Canzano: Kicking off the Pac-12 in a big way
Plus, the biggest non-conference opportunities for Pac-12.
Former Washington State star and NFL fullback Jed Collins is president of the Cougar Collective. I spoke with Collins recently about the name, image, likeness world that college athletics now finds itself in.
“Do I think it’s been launched and handled the right way?” Collins said. “Absolutely not, but this is the stadium we have decided to play in.”
The whole thing has caused a lot of angst and confusion. Booster collectives have scrambled to organize themselves, decide if they prefer non-profit or for-profit status, raise funds and begin distributing awards. It doesn’t help that the laws, state to state, aren’t consistent, either. But it’s the game being played right now.
WSU’s collective gave transfer quarterback Cameron Ward an endorsement package valued at $90,000. The windfall included cash, an apartment, a leased GMC truck and flights for Ward’s parents from Texas to Cougars’ football games this season.
Collins was careful to point out that the collective didn’t give Ward the NIL package until after he committed to WSU.
“We had confirmation that he signed his letter of intent,” Collins said. “He was a student-athlete. Cam might be the steal of the first year of the NILs. You look at the packages that other quarterbacks got. He got a tremendous one. He’s a tremendous talent. I’m excited to see him.”
A number of booster collectives have popped up in the Pac-12 footprint in the last year. Among them, Oregon’s branded Division Street, Inc. and UCLA’s “Bruin Fan Alliance.” The “Sun Angel Collective” popped up at Arizona State earlier this month.
WSU and ASU have both launched subscription-style campaigns designed to capitalize on recurring monthly donations from fans. The aim is to tap into the power of their large alumni bases and allow fans who don’t typically write six-figure checks to feel just as invested in the program.
“That recurring subscription model also entices people to step up to the next level,” said Jeffrey Burg, head of the Sun Angel Collective. “There’s a number of incentives in there, depending on what you give.”
The ASU collective used that power to raise more than $1 million in the days leading to the official launch 10 days ago.
Said Burg, “Having 579,000 alumni is a huge opportunity for us. We need to hit just a small percentage of them to build a massive, month over month, and year over year war chest.”
For $10 a month, donors get an ASU decal and a newsletter. For $50 a month, donors receive additional benefits, including some Sun Angel apparel. And for a $100 recurring monthly donation, you’ll get a personalized welcome video from an ASU athlete, branded apparel and you’re entered in a monthly drawing for an athlete-autographed item.
Meanwhile at Washington State, Collins told me that the funds raised from the campaign will be used to reward and retain upperclassmen in a variety of sports.
“We’re going to reward people to remain Cougs,” he said. “‘Pay to Stay’ is our mantra. We’re going to support them and reward loyalty. Of course, we want to welcome new people into the family but retention is going to be more of a focal point for us, because we won’t be able to compete with the million-dollar budgets.”
Ward, the Cougars’ quarterback, is an interesting study. He’s a gifted player who played in the Wing-T offense in high school. His only scholarship offer came from University of Incarnate Word, which plays in a 6,000-seat stadium.
He won the Jerry Rice Award as the best player in the FCS Division as a freshman. Then, as a sophomore, Ward passed for 4,648 yards and threw 47 touchdown passes. Now, he’s at Washington State, driving that leased truck on the streets of Pullman.
“Who knows?” Ward told me. “If I have a good season, play well enough, they might let me have it.”
GAME ON: I’m itching for the college football season to start. I’m particularly focused on the Pac-12’s early non-conference games. Last season, the conference was historically bad.
BYU went 5-0 against the Pac-12 last football season. San Diego State beat Arizona and eventual conference-champion Utah. Outside of Oregon’s road win at Ohio State, UCLA’s win over LSU and Stanford beating Vanderbilt, it was pretty much a dismal non-conference showing by the Pac-12.
Pac-12 record vs. Big 12, Big Ten and SEC: 3-9.
Bowl Game Record: 0-5… including losses to Utah State and Central Michigan.
That can’t happen again this season. Not with the conference fighting for legitimacy and trying to negotiate its media rights packages. If the Pac-12 wants to remain relevant there is no better place to demonstrate it than on the football field itself.
USC and UCLA are leaving for the Big Ten in 2024, but they’ll help shape the overall narrative. So it’s important that the Trojans show up to play vs. Rice, Fresno State and Notre Dame. Also, UCLA has a cakewalk non-conference schedule (vs. Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama). But the real early-season opportunities sit with the remaining 10 programs.
The big ones in the first three weeks:
Oregon vs. Georgia - Dan Lanning’s first game comes vs. the defending national champions. Ducks must keep this closer than the 18-point spread.
Utah at Florida - Utes are the Pac-12 favorites. Florida was picked to finish fourth in the SEC East. A must-win for the Pac-12.
Oregon State vs. Boise State - Would amount to a solid win for conference. OSU has the home field and lots of momentum.
Arizona at San Diego State - Wildcats in a rebuild. Meanwhile, Aztecs auditioning for expansion candidacy. Also, SDSU is opening its new stadium.
Arizona State at Oklahoma State - It’s a dicey crossover game, but a win would help shift the narrative.
Washington State at Wisconsin - Would be a really nice road win for Pac-12 vs. Big Ten. WSU is capable of an upset here.
Oregon State at Fresno State - Bulldog Stadium is a really tough place to play, but a loss here hurts the Pac-12’s brand. Jeff Tedford back the helm at Fresno State.
Oregon vs. BYU - Cougars were Pac-12 killers last season. This is Oregon’s most important non-conference game and it comes at home. Feels like the difference between a 2-1 and 1-2 start for Ducks.
Arizona vs. North Dakota State - Perennial FCS power will be upset minded. I hope the Wildcats show up to play or they’ll get embarrassed.
Cal at Notre Dame - These two teams haven’t played each other in forever (1967). Justin Wilcox, it’s your time to shine.
Washington vs. Michigan State - Fun game for the Huskies versus a dangerous Big Ten opponent. Still, UW is at home. A win here would be a big boost for Kalen DeBoer’s program and the Pac-12’s image.
That’s 11 significant early games. Again, I’m throwing out USC and UCLA for now and looking at the solid opportunities that will help shape the overall narrative of the remaining Pac-12 members.
7-4 would be a home-run mark in those 11 games. 6-5 or 5-6 would be OK, too, given that there are some brutal and dicey matchups. But if the conference wins four games or fewer among those matchups, I fear we’re in for a repeat of 2021.
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