.
Tucker’s departure is the third high profile head coach to leave the Pac 12 in about as many weeks. The Conference was shocked by Chris Peterson stepping down at Washington (albeit he stays on in a non football capacity), then the thunderbolt of Mike Leach leaving for Mississippi State soon followed. But Tucker’s departure, after constant denials that he was leaving, confirmed what we have all been suspecting for some time – that the PAC 12 is fast becoming a backwater conference where talent and money is leaking like water through a sieve.
Boulder to East Lansing
Take Tucker’s move. He will more than double his salary to go to East Lansing to compete in the Big 10. His salary at Colorado was in the region of $2.4m but he will reportedly earn $5.4m ($3.8m with add on’s) at Michigan State. And to put his Colorado salary in perspective, Alabama’s recruiting budget annually is $2.6m.
So why his sudden U-turn from staying in Boulder to moving to East Lansing in a spectacular 24hrs should come as a surprise, is well frankly no shock at all.
It really is all about the money.
For some time the Pac 12 has faced the issue of TV money flowing to other conferences. And with dwindling attendances across all of football, this is resulting in a dual impact reduction in income. Once the darling of TV schedules, the truth is that these legacy behemoths – USC, UCLA, Stanford and Washington – are no longer must watch TV given the late night slots they command if they are not winning. And they aren’t winning.
Breakfast Football - A Coaches perspective
At last year’s Pac 12 summit, early kick off’s were discussed as a way of ensuring West Coast games could be shown alongside the Big Ten, SEC and Big XII. Even if that meant kicking off at 9am Pacific Coast Time. At that time I spoke to Danny Gonzales, who was Assistant Head Coach at Arizona State. Coach Gonzales has since moved to become Head Coach at the University of New Mexico. Here’s what Coach had to say about 9am starts for his team.
“I think your biggest question mark would be around how many people would show up. If you’re winning a bunch of football games I don’t think it will matter – people will show up. If not it gives them another excuse to stay home and watch on TV. But if it gives the PAC 12 an advantage, in any way; if it puts us on TV in front of more faces and gets more people to come out here to play football or more people to come watch it out here – I’m all for it. So, just being one of the great institutions of the PAC 12, whatever we can do to celebrate this great league and make it more known we are willing to do”.
Financial Woes at UCLA
Money remains the single biggest issue for the Pac 12. UCLA Athletics recently announced a $18.9m deficit for fiscal year 2019. Sure, this included the severance costs of football head coach, Jim Mora and basketball head coach, Steve Alford – but this just re-enforces the cost of failure.
While the UCLA Athletics Department generated $108.4m revenue in the year, it spent $127.3m which required an interest bearing loan from the University to shore up this hole in finances.
Given that many Universities in the US depend heavily on athletics to generate income for the school, this must be a bitter pill to swallow.
And for UCLA the pain continues, with a deficit expected in 2020 also. The gamble of paying Chip Kelly some $11m per year does not appear to be paying off.
So, it is entirely possible that the Pac 12 is in a financial downward spiral. Something close spectators of the conference have been saying for years.
What about the Student Athletes?
But the biggest impact may be on recruitment.
Right up until the announcement was made of his departure, Mel Tucker tweeted that he was going nowhere.
So, what those recruits who have just signed for Colorado and Coach Tucker must be thinking I don’t know. Their deal has changed. The man who recruited them is not going to be there. He will be a thousand miles away coaching another team.
This is not the pro’s and these student athletes cant follow Tucker. They are now stuck at a school playing for a Head Coach who didn’t choose them. Given this will have been the single biggest decision of their young lives, they must be feeling severely let down at this point.
And this is not just a Pac 12 issue. Seven Head Coaches have either resigned or been fired since National Signing day. This means there is a whole signing class who are in the same position as those at Colorado. It is estimated that this impacts around 150 college football recruits.
There was understandable frustration for those that had signed up to Mel Tucker’s sales pitch. Dallas Cowboy SuperBowl winner, Drew Pearson was especially vocal as his grandson was one of this year’s recruits and will be immediately impacted by Tucker’s move.
So will High school recruits be put off by School’s which habitually change coaching staff? Well, we know that Coaching changes happen rarely pre National Signing Day, so that probably answers the question.
I did ask this of Steven Montez, former Colorado quarterback who had endured his fair share of coaching changes during his four years in Boulder.
“I think there’s two different ways to think about that. You can either feel sorry for yourself and kind of ask why the change keeps coming and why coaches keep shifting. Or you can take it as a new learning experience. And that everyone who comes through those doors will try to make you better. Which is how I have come to take it. I just try to get better with each coach. Because every coach that has come in has brought something different to the table. Each coach has a different style and I think they have all gotten me significantly better.”
What now for the Pac 12? Well media day should be interesting for Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Is his seat hotter than Chip Kelly’s? I’m not sure I would want to sit in either.
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.