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Canzano: Could Oliver Luck help save the Pac-4?
Remaining four schools have hired Luck to consult.
In the course of trying to figure out what comes next for Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford and Cal, I learned something interesting.
Oliver Luck is on the scene.
He’s been hired as a consultant.
The 63-year-old has held a variety of positions in his career: NCAA executive, college athletic director, NFL quarterback and commissioner of the XFL, among them. He has four children, three of whom attended Stanford (including Andrew).
Luck declined comment for this piece but I’m told by sources that he’s been hired to serve the Pac-4 schools in an advisory role. The four remaining members are in a dicey spot with limited options, but Luck’s involvement in the dilemma is interesting.
Could Luck help save the Pac-4?
It’s a long shot, but I sure feel better about the conference’s chance to survive with him around.
Stanford and Cal explored membership in the ACC this week, but appear to have met some resistance there. The Big Ten doesn’t appear to have an appetite to expand to 20 schools, yet. Meanwhile, OSU and WSU are waiting to see if the four remaining schools can find footing together before moving on individually.
“Are there four schools when all the dust settles? Is that three? Is that two? Is that one? Is that none? Your instincts are correct,” Washington State AD Pat Chun told me this week. “That’s the first step.”
That’s where Luck comes in.
He was a candidate for the Pac-12 commissioner job when George Kliavkoff was hired. Luck is a terrific back-channel operator who is deeply connected on a variety of levels. His initial task, I’m told by sources, is to evaluate the Pac-4’s assets and options.
The conference’s CEO Group now has only four board seats. The remaining members may feel adrift, but they do have some interesting and sudden control. Also, the conference still has “Autonomous 5” status and the automatic postseason berths that come with it.
The Pac-4 members may attempt to keep an imbalanced share of conference revenue in the next year. The conference expects to receive $420 million in television and postseason funds. There’s also an “emergency fund” that had more than $40 million in it before the pandemic hit in 2020.
How much is left in the fund? Could the Pac-4 justify the use of revenue to pay San Diego State’s $34 million MWC buyout? How about SMU? Also, is there a media-rights deal out there for a reconstructed conference?
Luck will help the remaining members sort out those answers in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, I reached out to an executive at one of the four remaining schools with a follow-up question: Am I being naive to think rebuilding the Pac-4 is a viable option?
The answer: “No you are not.”
Bob Thompson provided a blueprint
Speaking of consultants, can I take a moment to give Bob Thompson a victory lap? The retired Fox Sports Networks president emerged as a valuable public resource and a voice of reason during the last 15 months.
Thompson negotiated multiple rights agreements with the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC in his 25-year career in the industry. He spent nine years running the sports networks at Fox. He’s working now as a consultant and educates folks on Twitter as a public service.
In July of 2022, shortly after USC and UCLA left for the Big Ten, I leaned heavily on Thompson’s expertise in a piece titled: “Pac-12 gut punch comes with a cost.”
Thompson explained how media companies think. He pointed out that he believed the Pac-12’s media deal was worth $500 million per year with USC and UCLA involved (12 schools) but estimated the new valuation for the 10 remaining schools to be only $300 million.
That’s $30 million, per school.
That figure jumps out at me now because of what I reported on Thursday. ESPN offered the Pac-12 exactly $30 million per school in the fall of 2022. The conference presidents turned it down and counter-offered at $50 million.
ESPN walked away.
Thompson’s other predictions in that piece:
— Fox an “unlikely bidder” on the Pac-12. (✅ Correct)
— NBC not a player for the Pac-12. (✅ Correct)
— CBS might have interest, but would rather have Big Ten. (✅ Correct)
— ESPN/ABC is a bidder, “but they are certainly not going to overpay.” (✅ Correct)
— Oregon and Washington’s value to the Big Ten would be approximately $30 million each. (Thompson was only off by ~15 percent. The Ducks and Huskies received an average of $35 million per year in the next six years).
If the Pac-12 accepts the $300 million offer from ESPN in the fall of 2022, the conference is still together. Thompson provided the conference the blueprint, didn’t he? The Pac-4 might think about hiring him, too.
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