Canzano: ESPN plays kingmaker as Pac-12 waits... plus, a Dutch Bros laugh... and a lawsuit looms
Some rich stuff here...
My father is in his 70s. I’ve written about him a few times over the years. He and my mom drove up from California last month and are on an extended visit to Oregon.
Dad loves Dutch Bros coffee.
Monday was an unusually warm day and Dad was looking for a cold drink so he pulled through the Dutch Bros drive-thru, where he was greeted by a smiling, enthusiastic barista who asked him how things were going.
Said Dad: “94 today.”
The barista shot back: “Happy Birthday!!!”
I nearly fell over laughing when I heard about it. My mother and father cackled, too. It took an unusual alignment of events to create that funny moment, but Dad is a good sport. The barista was horrified, but really, we should thank her. It was a delightful, memorable, funny moment and proof that you can get more than caffeine at those magical little windmill kiosks.
My Dad was a professional baseball player. He played middle infield in the Mets organization and made it to Triple-A. Mom stayed at home with us four kids for years, then went to school to become a nurse.
When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes take us all to the local high school after dinner with bats and gloves and we’d play baseball as a family. At some juncture, my father would set his glove on the ground at his feet, and pick up a bat and a ball. He’d toss the baseball in the air, swing the bat and hit a pop-up that appeared to be headed to the Moon.
We’d all strain to follow the path of the ball as it went into orbit and dad would casually set the bat down and pick up his glove. Then, my father would gauge the path of the pop-up, settle under the ball, and after what felt like eternity — catch it.
It remains the most amazing feat I’ve ever witnessed. Not because it requires tremendous hand-eye coordination, but because it was my Dad doing it. He could perfectly hit that pop-up 100 out of 100 times.
A gut-busting laugh in the drive-thru.
A family post-dinner ritual.
If you’ve lost your parents, you probably ruminate on memories such as those. I’m grateful my parents are alive and still relatively healthy, but I’m reminded every time I see them just how much they’ve aged. Mom had a hip surgery recently. Dad’s soft hands — the same ones he once used to set a Carolina League record for assists in a game — often go mysteriously numb. He’s trying physical therapy to fix it.
“Has anyone seen my pills?” becomes a regular refrain when they make the 700-mile trip to see us.
I cover sports for a living. When former Raiders’ quarterback Daryle Lamonica passed away earlier this spring at the age of 80, it struck me that he wasn’t that much older than my father. Actor William Hurt, dead at the age of 71 in March, was younger than both of my folks.
Are your parents still alive?
If not, what would you do with one more day with them?
As my Dad recounted that wonderful Dutch Bros story on Monday evening I noted the sparkle in his eyes. He was grinning and happy. My mother laughed and pounded her fist on the kitchen table. The moment was so rich I didn’t want it to end.
ESPN AS KINGMAKER: The Pac-12 Conference’s fate feels like it’s in the hands of ESPN, doesn’t it?
I reached out to the former president of Fox Sports Network, Bob Thompson, this week and asked him to examine the role ESPN will play in the future of the Pac-12. He came back with an analysis I think you need to hear.
ESPN is in an exclusive, 30-day negotiating window with the conference right now. I believe that explains why we’ve had a lull when it comes to realignment news. The conference members are waiting to see what kind of offer the Pac-12 will get.
Said Thompson, “ESPN needs the Pac-12 more than anybody and will likely pay more than anyone else. They like West Coast windows for football. They like basketball inventory and they might actually be able to make something out of the Pac-12 Networks. They also need content for ESPN+.”
A few things to think about, per Thompson:
• The Pac-12 will survive if ESPN reaches an agreement with the conference during this negotiating window that ensures the 10 remaining universities have a reasonable annual payout going forward.
• If ESPN’s initial offer is a lowball to the Pac-12, Thompson expects it could cause a few members to bolt or at least prompt them to seriously explore other options.
• Thompson negotiated dozens of these kinds of deals with a variety of conferences in his career. He said that ESPN may decide to make a shrewd offer to the Pac-12, knowing that it if it’s rejected, the conference is likely to fall apart and have a handful of members end up with the Big 12.
“ESPN,” he said, “can then go after those rights buoyed by the fact that they have $$$ in their pocket that they didn't pay the Pac 12.”
• The whole Pac-12 + ACC alliance makes Thompson leery. He believes the concept was hatched as a way to funnel some extra dollars to ACC members who have grown restless with the terms of the conference’s current media rights deal.
Said Thompson: “It seems to me the play is that somehow the ACC Network serves both conferences and replaces Pac-12 Networks ultimately increasing the payout from ESPN to the ACC.”
• The whole thing feels similar to the summer of 2011, Thompson remembers, when the Pac-12 tried to raid six schools from the Big 12. The hang-up then was Longhorn Network — the University of Texas media creation — which the Pac-12 didn’t want.
Said Thompson: “Fox and ESPN stepped up and didn't give the Big 12 a haircut on their rights fees as a result of Colorado and Nebraska leaving. This basically kept the Big 12 from cratering that summer.”
• It’s interesting that the Pac-12 tried once before to kill the Big 12, isn’t it? A decade later (2021), Texas and Oklahoma bolted to the SEC. At the time, per sources, the Big 12 floated a potential merger with the Pac-12. It was rejected. Now, a year later, the script is flipped. After the defection of USC and UCLA, the Big 12 might love nothing more than to cannibalize 4-6 more schools from the Pac-12 and squash it.
Fox has the Big Ten Conference and appears content with that partnership. Insiders don’t view them as a likely bidder for the Pac-12 right now. Not unless there’s some kind of merger with the Big 12 or other shape-shifting change. So that leaves ESPN holding the biggest vote when it comes to the fate of the Pac-12.
POWER PLAY: The University of California’s Board of Regents are going to meet and discuss UCLA’s move to the Big Ten next week. Jon Wilner, of the San Jose Mercury News, had a strong piece with the details this morning.
UCLA’s move to the Big Ten has the potential to adversely affect some of the other UC-system entities. There’s a lot wrapped up in this, including potential litigation. Or it could be that the regents are trying to protect themselves from being sued by other members. Cal, for example, could endure significant financial strain because of the departure of UCLA.
The Regents used the word “litigation” in their posting. But don’t read too much into that. Former Washington state senator Mike Baumgartner said, “Listing ‘litigation’ on an agenda is a common used work around by public officials to make meetings private via ‘executive session.’ Regents do it all the time and then have their decisions made before going to the public meeting. It’s a loophole in sunshine laws that almost anything can be ‘potential litigation.’ When you read it in an agenda it just means, ‘we’re making this meeting private.’”
This feels like a public-policy issue for now. The Regents are UCLA’s Governor appointed (and legislature approved) overseeing body. No way would they sue UCLA. That would be like a Board of Directors suing it’s own company. But could the regents really stop UCLA from leaving?
That’s all most of us will care about. I suspect the regents will have a difficult time convincing UCLA that it shouldn’t do what is in its best interest. The Bruins are in line to receive more than $75 million a year under the Big Ten’s new media deal with Fox. That’s nearly double what UCLA currently gets in the Pac-12.
Still, it’s an interesting play, isn’t it?
Baumgartner, who served as the vice chair of the state of Washington’s Senate Higher Education Committee said he doubts Cal would have a legal case if the Regents approve UCLA’s move.
“However, the private bond holders of Cal University debt might have a legal case if the UCLA decision effects their credit worthiness and/or bond value,” he said. “Here in Washington, we had several instances of our Supreme Court prohibiting policy changes due to impact on bond holders.”
OTHER VIEWS: I’m always interested in hearing what others think of the Pac-12. I’m especially interested in hearing from experts who are in other parts of the country.
On Monday, I did a 1-on-1 interview with Mac Engel, a columnist at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and adjunct professor at SMU. I asked him how SMU might feel about being invited to the Pac-12.
He said: "They would run over all of their mothers if they could get it."
Engel said he wasn’t sure the Pac-12 should be interested. He pointed out that SMU occupies a postage-stamp sized footprint in the Dallas television market and has minimal impact in the region.
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I also spoke with Matt Brown, who writes “Extra Points,” a terrific newsletter about the business of college sports. Brown lives in Chicago and we talked about the Pacific Time Zone being shut out of the College Football Playoff.
He said: “I think it's a significant issue. We've had a lack of parity in college football as long as we've had college football... but there’s been geographic distribution.”
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