Former Pac-12 coaches concerned about league’s future amid ongoing issues: ‘They’re teetering on the brink’
When Mike Bellotti goes to a reunion, it’s just sad. The former coach from Oregon began his career in the so-called Far Western Conference. It was a Division II minor league based in Oregon, Nevada, and California that disbanded in 1998.
Before turning the Ducks into a national program, Bellotti worked as a coach at UC Davis, UC Hayward, Weber State, and Chico State from 1973 to 1988.
“Fifteen years of my coaching career, my life ceased to exist,” Bellotti told CBS Sports. “You go back for a reunion and it’s not the same at all. There are no teams to celebrate with.
“Unfortunately, I’ve already seen it happen.”
Bellotti quickly switches to watching the Pac-12 game. In fact, it was a Pac-10 when he came to Oregon as an assistant in 1989. This became the conference where he spent two decades as an assistant, head coach and athletic director.
Bellotti knows the future of the league he loves seems bleak. The conference is about to begin its ninth month since USC and UCLA stalwarts decided to leave for the Big Ten in 2024.
By this point, too much had become known about the league’s attempts to secure a new media rights deal. Uncertainty looms. At least one conference, the Big 12, is open to Pac-12 teams sharing this uncertainty.
“I have this looming sense of doom,” Bellotti said. He added, “All my life I’ve always been a West Coast guy… I just see [the Pac-12] falling apart.”
It’s not about pouring gasoline on a flame. It’s a different take on the Pac-12 situation as the league continues to make headlines for its inability to secure a lucrative media rights deal – at least for now.
Despite speculation about broadcast windows, market size and demographics, there is an important football side to the discussion.
CBS Sports recently spoke to four former Pac-12 coaches who have spent a total of 39 years in league programs with 286 wins.
Bellotti was Oregon’s top coach until Chip Kelly came along. Dennis Erickson spent a total of 11 years as head coach at Washington State, Oregon and Arizona. That’s not counting four years as an assistant to Kyle Whittingham in Utah. Rick Neuhazel played and coached at UCLA. As Washington’s head coach (1999–2000), he won 11 games, including the Rose Bowl. Rich Rodriguez spent six years in Arizona from 2012 to 2017.
“We always thought that in Arizona [in general] they like football but i don’t know if they really Love this,” Rodriguez said. – So one day [the players] leave our football building, they don’t hear people talking about football much. We should have made it really, really more important than perhaps we really should have been. We wanted them to feel how important this is for our players.
“When you get here in the southeast, you won’t have to worry about it.”
Rodriguez spoke from Alabama, where he is coaching FCS Jacksonville State for the second year, which is moving to FBS as a future member of Conference USA.
Rich Rod is as qualified as anyone to talk about the situation. One of the founders of zonal reading was the offensive coordinator of the undefeated Tulane in 1998. West Virginia got into the game for a spot in the BCS Championship in 2007 under Rodriguez. He moved to Arizona when he recovered from a boring stint with Michigan, but remains the only coach to win 10 games in a single season with the Wildcats since 1998.
Rich Rod went to the West — in a Pac-12 in particular — for the same reason that a lot of other coaches did: there was something special about the talent, the atmosphere, the weather, and the opportunities on the left coast. He also witnessed how the league got into this situation: by adopting the Pac-12 network that didn’t catch on, and watching the exodus of the best recruits to the Eastern powers.
“What can prevent Oregon and Washington from getting into the Big Ten, and the state of Arizona and Arizona from the Big 12? Rodriguez asked. “I think they’re teetering on the edge right now.”
Rich Rod doesn’t have much knowledge. And frankly, we’ve seen example after example of coaches ranting to no avail. However, his comments reflect the perception of Pac-12 at the moment.
It’s no secret that Big 12 Commissioner Brett Jormark is ready to pounce on the Four Corners schools. Oregon and Washington were reportedly in talks with the Big Ten last fall. Not to mention the media rights deal, how do you get 10 existing schools to sign a rights agreement with options like that?
“They were caught off guard,” Bellotti said of the Pac-12. “As we all now know, they are struggling to catch up and try to get this media rights deal done to keep the existing members and others satisfied who can bring in viewers.”
Bellotti, 72, is a member of the Pac-12 Alumni Council, an advisory group tasked with keeping the league competitive on the field. Suddenly this body has more on its plate. If the league does not sign an agreement that makes Pac-12 games available to the masses on linear platforms (cable, broadcast), the conference will become less competitive.
“I know that just about anyone can get ESPN+ or live streaming,” Rodriguez said. “You won’t be wearing this in bars… Your visibility will never be the same, never. Then there is just the perception, “Oh, you guys were playing? I didn’t see it.” And then they won’t talk about you.”
The stadium recently reported that ION, a network that specializes in online replays, has taken an interest in the Pac-12. Apple, Amazon and ESPN are believed to be showing some interest. Any significant streaming presence creates a potential visibility issue.
Recruiting is hard enough. Consider trying to find Pac-12 games, most of which may require a separate subscription.
Neuheisel discusses the plight of his old league almost daily on his SiriusXM show.
“You would be forced to explain it all the time [in recruiting]he wrote in a message. – It would probably be possible to find some kind of NIL agreement with Apple that could subsidize the family’s expenses, but [it would be] cumbersome, to say the least.”
Erickson, 76, is one of those who knows what the Pac-12 has to offer. He came to Miami in 1989, leading the Hurricanes to a national championship a year after winning nine games in Washington State the previous season. Erickson is still the only Oregon State coach in history to win 11 games. This was in 2000 with current Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith as his quarterback.
At Arizona State, Erickson won 10 games in 2010. Since 1998, only Todd Graham’s 2014 Sun Devils have placed higher in the Final AP Top 25 (No. 12) than Erickson did that year (No. 16).
“It’s nice when you can turn on a normal channel and not have to worry about all these things,” Erickson said. “I think it will hurt them in recruiting, no question.”
But there is hope even without USC and UCLA. Ten of the 12 Pac-12 programs ranked in the top 50 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings in 2023. This is second place since the current 12-team configuration debuted in 2011. Five of these schools are Oregon, USC, Utah. , Washington and Colorado – entered the top 30.
Meanwhile, Pac-12 is stuck in some sort of middle-earth. Subscriber numbers disabled for both cables And streamers.
“We haven’t been able to figure out how to profit from major league sports rentals under our subscription model,” Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos recently said.
Interesting term, “rent”. This is where media rights really exist.
The Big Ten and Big Twelve have lately preferred to plan for relatively short-term trades given that the market has matured when the current contracts have expired. MLS signed a 10-year deal with Apple+ that increased its rights by 450%. If live streaming hasn’t hit the mainstream for sports yet, it will be within that time frame…or yet (for MLS).
Pac-12 is in a different location. It takes both visibility and dollars to stick together. Since live streaming is not yet a mainstream sports broadcasting platform, this comes with risks.
The risk is that if current members don’t feel the deal won’t make their programs properly profitable or visible, they have options.
A risk Bellotti doesn’t want to consider.
“You know Phil Knight is using his influence, his money, his connections to make sure this doesn’t end up in a fiasco, that Oregon doesn’t end up in Mountain West or Pack West or whatever they think they might call it.” , – He said. “They’ll be somewhere.”