Thoughts on the Pac-12 signing a three-year deal to stage its football title game at Levi's Stadium ...

  • The league is nothing if not willing to try new things, even when old things aren't broken.

    The three-year-old home-hosting model has served the league well, with only one clunker: The Stanford-UCLA affair played on a Friday night in bad weather six days after the teams met in Pasadena.

    Otherwise, it has been good for the fans and created the exiting atmosphere the conference hoped to attain.

  • Why make the switch?

    Scott told me last week that the conference wouldn't have veered away from the home-hosting if not for the chance to play the FCG at Levi's in the stadium's inaugural year.

    It was too good a venue ... too grand a stage ... to pass up given how valuable the title game is to the conference's TV package and relationship with sponsors.

    Everyone associated with the conference, from ESPN and FOX to sponsors to fans, knows where and when the game will be played.

  • But let's not dismiss the economic reality of the situation.

    Two things have changed since Scott first laid out (in 2010) the reasons for using the home-hosting/NFL-style approach to the title game:

    1) Levi's Stadium has come into existence in a central location within the conference and in the heart of Silicon Valley.

    2) The underlying economic model of major college sports has been threatened.


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    The schools are bracing for massive additional expenses in the form of increased services for student-athletes:

    Unlimited meals will cost approximately $750,000 per school annually, and stipends for football and men's basketball players are expected to add millions more to the tab.

    I have yet to pin down the specific financial benefit of moving the FCG to Levi's, but Scott could never have sold it to the presidents were it a money-losing proposition.

    My best guess is that the deal with the 49ers and increased revenue from sponsors will add $1 million per school per year.

  • All that said, the league was smart to limit the deal to three years.

    When 49ers president Paraag Marathe said he expected a sellout, I almost fell out of my seat.

    The stadium holds 68,000. If the first-year matchup is 11-1 USC against 11-1 Oregon or Stanford, then maybe most of the seats are filled. But what if the participants have multiple losses? What if neither is involved in the playoff chase?

    In that case, the conference will be fortunate to have 50,000 in the building.

    And what if it's Year 3 and, on a Friday night, three-loss Washington meets three-loss Arizona State? Then we're looking at 30,000 empty seats.

  • Alumni who live within driving distance might turn out, but few others will. The Bay Area is not ravenous for college football, even a league title game -- and that's especially true on Friday nights after the stadium has been around for a few years and played host to other college games, like Cal-Oregon and the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten bowl game.

    What's more, fans in Phoenix, Seattle and Los Angeles (and perhaps even Eugene/Portland) will be reticent to fork over the money to travel when 1) it's one week after Thanksgiving and 2) the prospect looms of having to shell out thousands of dollars for trips to the semifinals and possibly finals.

  • Scott was candid about the situation. He signed a three year deal so that the league would have an apple-to-apples comparison: Three years of the home-hosting model against three years of the neutral site model.

    After the 2016 game, the league will reassess and possibly decide to return to the home-hosting model.

    Unless the event is far more popular than I expect in years 2 and 3 ... maybe the league gets lucky with sizzling matchups ... the future location of the Pac-12 title game will depend on the tipping point:

    Do the economic positives (i.e., sponsorship dollars) outweigh the visual negatives (empty seats)?

    For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.