Alumni council key to future football promotions

More than four months ago, Pac-12 unveiled the Football Alumni Council, the first advisory board of its kind with big names and a critical mission: helping the conference advance a defunct football product and meet challenges on multiple fronts.

From that tumultuous start, a group of 23 ex-players and one ex-coach kept calm – like an attacker who scores on the first push, then faces a barrage of three.

But behind the scenes, there is work. The group met once face to face several times in the distance. Individually, members are in frequent contact with the project’s host, Pac-12 Senior Associate Commissioner Merton Hanks, Head of Football Operations.

“There has been quiet planning on how to push the football product forward,” Hanks told Hotline earlier this week.

“The board gives us ideas on marketing and messaging. I’ve paid huge dividends. I get a call or text every day from someone who has an idea.

“People from one school are willing to do things in other schools. I have a lot of friends from USC. Do you know how hard it is to get them to do something for USC? But they are. This is an example of how much people care.”

The board is playing the long game, in part due to continued uncertainty over the expansion of College Football Playoff and the subsequent Pac-12 agreement for media rights – crucial flocks to the shape of West Coast football over the next decade.

But the group has come up with a slew of ideas to improve the product in the near term, and public actionable items may be revealed as soon as this summer.

“It’s like a think tank,” said Brandon Sanders, the former Arizona State linebacker.

“Guys say, ‘This is what we did; what are you doing? Is Pac 12 After Darkness working? How can we get more visibility for our guys? How can we put something together for all the schools to share?'”

“There is a willingness to have a real discussion about how we can improve our product, so we all end up benefiting.”

According to those familiar with the discussions, areas of near-term focus include, but are not limited to:

– Increase in interest throughout the year.

“There’s a focus on making spring football an important event, a big deal for the fans,” Hanks said. “We’re looking at it as the start of the football season, a way to build hope, sell tickets and rally alumni.”

Using alumni as a resource to boost employment, particularly with West Coast elite prospects.

“It’s all about the pipeline,” Commissioner George Klyavkov said after the council was created.

NCAA recruiting rules prohibit former players from making phone calls, texting, or communicating with potential clients via social media. But they are allowed to personally contact recruits on campus when visits are made.

– Campus events related to football on Saturdays.

“The gist I got from people is that they want very popular alumni to bring a presence to the recruiting and the careers surrounding the game,” said Oregon coach Mike Belotti, the only former coach on the board.

“One suggestion was to link home games with concerts the night before or after a match, and ways to get people into the games so that it’s goofy when they watch them on TV. We have to make the games more impactful, so the level of excitement translates to the recruits and the players.”

As much as they are willing to help, the Pac-12 graduates clearly see the scene.

They are acutely aware of the challenges around every turn – many of which are rooted in the nature of college football on the West Coast.

“It was pretty shocking for me to do the SEC and Big Ten matches,” Belotti said, referring to his years as an ESPN anchor.

“Autzen is the place for six or seven Saturdays a year. The problem is the other 358 days. But in other parts of the country, people think the same about college football every day. On the West Coast, we don’t. Level of enthusiasm And commitment are not the same.”

The less-than-frantic mindset has been around for decades but has been deepened in recent years by product deterioration in the field, particularly in three areas of greater interest to the five-star recruits the conference hopes to retain:

*The Pac-12 hasn’t put a team in a College Football Playoff game in six years and claims only two out of 32 places in the semi-finals over the event’s history.

* The Conference has not exited the Heisman Cup Final since Stanford Price Love in 2017.

*Pac-12 lags behind in the number of first-round NFL draft picks produced: From 2019-21, it produced only nine first-day picks, compared to 36 for the SEC, 19 for the Big Ten and 16 for the ACC.

“We have good universities,” said Lincoln Kennedy, a council member and former Washington operations man.

“But we can’t help but be content with what we’ve achieved so much. Ohio State, Alabama — they’re talking about putting kids in the NFL. We have to figure out how to make ourselves as famous as other conventions. We’re losing young people in SEC and Midwest schools.”

A fourth piece of data provides insight into the frosty atmosphere of matchday: the number of teams included in the Associated Press’s top 25 rankings at the end of the year.

After all, nothing draws fans into the stadium like winning, and winning seasons are reflected in the final AP rankings.

– From 2012-16, Pac-12 placed 23 teams in the AP Final Rankings.

– From 2017 to 21, he took only 10th place.

Over the course of five years – not a small sample size for this issue – two teams on average produced seasons successful enough to break into the top 25.

“What’s happened in the past two years is that the Pac-12 has been pretty irrelevant,” said Kennedy, a Pac-12 Networks game analyst.

“It pains me to say that, but when you look at the SEC and the Big Ten, 100,000 people are going to Michigan Stadium because they want to watch Michigan football. Same thing at Rocky Top to see Tennessee or Georgia. They want to see this team. But West Coast fans are different. They go out when the team is in good shape.”

The era of name, image, and similarity exacerbates the Pac-12 challenge and has been repeatedly discussed by the Alumni Council, according to its members.

As written, NIL rules allow college athletes to be compensated by companies for product approvals. The money was not meant to be used as a recruiting incentive, but quickly became its primary purpose as a booster resource providing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to attract recruits to a particular school.