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Could Silicon Valley kill off the Big 12 conference?

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Day

Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful by the day. As tech continues to be the driving force behind much of what happens in our country and around the world, the power structure in the United States has shifted from New York/Los Angeles, to including Silicon Valley in the San Francisco area. As the power continues to shift to the Bay Area, it’s fair to wonder how that will affect the college football landscape in the coming years.

We are at least 6 years away from major changes to the college football landscape, when the Big Ten television deal expires, followed by the Big 12 and Pac-12. Right now, the two most vulnerable Power 5 leagues are considered to be the Big 12 and the Pac-12. It was long believed that the Big 12 was in the most trouble, but then the conference reported great revenue numbers in recent weeks, with impressive Tier 3 rights. Also in recent weeks, the Pac-12 continued to have major problems with its network distribution.

Suddenly, the Big 12 isn’t looking so bad.

Some recent chatter I’ve read and heard being discussed during this down time of year when folks can’t help themselves but talk conference realignment, even if it’s over half a decade away, is the Big 12 or Pac-12 getting dismantled. Of course, I’ve also heard people talk about a merger between the Big 12 conference and Pac-12 conference. It does make some sense, as it practically happened in 2010, when Oklahoma was reportedly within “30 minutes” of leaving for, what was then called, the Pac-10. Clearly, some teams on both sides would be left out (unfortunately, you probably know who you are).

But when you actually look into the future and see how the media landscape will drastically continue to change, it’s the Pac-12 that might have the better chance of succeeding than the Big12.

Big 12 advantages

When I analyze the Big 12 vs. the Pac-12, the Big 12 has revenues advantages, thanks to having a pot of money that is shared amongst fewer members, along with being able to distribute its Tier 3 rights individually. Also, while both conferences have national programs (USC, Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA), there’s little doubt that the Big 12 has a more ravenous fan base than the Pac-12. The Pac-12 has always struggled for national relevancy because it played games that ended at 1 a.m. on the east coast and didn’t have fan bases that had the energy, passion, or presence of those in the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12. That’s not a knock on the Big 12, it’s more just a way-of-life difference.

In general, sports have not had the success on the west coast when compared to places like New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Tuscaloosa, Norman and others. The reality is: the weather in Los Angeles is a hell of a lot better than Boston/Cleveland and there is a hell of a lot more to do in Los Angeles than Tuscaloosa/Norman. It’s part of the reason the NFL has failed before in LA and while I believe it will struggle this time around as well.

But when conference re-alignment comes around next, there are reasons to believe that while the Big 12 might be making more money, more competitive and more relevant than the Pac-12, the conference out west could win out.

But now to the Pac-12 advantages…

The first edge for Pac-12 an incredible amount of graduates that end up working in Silicon Valley. This could be an enormous factor come the mid-2020’s. When the next set of college football television contracts come up, it’s entirely possible Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and others could be involved in bidding for the rights. Amazon and Twitter have already made plays with the NFL. By 2023/24, the technology will be there for these companies to go up against FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC.

And of course, they’ll have the mula as well.

Amazon has $22 billion in cash on hand. Google has $92 billion. Microsoft has over $120 billion. Then, there’s mighty Apple, which now has over $250 billion in cash on hand.

By comparison, Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, has cash on hand of $4 billion. Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, also has cash on hand of about $4 billion. This is chump change compared to what you’re seeing with these tech companies.

Now not only is the money there, but the connections from Silicon Valley to the Pac-12 is there as well. I went through Apple’s “executive profiles page” and found Craig Federighi, Senior VP of software engineering, is a Cal graduate and fellow VP and general counsel Bruce Sewell is a Washington graduate. Snapchat co-founders Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy and Reggie Brown all went to Stanford. Facebook CFO David Wehner, CTO Mike Schroepfer and Chief Producer Officer Chris Cox are all a Stanford graduates. Amazon’s Senior VP of Business Development Jeffrey Blackburn got his MBA from Stanford, while Senior VP and General Counsel David Zapolsky is a Cal graduate.

You get the point. And these are just some of the big players. With Silicon Valley located in the heart of Pac-12 country and these companies being littered with Pac-12 graduates at every level of every company. With former students from Stanford, UCLA, Cal, USC and others working for these companies, it’s fair to wonder how that could impact the future of college football.

End Result

College football, more so than other sports, has traditionally been driven as much by the television companies as by the presidents and athletic directors. TV executives have played a major part in things such as conference realignment. There were rumblings that ESPN wanted the ACC to add Pittsburgh and Syracuse (you know how many Syracuse alumni work at ESPN? A ton.). ESPN claims it had little influence. The Big Ten chased TV money by adding Rutgers, thinking it was getting the New York City market (it wasn’t).

So as the media landscape changes and shifts by involving some of these tech companies, you better believe that they will want to have a seat at the table and a say as to what is going on. Power and money drive nearly everything. Those who have one of the two want the other. Those who have both want more of both. It’s that simple.

So if we get to 2023 and tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. are in the mix, don’t overlook their possible strong Pac-12 ties as having a say in who ends up where, along with various other terms and conditions that will be decided upon in the next batch of conference realignment.

The best way for the Big 12 to combat Silicon Valley: raise the national profile of the programs, win on the field and keep raking in as much money as it can. From there, let the chips fall where they may.

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