The pessimistic view of Cal’s football future after leaving USC and UCLA comes from an informed source.
John Willner of the San Jose Mercury-News knows more about what’s going on in the Pac-12 than any reporter in the country. He’s the one who broke the news that USC and UCLA plan to leave the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten.
So when he has an opinion on something regarding members of the Pac-12, it’s worth listening to what he has to say.
IN story published on Saturday, Wilner was asked several questions about the implications of Pac-12 losses to USC and UCLA, and one question focused on Cal and Stanford.
Here’s Wilner’s question and answer:
I’m curious about your take on what this means for Cal and Stanford and how other conferences are evaluating/thinking about the media market in the Bay Area. — @nwpapas
Do you think Cal and Stanford could use this opportunity to leave football? — @BearFlagFan
Frankly, I believe this could mark the beginning of the end of major college football for Bay Area schools.
Their relatively low value within the college football market is one reason for this bleak outlook.
Yes, the Bay Area is a huge media market, and that mattered a decade ago when it was all about how many cable homes were in your footprint.
Now, the main driver is brand value: Fox and ESPN will pay for the football programs that generate ratings and are most likely to land in prime TV windows. None of the Bay Area teams cleared those bars.
(In terms of potential Big Ten membership, why would Northwestern even want the conference to throw Stanford a lifeline? They’re direct competitors on the recruiting trail.)
The other reason for our skepticism is the economic landscape.
At some point in the near future, college athletes will likely be named employees or pseudo-employees and receive compensation from schools for their services.
There’s no way Stanford would ever do that, and we doubt Cal would take the plunge. On both campuses, faculty will riot as if it were Paris in 1789.
Add in the obscene aspect of name, image and likeness – when used as a substitute for pay-to-play – and the entire sport is headed in a direction that runs counter to institutional philosophies on both sides of the gulf.
ike That doesn’t sound good for Cal.
The Golden Bears think tank has two years to figure that out, as USC and UCLA will remain with the Pac-12 for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years.
But consider the reports over the past 48 hours about the Pac-12 teams that could leave the conference. It starts with Oregon and Washington because they are the most attractive programs. But Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado are also mentioned as having Big 12 appeal.
Little, if any, mention is made of Cal or Stanford being attractive to another conference. They find themselves in a precarious position, especially if other schools leave the Pac-12.
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It may take some creative thinking from Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton and his advisers to come up with a plan that keeps the Golden Bears’ football program relevant.
My personal opinion is that Cal can do this and that the Bears will continue to be a “big” program in college football and basketball after USC and UCLA leave for the Big Ten in 2024. It will take some shrewd maneuvering and maybe little humility to come up with a viable option, but it can be done, perhaps as a joint venture with Stanford.
Check out Wilner’s Sunday report on five factors that will determine the future of the Pac-12:
Cover photo of Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton and Justin Wilcox by Kelly L. Cox, USA TODAY Sports
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