Leave it to Beavers (and Cougars)

Stanford and Cal announced today that they're joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. That leaves only Oregon State and Washington State in what used to be the Pac-12. You can't have a two-team conference, and so many are expecting the Beavers and Cougars to wind up in what's currently the Mountain West Conference, although there's a possibility of a merger that would name the new thing the Pac-12.

Okay, so who the heck is in the Mountain West Conference?

  • Air Force
  • Boise State
  • Cal State - Fresno
  • Colorado State
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • San Diego State
  • San Jose State
  • UNLV
  • Utah State
  • Wyoming

"Affiliate" members are:

  • Colorado College
  • Hawaii
Beaver and Cougar fans, relax. You'll get used to it.

How did this happen? My good buddy Michael Lopez, who's the unofficial world expert on Stanford football, dissected it this way (before today's announcement):

Consecutive Pac-12 Commissioners who were inept deal makers. Larry Scott became more inept after his first TV deal. He didn't realize this was a "What-have-you-done-for-me-lately" business. The 2011, 12 year, $3.0 billion TV deal was historic as Stanford was the Pac-12 Big Dog in the first few years of that deal with a two-to-three other notable contenders in the Conference. Problem: The contract was too long and inflexibility was exacerbated by bad timing. The Pac-12 had become the sick man of the Power Five conferences by 2023. Larry Scott couldn’t pull another rabbit out of his hat like the first deal. He was also out for #1, as evidenced by his $30 million exit package. Unknown but later-discovered accounting errors, which generated a WTF $50 million reimbursement to Comcast for their overpayment to the Pac-12, didn't endear the schools to the Conference Commissioner as well. 

Current Commissioner George Kliavkoff was no prize either (nod to Rodney Dangerfield). It appears he didn’t manage upward (media companies) or downward (member schools and presidents) very well. Before joining the Pac-12, he was a Vegas guy with a prior run in the digital realm with some known media names. He looked good on paper, but scratching the surface would have shown his feet were made of clay. Without going deeply into Kliavkoff’s recurring shortcoming that surfaced in the past few months, his strategic downfall was bringing a knife to a gunfight. On August 3, Kliavkoff got the long-awaited Apple deal to the Pac-12 Board. While he previously had some ties to ESPN, those connections seemed weaker than Mike Lindell's election fraud evidence. At that fateful August 3 meeting, Kliavkoff presented the Apple offer to the assembled school representatives: $23 million per school, escalating to higher revenue based on subscriptions. The monthly subscription fee would have been between $13 and $15. 2.5 million subscriptions would have escalated the per team revenue to $30 million, 3.7 million subscribers to $50 million (Subscription Context: Hulu-48 million, ESPN-25 million, Peacock-24 million). The remaining ten Pac-12 schools would be down to four within 48 hours. 

There are many places where the process broke down. Sports Columnist Jon Wilner created a list of 12 strategic whiffs in his August 6 article. Most were driven by negotiating naivete (academics dealing with media sharks) and hubris (overestimating our market value). My choice for the anvil that broke the camel’s back is Washington State President Kirk Schultz. Last fall, ESPN put a $30 million per school [deal] in front of the Pac-12 board. The WSU President and Pac-12 Board Chair, a chemical engineer by training, was stuck on a number and not in reality. $50 million per school was his response to ESPN. He was quite vocal about closing the gap with the Big Ten. Kliavkoff wimped out by letting that strategy stand. Had this $30 million deal gone through, the Conference would still exist with ten members. The runner-up for screw-ups was passing on ESPN's offer to take over distribution for the money-losing Pac-12 Network. As a sidecar, a long-term Tier 1 broadcast deal was attached to that entreaty.  That would have locked in the Conference, including the LA schools, from exit paths. Then Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, a former lower-tier tennis pro (lifetime earnings: $69,740) and subsequently more successful tennis association administrator, had visions of unsubstantiated grandeur and a beaucoup payday in 2024. This bungle was a case of an eagle in hand versus a unicorn in the bush.

Where are we [Stanford] now? We learned about the going-concern concept in business school accounting classes. This concept is the underlying assumption that an entity that creates economic value has an ecosystem and operations that will sustain its existence for the foreseeable future. When financial audits are performed on companies, the final opinions will be based on the assumption that the company will still be there for many years. If the company's existence is in question, a greatly-qualified opinion letter will accompany the audit. Terms like "no longer a going concern…" flag imminent decline or demise. Example: Enron when the toilet water was starting to swirl. That’s where we are right now. There is no reasonable assumption that athletic-derived revenue or performance will come close to historic levels. This affects all sports, not just football and basketball. Stanford's identity has always, yes, always included a robust athletic component. This has been part of what differentiated us from those dweebs on the Charles River. If we lose that, a certain part of Stanford's heart and identity will melt faster than polar ice. 


  1. WHY are colleges and universities the training ground for pro football? MONEY!
    I fail to understand why anyone associated with sports teams is paid exorbitant amounts of money at institutions of supposedly “higher learning and “academic excellence” at the expense of the players and real professors and other educators.
    And I do not for one minute believe the reasoning that sports pay for themselves!

  2. At this point sports like football and basketabll are just professional teams sponsored by colleges. The athletes get paid, as does the school; star athletes get to pick what team they play for, changing it any time they want; and nobody really cares much about education.

  3. I enjoy the excitement of collage football. But, I also I miss the concept of the scholar athlete.

  4. Screwing over local fans to pursue pipe dreams of east coast audiences should be right at the top, but adding the Arizona schools was the real beginning of the end.

  5. Smart players and dumb ones alike can beat their brains out on the field.

  6. If one compares the PAC12 to a corporation. The CEO was never up to the job and the BOARD MEMBERS didn’t have any expertise to advise on the operation. Collapse was obvious.


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