When he was done fielding questions about Thursday’s game against Washington, Cal coach Mike Montgomery gave some expansive answers during his Tuesday press conference on questions dealing with possibly expanding the Pac-10 Conference, altering the Pac-10’s TV package and Thursday-Saturday schedule, and expanding the NCAA Tournament field from 65 teams.
Here’s what he had to say:
How do you feel about possible Pac-10 expansion and do you think the league’s presidents would even consider it?
“I think in today’s economic climate, the presidents have to be open to a lot of things. I don’t know when all that’s going to change or if it’s going to change, but I think that in hiring Larry Scott (as Pac-10 commissioner), the primary thought process was we need to expand our television revenue, take more advantage of some of the things out there that others have taken advantage of that we’ve been kind of in the dark ages about as far as revenues.
“In order to do that, if adding teams allows us to do that, adds markets, adds the opportunity to sell packages, then I think the presidents have to look at that. For a long time, I think the Pac-10 was pretty comfortable where they are — and they still may well be, and in many ways should be. It’s a great conference, and we’ve had academics as part of the mission statement for the league. But the times, they are a-changin’, as my good friend Dylan said.
“And you’re going to have to stay on top of things. If you’re going to go out and try to make the money and sell packages to TV that are going to help everybody revenue-wise, then you’re maybe going to have to make some changes.”
Are you comfortable with all that comes with changing TV contracts in the future, trying to get more Pac-10 games on ESPN?
“There are some coaches in our league that have been other places, way more than there ever used to be. Their thought process is we’ve got to play wherever, whenever to get that exposure. I don’t necessarily agree with that. I’ve been in the league long enough to feel like we have been awfully competitive over the years the way we were.
“Their thought is if we have play Wednesdays, Saturdays and change the schedule, so be it. If that’s what we need to do to get the exposure and generate the dollars, I think that’s a decision some people have to get together (on). It may change if we’re allowed to charter. I don’t think you can start taking kids out of class three days in the middle of the week. You’re going to have to throw that in the equation. There’s a lot of stuff to talk about if those things start to happen.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that when the commissioner was hired his charge was we’ve got to generate more dollars.”
And new Pac-10 deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg has been involved in conference expansion and the creation of TV packages with a focus on basketball:
“He’s certainly got a lot of experience in that. History has it, if you’re a conference commissioner type or administrator and if you’ve created a big contract for anybody, you’re well thought of and probably highly sought after because these days that’s what people are looking for.”
If you did change your conference travel schedule in a way that required taking charter flights, how does that work financially?
“If you’re generating money from television, you can either take that money to pay for expenses for everything in the athletic department, or you can take some of those expenses and say, `OK, there is a cost of doing business here, some of those expenses should be allocated to allow us to do that.’ ”
What impact, if any, does the economic climate have on recruiting:
“I would say there’s a trickle-down effect for some schools. There are some schools, not at the upper level, who may not be able to recruit out-of-state kids because the scholarship costs double. That’s a huge revenue issue for them. It isn’t for us. Who’s to say down the road that doesn’t become a little bit of an issue. I’m sure they’d be happier if we had all in-state kids. It would cost us less money.
“But if you’re going to participate in the Pac-10 in major revenue sports and expect to compete, you can’t short-cut, especially recruiting. It’s so difficult and it is the lifeblood of what you’re trying to do.”
There seems to be more talk recently that the NCAA Tournament field might be expanded from 65 teams. Do you favor that?
“There’s 340 Division I (basketball) schools. From a percentage standpoint, using football — which probably isn’t a very good comparison — half the football teams that play at the top (Division I) level, go to bowls. If you have a .500 record, you go to a bowl. It’s a different system, but it’s the same principle. You have 340 Division I basketball schools and only 64 get to go to the NCAA Tournament.
“You’re talking about perception, you’re talking about student-athletes’ opportunities, you’re even talking about coaches getting fired because they can’t make the tournament when they have to be in the top 20 percent of their group, and that becomes the dividing point. There are other arguments that way.
“I don’t think the tournament would necessarily be diminished if you doubled it because now you’re going to play one more game to get to 64. There’d probably be some of the 128 teams that wouldn’t deserve to be in, but if you get an upset maybe they did deserve to get in. The fact of the matter is some of the haves are able to orchestrate their schedule to get wins and some of the have-nots can’t do that. So they’re in an awkward spot from the get-go. They’re having to play guaranteed (high-payday road) games just to get a schedule to raise money to support their program.
“I do think if you were going to expand the tournament, you’d have to start taking a look at the conference tournaments. Maybe (NCAA expansion) takes the place of your conference tournament, where now more teams are going to go to the NCAA, but instead of playing a team in your conference for the fifteenth time that year, you’re actually going to play somebody else.”
So would possibly eliminating the conference tournament be a good tradeoff for expanding the NCAA field?
“I’m just waxing philosophical. I’m just saying, you can’t keep playing postseason games. Now you play (a first-round NCAA game), and you’re down to 64. And now theoretically, you’re down to the best 64, versus the arbitrary decisions that were made by a (committee). There is an argument that could be made for that.”
Would the major conferences gobble up most of the additional spots if the field were expanded?
“There’s been a lot of parity lately. I think there could be a pretty good argument for a lot of other (non-major conference) schools getting in, provided they played competitively against some of the other schools and had some success.”
They aren’t necessarily even talking about expanding all the way to 128 teams, right?
“I don’t think they are, either. Why would there be 65, instead of 64. If you’re going to play 65 vs. 64, why aren’t you playing 72 vs. 71?”
Why is all of this coming up now?
“If you’ve been around long enough, you can remember when we were spending too much money. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, we’re playing too many games, and everything was cost-saving. Then, all of a sudden, all that stuff’s kind of out the window again. For whatever reason, it’s changed.
“You don’t hear much about missed class time anymore. You don’t hear much about the things that at one point were real flashpoints for people. Why did that change? Do we have more money now? I don’t know that we do. The (NCAA) tournament’s generated a lot of money, but it really depends on how the wind’s blowing at any particular time.
“I do think that because of the pressure on administrators to generate revenue, there’s been some concessions made because nobody has enough money. If you can make money in basketball, they’re now, `Well, let’s play some more games.’ Football’s up to 13 (games) or whatever they are. Things change as time goes on.”