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Canzano: Bill Walton kicks off March Madness and Pac-12 commissioner pounds message home
The NCAA Tournament is on...
Bill Walton joined me on the statewide radio show on Wednesday and he didn’t disappoint. I welcomed the two-time NBA champion and Hall of Fame player to the air and then Walton took off on a long-winding, eloquent and entertaining diatribe.
We blew through three commercial breaks — no doubt causing some anxiety among the network affiliates — but I didn’t want to stop Walton, who talked in such depth that he twice forgot the question I asked.
I loved the interview.
Maybe you will, too.
Walton spoke about his unique approach to television broadcasts (he doesn’t like to talk with his sidekicks unless they’re on air), the retirement of legendary 92-year old Trail Blazers’ broadcaster Bill Schonely (Walton is both sad and happy), and why March Madness has such broad public appeal (he thinks it’s magical).
Listen if you want a treat:
The podcast of our talk is worth your time. Not just because he spoke for more than 43 minutes, virtually uninterrupted, but because Walton, 69, has lived a little. He spoke about the Grateful Dead, the verve he has for life, and why he thinks the Pac-12 is underrated as a basketball conference.
His joy is infectious.
Walton on Bill Schonely’s retirement:
"I'm sad. I feel alone. I'm grateful. I'm happy. It's a spectrum that covers every color available. I'm a rainbow guy... he made us happy, he made us smile, he made us think that the effort to get to tomorrow is worth it."
Walton on commercial air travel:
"The traveling public has grown dark and mean and inconsiderate."
Walton on the Blazers’ 1977 championship celebration:
"It's still going on."
The Bald Faced Truth radio show airs 3-6 p.m. weekdays statewide in Portland (750-AM), Eugene (1050-AM), Klamath Falls (960-AM) and Roseburg (1490-AM).
George Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 Commissioner, is in Portland for the NCAA Tournament first and second round games. I reached him on Wednesday shortly after he landed at PDX airport and collected his rental car. He’s in town to see No. 4-seed UCLA play its opening round game vs. No. 13 Akron at Moda Center (6:50 p.m. PT today).
Kliavkoff told me the Pac-12 CEO Group met last Saturday in Las Vegas and made “a tremendous amount of progress,” on where to re-locate the conference headquarters. The lease on the downtown San Francisco money pit is up at the end of this year. I suspect the Pac-12 will plant the flag in Las Vegas, even as the commissioner wouldn’t confirm it.
Said Kliavkoff: “I don't want to get ahead of conversations that I want to have with our really valued employees about where we’re planning on locating people. I want to have that discussion with our employees before I talk about it publicly for obvious reasons.”
Fair enough — but it’s Vegas, right?
Kliavkoff has a home there, the Pac-12 holds its basketball and football championships there, and Vegas is an easy-to-reach destination.
I expect a decision before summer.
We also spoke about gambling and data. The conference is geared up for its upcoming media rights negotiations. There are two years left on the current deal. But the Pac-12 seized control of its own data this week and is positioning itself to utilize it and monetize it.
“I think about all the data that comes out of the game and how we might make it available, monetize it and use it to create a better fan experience,” he said.
Gambling partnerships, too?
Kliavkoff told me gambling sponsorship deals would be handled on a case-by-case basis by the 12 conference members. Colorado was the first NCAA member to partner with a gambling entity, signing a five-year agreement with an online sportsbook.
As an aside, wagering on collegiate sporting events isn’t currently legal in Oregon. You can bet on the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc. but can’t wager on March Madness. A bill that would have allowed collegiate wagering stalled in the last legislative session when anti-gambling lobbyists and select tribal casinos successfully blocked it by asking for an in-depth study.
Lawmakers will tell you that commissioning a study is code for: “Kill the bill.”
Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 might be interested in someday lobbying lawmakers in various states within the conference footprint.
“If it’s not legalized it doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” he said. “Illegal sports betting is a big multiple in terms of revenue and legal betting, even today. If you legalize it you have the ability to tax it, regulate it and make sure that the rules are being adhered to…”
Listen to the podcast of our full interview here:
More Pac-12 stuff:
• Martin Jarmond, UCLA’s athletic director, served on the men’s NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. His Bruins are playing at Moda Center, but he’s not permitted to be present as the site administrator because it would be a conflict of interest (listen to our podcast).
Said Jarmond: “I was scheduled to go to Portland but sometime Sunday afternoon when we were looking at how everything was shaking out they called me and said, ‘Do you still have your Portland manual? We’ll need you to bring that back from your hotel room because the Bruins are going to be in Portland.’”
• You’re going to hear a lot of talk about how the Pac-12 Conference “only” got three teams into the men’s NCAA Tournament. Remember, the conference also has six teams in the women’s NCAA Tournament (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Washington State). Won’t be surprised to see two or three of them make the Elite Eight.
• WSU athletic director Pat Chun has done a nice job in Pullman amid some tricky circumstances (See: Nick Rolovich). AD Sandy Barbour announced her retirement at Penn State. Keep an eye on Chun as an emerging candidate with the Nittany Lions. He has ties to the Big Ten from his time at Ohio State.
• Oregon State hosted Georgia quarterback JT Daniels last Thursday at a spring practice. I wrote a column about it this week. I’m told Daniels is in no hurry to make his decision. He’s also considering West Virginia and Missouri and will wait until late spring to make a decision. Feels like Daniels, who went from USC to Georgia after his freshman year, wants to go somewhere where he’ll be guaranteed to start. Question: Would coach Jonathan Smith make that kind of promise to him?
• Oregon coach Dan Lanning told me a couple of weeks ago that he was itching to get going in spring practice. He and his wife closed on a house, bought a fly fishing rod, and is eager to get his wife and three boys moved to Eugene. I’m interested to see the growth of his program. He’ll get a baptism, too, with the season-opening game vs. his former employer, Georgia on Sept. 3.
• I’m super interested in getting Washington AD Jen Cohen on the statewide radio show. She’s been on a couple of times before. I'll catch up with her soon and talk about her football program trajectory and her view on the Pac-12 landscape.
• I’ll be filing a column from the NCAA Tournament later today — likely Gonzaga-related. I have a really fun angle working. I love that you’re along for the ride. Forgive me for hitting you with multiple columns and emails during these tournament days. I don’t want you to miss a thing.