How Much Longer Will We Have The Pac-12 To Kick Around?

The big news of the week as far as Husky football fans are concerned is they released some of the early-season TV schedules for non-conference games. We’ve got our opener on September 2nd against Boise State on ABC at 12:30pm, which sounds pretty nice. I’m assuming that’s still going to be a regional game – and the vast majority of the country will have some other game on that network – but, you know, exposure is exposure. It beats the Pac-12 Network, which practically nobody has or gives a shit about.

The point of contention came with our marquee non-conference opponent – Michigan State, on the road – and the decision by the Big 10 to relegate that game to the Peacock streaming service. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have Peacock. I don’t have the numbers either, but I don’t think a significant portion of America – or the college football-viewing public – has Peacock either; it’s not one of the more popular streamers out there. It’s not Netflix or Hulu or Max or Prime Video or Apple TV or YouTube or Disney+ or even Paramount+. That’s just off the top of my head, but I just now looked it up and according to FlixPatrol.com, Peacock is 18th most popular streaming service, with around 22 million people having it worldwide. That’s … not super great.

At first, people were upset because it felt like another Pac-12 blunder. But, really, it wasn’t our call, and that arguably makes it worse. Now, granted, maybe this is a Michigan State thing. They might not be good. So, why would the Big 10 want to promote an inferior program when they might get slaughtered by an opponent from an objectively-inferior conference? But, from a business standpoint, I’m guessing it has nothing to do with how good or bad Michigan State is, and it has everything to do with lack of interest in the Pac-12 football schools outside of the L.A. market (which, as we all know, is moving to the Big 10 in 2024). From a national perspective, no one gives a shit about the Pac-12; that’s a given. Call it East Coast Bias or SEC Bias or whatever you want, but it’s a fact that we’re often overlooked, and all we’re really good for is a late-night football option (Pac-12 After Dark) when all the other markets are comfortably in their homes getting ready for bed.

But, there’s also arguably just as big of a problem with lack of interest in Pac-12 football within the Pac-12 media landscape. Now, obviously, go to any school and you’ll find rabid football fans who live and die with every play. But, the Pac-12 – by and large – doesn’t pack ’em in on Saturdays the way they do in other parts of the country. You can dismiss that by saying, “What else do they have to do in Alabama or Michigan or Texas?” and I’ll agree with you. But, they could have all the activities in the world to do around various SEC and Big 10 programs, and you’d still find their stadia packed to the gills week-in and week-out. And, more importantly, you’d still find those fans at home watching their games in record numbers, which you just don’t see with Pac-12 schools.

Which is why the next Pac-12 media deal is going to suck balls. Nobody wants our games, again, unless it’s for those late night hours – and you happen to be an all-sports network – and you just need live bodies to fill that particular timeslot. But, they don’t want to put us on at a reasonable prime afternoon hour. Not unless they can lowball us. What incentive do they have, with the L.A. schools jumping ship? Adding SMU and San Diego State? Big Fucking Deal!

It’s just a shame there isn’t a centralized company – like the NCAA, for instance – to enforce geographical divisions and provide a proper playoff system based on achievement within those divisions. What we have to do now is go through the motions of whatever embarrassing TV rights deal we’re going to have to swallow – for another 7-10 years – before it all inevitably gets blown up anyway, because that’s just where this thing is headed. We have to pretend like the Pac-12 matters in the grand scheme of college football. We have to act like this conference isn’t going to totally dissolve, with various schools going to the Big-12 or Big 10 or wherever the fuck.

If the Pac-12 does survive beyond this next media deal, it’s not going to look anything like it does now, or will look after next year. It’s going to be the lesser state schools in Washington and Oregon, maybe the Arizona schools (if one or both don’t jump to the Big-12), and then the likes of … San Diego State, Boise State, Utah State, Colorado State, Fresno State, UNLV. Essentially, it’s going to be the Sun Belt West, for all intents and purposes.

So, where does that leave Washington?

I can’t say I’m super encouraged. I wish I was. We’re clearly a vastly superior program compared to those Sun Belt West schools I just listed. We’re in a solid mid-range media market, with a good amount of money and tech sector people to bolster our footprint. But, we’re not Oregon. We don’t have that national name-recognition that Nike Boy has forked over for in these last few decades. And Seattle isn’t the Bay Area. Washington has a better football program – and a more significant history in college football – than either Cal or Stanford, but I would wonder if those schools don’t also have priority. I could see Cal kind of lowering itself to play among the other UC schools; I could see Stanford maybe going independent. But, if they’re committed to playing in a power conference, given their academic pedigree and reputation, I dunno.

I actually think this 2023 season is vitally important to Washington’s future. There is A LOT of hype and expectations around this team. Michael Penix is a legit Heisman Trophy candidate heading into the year. Kalen DeBoer has a tried and true offensive system that makes for exciting and winning football. Everyone involved just got PAID (key players and coaches, anyway), and we’re really making a run at a conference title and hopefully a playoff berth. We finished in the Top 10 last year, and will either start there again, or be mystifyingly snubbed (but, at the very least, still in the Top 15).

But, none of that matters. What matters is taking care of business on the football field. If Penix gets off to a slow start (or, God forbid, gets injured and misses a few games) and his Heisman Trophy hopes are dashed before they even really get going, that’s a lot of focus that’s going to immediately get turned away from our program. If we lose a game or two that we should probably win, then that’s going to kill our playoff chances – again – before they even begin. Hence why I’m thinking about that Michigan State game. That’s a game we should win. But, it’s on the road, and we don’t know what kind of improvements the Spartans are going to make from last year to this year.

The brutal truth is that – even if we do start out fine, and win the games we’re supposed to win – as a member of the Pac-12 – even a member with the L.A. schools for one more season – our margin for error is razor thin. Remember, the playoff expansion doesn’t start until 2024. So, there’s still just the four teams, and no guarantee for any conference champion outside of the SEC and probably the Big 10 (no literal guarantee, anyway, but we all know the best teams from those conferences make it in every year).

How did we make it into the playoffs in 2016? Well, we only lost once, and it happened to be to a red-hot USC team that only failed to make the Pac-12 Championship Game because of early-season stumbles (but still managed to finish ranked ahead of us in the AP Poll at season’s end). Can we do that again in 2023? Can we finish with one loss? Seems like a tall order, with road games against USC (who probably has THE Heisman frontrunner in Caleb Williams) and Oregon State (a team very much on the rise) – along with Stanford, who always seems to bite us in the ass when we least expect it – and home games against Utah and Oregon. Also seems like a big ask for a Washington school who doesn’t have nearly the amount of defensive talent that we did in the Chris Petersen era.

There’s a very remote universe out there where the Huskies realize all of their greatest dreams and end up in the final four, maybe even sneaking into a National Championship Game. But, the odds are far more likely that this season doesn’t go the way we hope. I think – barring key injuries – we’ll still be good. But, maybe more in the 9-3 or 8-4 realm. Maybe we’re fighting for a spot in the conference title game in November, but for whatever reason it doesn’t shake out that way.

In the ideal scenario, there’s a lot of hope for a Washington program that makes a big impact on a national stage. That school is coveted by the Big 10. Maybe that school gets to call its shot on where it wants to go after the Pac-12 blows up entirely or deflates into the Sun Belt West.

But if, as expected, Washington just does sort of okay, I don’t know that they automatically get to go to wherever Oregon ends up. I don’t know if we get to keep that key and super fun rivalry long term. I think we end up being a little disappointed about where we land, while trying to talk ourselves into why it’s a good idea to be the biggest fish in the Sun Belt West pond.

As always, it’s sad to think about where college football is going. For a lot of fans, it’s exciting to see it become this semi-pro league with legitimate playoffs and lots of glory for all the Haves of America. But, I’m coming to grips with what’s going to happen to the Have Nots, while at the same time extremely nervous that my school is going to be left in the dust.

So, I’m going into the 2023 season with sky-high expectations. I’m letting my hopes and dreams get the best of me. I’m going into each game on pins and needles, living and dying with every positive and negative play.

Our very future might just depend on it.

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