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Pac-12, get even with your rivals the American way: by exploiting new laws

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It’s time for the conference to embrace California law and turn on the NCAA!

Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

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The Mercury News put together an interesting breakdown of the revenue canyon the Pac-12 may soon face between itself and the SEC and Big Ten.

Worse, that might be the conference’s best case-scenario; it assumes the Pac-12 will successfully get a premium for its TV rights, which doesn’t feel like a guarantee once you consider the possibility of a recession, the continuing audience shift from broadcast to digital, and long-term questions about the conference’s national competitiveness.

We got here because Larry Scott considers himself an innovator who sees non-traditional angles. And Scott should lean even harder into that now to give the conference an advantage greater than all that television money the SEC and Big Ten are about to soak up: The Pac-12 should reverse course and fully embrace California’s new name, image, and likeness law.

Let’s say Scott gets the schools on board and convinces the state governments of Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah to fast-track legislation mimicking California’s. The Pac-12 gets to put on its best forward-thinking face and proclaim they’re the conference that puts athletes first, the vanguard bold enough to abandon the old, unfair model of amateurism.

They also give their schools a powerful recruiting weapon the rest of the Power 5 won’t have: the promise of actual, legal money. Sure, indoor practice facilities and fancy dining halls are great. But they’re not money! Five of the 10 best players in California this recruiting cycle committed to schools outside the Pac-12. Doesn’t it seem more likely they’d stay in the conference, given the chance to make money off themselves right away?

The best thing about this recruiting tool: it costs schools almost nothing. Yes, there will be some administrative oversight required to make sure players are staying within the bounds of California’s law, but the actual money these would get wouldn’t come from an athletic department budget. It takes the revenue gap the Pac-12 is staring down and gives schools an increased ability to compete with their SEC and Big Ten counterparts without forcing the conference to find new revenue.

No, the NCAA’s not going to like it. But the Pac-12 should paint the Association into a corner. Eight Power 5 schools have a non-conference game with the Pac-12 in 2020. Many more will want to schedule Pac-12 teams in basketball. The men’s and women’s basketball tournaments regularly feature a regional played on the West Coast. The Rose Bowl insists they must play on New Year’s Day, even if that screws the Playoff schedule up, so imagine how they’ll react when you tell them they don’t get a Pac-12 participant. Six other bowls have deal securing them Pac-12 participants. And then there’s the fact that all of these games are tied to … lucrative TV contracts.

Does the NCAA have the backbone to blow all that up to send the Pac-12 a message, considering the political winds seem to be increasingly shifting against them? Or would they put out a mealy-mouthed statement to the effect of “blah blah blah while we regret the Pac-12’s unwillingness to work with their colleagues blah blah blah we recognize it is in the best interest of the member institutions blah blah blah OK you win.”

And if they do roll over and adopt name, image, and likeness rights nationwide, the Pac-12 still gets to coast on the good press of being the agent of change. The revenue gap might still be there, but it won’t matter as much, because you’ll be able to tell recruits to come play out West so they can be in the next Fast & Furious movie. Let’s see Dabo Swinney recruit against Vin Diesel!