Pac-12 mailbag: Shift into neutral

You’ve got questions and Ted Miller usually has your answers. But he’s on vacation, so I’m in to pinch hit before the weekend.

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From Ted’s mailbag, forwarded to me:

Bob from North of Oregon writes: So, I find the decision to play the Pac-12 championship game at Levi's Stadium irritating. I really preferred the winner-hosts scenario. The concept that the team that has the best overall record hosts the game is a pretty common theme in sports (yeah, the Super Bowl is neutral). I guess San Francisco-area merchants will enjoy the additional income, as opposed to a place like say Eugene, for example. I look forward to the day that Oregon State and Arizona play at Levi's for the championship; that one would pack the house. I guess I can vote with dollars when I don't spend them to go.

Bonagura: I’ve been wavering on this issue since it was first broached a couple years ago. There are a lot of moving parts here, and the reality is that there are clear winners and losers going away from the on-campus model.

Realistically, everything can really be explained with one question: Would the Pac-12 have made this move if it felt it would be making less money as a result? You know the answer.

The most common gripes that seem to have come up on Twitter are: 1) There are potential attendance problems; 2) It amounts to a home game for Stanford and Cal; 3) Friday games?

Let’s take a closer look at those three issues:

1) On Thursday at the announcement, 49ers president Paraag Marathe said, based on research the team has done with its season-ticket holders, he fully expects the game to sell out. If USC or UCLA is playing Stanford, Oregon or Washington, I could see that happening. Especially this being the Field of Jeans’ first year. People are going to want to check out the new shiny object regardless who is playing. But like you said, Bob, Oregon State vs. Arizona? I’d be shocked if that filled up.

Once the novelty of the game wears off -- probably after this season -- I don’t see casual Bay Area sports fans going to check out a college football game without a rooting interest. To think otherwise is contradictory to the market's past behavior.

You also have to factor in the likelihood of travel for fans of teams with the highest of expectations, meaning playoff games. Say Oregon goes undefeated in the regular season. At that point fans are clearly expecting to play for a national title. Do they spring for the travel to what essentially amounts to a quarterfinal game? Some will, but others will wait and spend their money to get to a playoff game.

2) There is no doubt Stanford and California will have some inherent advantages having the game played locally. How big an issue is that? After doing some research, I’m not convinced it’s significant enough to factor heavily into the decision. I went back and looked at every season since 1978 (when the conference became 10 teams) to see how often Cal and Stanford would have played in a hypothetical Pac-12 title game. Including the last three years, that number is five. In three of those cases (Cal in 2004 and 2006; Stanford in 2013), either Cal or Stanford would have been on the road in the home-site model. Those are the only three times the new model would have given what can be described as an unearned advantage. (In real-life 2013, Stanford didn't have that advantage and won at ASU.)

That’s not to say that cycle will continue to play out 1-in-every-12-years the way it has for the last 36; just providing a perspective. There's a good chance Stanford will be the beneficiary of the new site at some point in the next few years. Let's also not forget Stanford is often the butt of attendance jokes among Pac-12 fans. Seems illogical to argue that Stanford has terrible fans, then turn around and argue Stanford will have a huge advantage playing at Levi's.

3) The contract for the game to be played at Levi’s is for three years. This year and 2016 will be on a Friday and 2015 will be on a Saturday.

Adam from Los Angeles writes: So it seems like the Pac-12 Network will never reach a deal with DirecTV. What about a deal with Apple TV, which has an HBO and ESPN app (or channel, not sure what they are called). What are the chances of the Pac-12 Network reaching a deal with Apple TV, and what would prevent it?

Bonagura: Adam, I reached out to the Pac-12 on your behalf. The response I got from a conference spokesman was that they are “considering support for Pac-12 Now on additional devices such as Apple TV, Xbox, PlayStation, Roku, etc.” They just don’t have a specific time frame to release publicly.

As for DirecTV and the Pac-12 Networks getting a deal done, there is actually some reason to believe that it could eventually happen. As noted here in greater detail by the San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner, AT&T’s recent discussions into buying DirecTV could be a good thing for the Pac-12 Networks' prospects of being offered by the satellite TV company. AT&T currently offers the Pac-12 Networks to its subscribers.

Jeff from Carlsbad, California, writes: With BYU already in series contracts with half the Pac-12, what is your stance on them being included as a [power-five] opponent?

Bonagura: Obviously, BYU will never technically be considered a power-five opponent unless it joins one of those five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC), but if it wants to be considered on that plane as an independent school, like Notre Dame, its scheduling isn’t helping. In the last three years, BYU has scheduled an average of five power-five teams a season. This season it will play three (Texas, Virginia and Cal), and there are two tentatively lined up in 2015 (Nebraska, Michigan) out of 11 games. BYU can have a really good team, one capable of competing well in conferences such as the Pac-12, but until it plays a comparable schedule, there will also be questions about relative legitimacy.

Matt from Portland, Oregon, writes: Any post-draft items that jump out at you? Like Bishop Sankey going in the second round (as the first RB taken), while [Ka'Deem] Carey goes late in the fourth? Barr going so high? Shayne Skov not getting drafted?

Bonagura: Based on their college careers, Skov going undrafted was the biggest surprise of the draft -- although that possibility had been reported in the days leading up to it. Skov's fall is 100 percent injury-related. After missing most of the 2011 season with a torn ACL, he really never was back to his pre-injury form in 2012. That hurt his tape. He was back to being a dominant linebacker again in 2013, but then missed the combine with a calf injury. Then he had to reschedule his pro day because of a hamstring injury and when he finally worked out for NFL scouts -- still not fully recovered -- he ran a 5.11 40. In hindsight, he was probably better off not running.

Ben from Wildcat Universe writes: Why did Ka'Deem [Carey] drop? Don't they watch film? No hate for Bishop Sankey; he is a stud ... but the Joke Walker award winner ahead of Ka'Deem is silly! Can he do at RB what [Nick] Foles is doing at QB?

Bonagura: That baffled me, too. I won't even attempt to justify Andre Williams ahead of Carey. It makes no sense.