While Friday's Pac-12 championship game is one of the outgrowths of league expansion, the conference's dramatic makeover will really take shape next season.
That's when the Pac-12's $3 billion television deal takes off. Because of equal revenue sharing, each of the league's schools will eventually reap more than $20 million apiece annually from the 12-year contract with Fox and ESPN.
The influx means that the conference's athletic departments that depend on financial help from their universities should someday soon be able to pay their own bills.
But for programs with smaller budgets, like Oregon State, Washington State and Utah, it also means a more level playing field with schools like Oregon, which has a generous booster in Nike co-founder Phil Knight, and USC, which has a self-sufficient athletic department and lots of national TV exposure.
Utah's athletic budget is $35 million — less than half of Oregon's — with about $6 million coming from the university and student fees to make ends meet, according to athletic director Chis Hill.
Before joining the Pac-12, the Utes were taking in less than $2 million from the Mountain West Conference's television deal. As part of the agreement to join the conference, they'll get about 50 percent of what the other schools receive in the first year of the media deal but they'll eventually pull even.
Utah has some immediate plans for the money. A football center, modestly planned at around $16 million, will now have a few extra touches, bringing the cost to $30 million. Hill said that overall the Utes will focus on closing the gap in facilities, for student support services and for attracting — and keeping — quality personnel.
If there's any downside, it's that Utah's overall athletic budget will have to go up now that the school has joined a BCS conference.
"And the real difference for us has been that week in and week out, the games are really tough," Hill joked.
Oregon State President Edward Ray said in an interview with The Associated Press this fall that the Pac-10's members were insistent on equal revenue sharing. But, at the same time, they didn't want schools with media deals already in place to lose money. He cited USC as a program that could have been hurt by revenue sharing — but ultimately wasn't.
"At the end of the day, we really feel good where we are as a result of the ESPN-Fox agreement. It will provide substantial resources, and for a school like Oregon State University, it will literally mean — all the numbers haven't settled down — but my expectation is that over the next half-dozen years, we'll be in a position where whatever accumulated debts our athletic department has will be paid off, and it will not require support from the (university's) general fund," said Ray, chair of the Pac-12 CEO executive group, which is responsible for governance of the conference.
Oregon State's athletic budget is currently at $56 million, about $4 million of which comes from the university. Like most of the other programs in the league, the Beavers will get about $16 million in television revenue next season and the amount will increase over the length of the contract.
Oregon State will first pay off debt, according to Steve Fenk, the Beavers' associate athletic director for communications. The department borrowed for projects that included the expansion of Reser Stadium.
"We also are the smallest, by far, athletic department in the conference; the additional funds will help build our infrastructure in terms of personnel — such as athletic trainers, compliance officers, etc.," Fenk outlined in an email. "Also, the cost of tuition continues to rise, thus the increased television dollars will help offset that."
There's speculation in track-crazy Oregon that the Beavers may be able to revive a full track program with the additional funds. Dick Fosbury, the high jumper who created the "Fosbury Flop," is an alum. But the school dropped the sport in 1988.
Oregon State has already brought back a women's team and is building a new track. Some football players have competed in meets. But the reinstatement of a full track program won't happen until the sport can be fully endowed, Fenk said. Still, proponents are hopeful it will happen by 2014.
"Let me just say that would represent one of my happiest and proudest days with the conference, the first time a new sport gets added as a result of our work," said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who brokered the TV deal. "I think ultimately that boils it all down to what this is all about. Going from a situation from where some of our sports were at risk — I think that has all changed."
Perhaps the most dramatic sign that the league's smaller schools are the big winners in the new Pac-12 is Washington State's announcement earlier this month that the Board of Regents had given final approval for an $80 million project to upgrade Martin Stadium.
The addition of premium seats and a new press box will be paid for with funds from ticket sales, donations and, of course, television revenue.
Currently, the Cougars' athletic budget is $38 million, with about $5.3 million coming from the university's general fund, athletic director Bill Moos said. Last year, the program made just $2.7 million from television revenue.
Moos said the additional funds will be used mainly for facilities and infrastructure, as well as paying off about $6 million in debt. But for Washington State, becoming totally self-sustaining isn't necessarily the goal.
"I'm not ruling it out," Moos said. "But there's a part of me that thinks that being fully self-sufficient can somewhat pull you away from truly being a component of the overall university, you could get tempted in that regard."
There are some critics who insist that the mega-deal is what's wrong with college athletics: That it's all become big business. But Scott said he hopes the new face of the Pac-12 will be a boon to the university system as a whole.
He points out that the deal has allowed the conference to develop the Pac-12 Networks, which starting next fall will provide airtime for the league's Olympic sports and even allow for non-athletic programming.
"I think it will be a win-win for everyone," Scott said.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company