DEFCON 1 realignment scenario for the Pac-12, WSU’s outlook, Ingram’s impact, the Lake effect and more – San Bernardino Sun

The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline. Due to volume — and in some cases, the need for research — not all questions will be answered the week of submission. Thanks for your understanding.

Some questions have been edited for clarity and brevity.

If you are Washington, Oregon, USC and UCLA, would you lob a call to the Big Ten or SEC for a “football only” conference? — @dsteven7

This issue has several layers, so let’s start at the 50,000-foot level and work our way down to solid ground.

The Hotline has long believed major college football will eventually bifurcate into two divisions:

— An upper tier of 30 or 35 schools that are willing to make the economic commitment and academic sacrifice to join what would essentially be a mini-NFL (with players as employees).

— The remaining 80-90 schools that prefer a more traditional model.

The upper division would be SEC-heavy, of course, and probably would include a few Pac-12 programs. But that is clearly eight or 10 years away, at least.

Were the four schools you referenced interested in reaching out to the Big Ten or SEC, their only near-term option would be to join those leagues as football-only members — not in a broader alignment within the FBS.

Moving to the 40,000-foot level, we have a timing issue:

The SEC has media rights contracts and membership locked in place, with Texas and Oklahoma set to join in 2025. Meanwhile, the Big Ten is wrapping up its media deals right now — deals that depend on knowing the makeup of the conference.

Could something materialize in the next 12-18 months that sets the West Coast quartet on course to leave the Pac-12? Sure. But we are fairly confident that any current chatter is mere speculation.

And keep this in mind: It all starts with USC.

The Bruins aren’t going anywhere without the Trojans — and maybe not even with the Trojans — and the Pacific Northwest schools have little value to the Big Ten or SEC as stand-alone entities.

If you’re the SEC or Big Ten, an expansion to the West Coast only makes economic and competitive sense if the Southern California media market is included in the deal. That means USC.

At the same time, the Pac-12 with USC is a vastly better fit for the Ducks and Huskies than the Big Ten or SEC without USC.

Were those schools to become disconnected from California, the repercussions would be damaging on multiple fronts, not the least of which is the academic affiliation with Stanford, Cal, UCLA and USC.

Closer to ground level, let’s address a practical challenge for all four schools in their pursuit of membership in the SEC or Big Ten: the Olympic sports.

It’s not realistic for their soccer, tennis and softball teams (to name three) to schlep across the country for competition.

That said, if the quartet joined the Big Ten or SEC as football-only members, would their Olympic sports remain in the Pac-12? Would they get booted out? Would there even be a Pac-12?

At that point, the conference probably collapses …

— The Arizona and Mountain schools would beg for membership in the Big 12.

— The Bay Area schools might give up major college football.

— Oregon State and Washington State would seek a landing spot within the FBS, with the Mountain West likely atop their wish list.

Now, to be absolutely clear: We don’t view this scenario as a realistic outcome in any way, shape or form … at least not for another eight or 10 years.

Why not dump the two boring out-of-conference cupcake games from Pac-12 football schedules? Would doing so help in negotiations for the new TV contract? — @TerryTerry79

My initial reaction is that not every team plays two “boring” non-conference games.

Colorado faces TCU, Air Force and Minnesota this season.

Stanford plays BYU and Notre Dame.

Utah has Florida and San Diego State.

USC plays Notre Dame and Fresno State

Oregon plays Georgia and BYU.

(There are other examples in 2022 and every year.)

Are you suggesting formalized scheduling standards that would require Pac-12 teams to play only Power Five opponents?

If so, there are two obstacles to that approach:

1) Stronger competition inevitably leads to additional losses and creates a more challenging path to the four-team playoff.

2) The availability of Power Five opponents is limited. Not only are schedules set years in the future, but many schools in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC would balk at upgrading their non-conference lineups.

If the goal is to eliminate cupcakes for every Pac-12 team each year, there is only one option: Play a 10th conference game.

The Hotline believes that model deserves serious consideration.

It would add value to the Pac-12’s media rights inventory in the next contract cycle (starting in 2024) while theoretically inflicting limited damage competitively.

Once the playoff expands to 12 teams in the 2026 season, there will be room for teams with two or three losses.

The implementation of scheduling standards — or a 10th conference game — probably won’t be well-received on the front lines, where job security is tied to wins and losses.

To the best of our knowledge, only one head coach has publicly supported the concept of every Power Five school playing at least 10 games against Power Five opponents: Nick Saban.

Wouldn’t it make more sense playoff-wise for the Pac-12 teams ranked the highest in the penultimate playoff committee rankings to play for the championship instead of the teams with the best conference records? I can easily envision the committee ranking a team with a more difficult lineup ahead of a team with one more conference win.— Jon Joseph

Basing the title game participants on CFP rankings was, in fact, one of the options discussed before the Pac-12 settled on conference winning percentage.

However, there was resistance on multiple fronts, including:

— Handing over such a momentous decision to outside observers.

— Allowing non-conference performance to impact the process (given the disparity in schedules).

— Reducing the impact of head-to-head results.

— The logistics of the decision.

The penultimate CFP rankings are unveiled on a Tuesday, which is far too late in the week for the Pac-12 to set its matchup for a championship played three days later.

Imagine a situation in which one team is ranked in the top 10 — a lock for the championship — while two teams are ranked close together in the teens, creating uncertainty over the pecking order until Tuesday afternoon.

That would be a competitive disadvantage for the highest-ranked team, which must spend 72 hours preparing to face either of two opponents.

We all know Jimmy Lake was the reason why recruiting sucked for Washington, but do you think Kalen DeBoer can turn it around? — @therealericyang

Two immediate thoughts:

— Landing a commitment last month from four-star Bay Area receiver Rashid Williams was an important development for the Huskies, who desperately needed a headline-grabbing recruiting victory to spark momentum.

— Recruiting success (for every team) in the era of name, image and likeness depends on booster involvement and the aggressiveness with which donor collectives are willing to dangle NIL deals in front of high school prospects.

The schools — err, collectives — aren’t supposed to use NIL opportunities as recruiting inducements, but many are doing exactly that and every recruit is concerned, first and foremost, with his earning potential.

Harrison Ingram returns for Stanford basketball, but coach Jerod Haase remains in the coaching hot seat. Should we expect the results next season to be any different from 2021-22? — @joshfried

The pressure on Haase is simply the result of results:

He was hired in the spring of 2016 and has yet to take Stanford to the NCAA Tournament.

He’s getting paid to win, and he’s not winning.

That said, Ingram’s return stands as the best personnel news Stanford has received in years. The sophomore forward should be one of the top players in the conference and gives the Cardinal a premium scoring tandem with returning wing Spencer Jones.

But given the history of the Haase era, Stanford fans should take a cautiously optimistic outlook and brace for something to block progress.

How much money should I put on Washington State winning the North? — @Ron_Pasco

First, we should remind readers that winning the North in 2022 carries no competitive advantage. Conference record, not division affiliation, will determine which teams meet for the championship.

In fact, the Pac-12 might eliminate the divisions altogether before the season begins.

Are the Cougars good enough to qualify for the title game?

I would slot them on the third level:

Tier 1: Utah and USC

Tier 1A: Oregon

Tier 2: Washington State and UCLA

We wouldn’t rule out WSU playing for the championship, but it’s not one of the most likely scenarios.

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