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Canzano: Mailbag deals with Big 12 vs. Pac-12, hot pretzels and the fate of Gonzaga
Your letters... my replies...
I spent this week with Portland State football players who volunteered to serve as Team Leaders at Camp Exceptional — a summer camp for special needs and typical kids.
It was the ninth year of the camp. I sometimes think the college-aged counselors get more out of it than the campers. I always leave the summer event with a full heart, but on Friday afternoon I also left the camp with glassy eyes.
PSU football players don’t play their home games in front of large crowds. Until this week, in fact, the Vikings’ final home game of the regular season (vs. Sacramento State) didn’t even have a venue. Portland State AD John Johnson locked down Hillsboro Stadium and Bruce Barnum’s team will play that final game on a Friday night.
The players seemed happy about that. But they were even more joyful and energetic about pouring their energy and effort into campers who are now die-hard Vikings’ fans. I watched running backs, defensive backs, linebackers and lineman car pool to the camp every morning, take children by the hand and lift their hearts.
Television has taken command of major college athletics. The landscape is troubling. The Big Sky Conference barely seems to register sometimes. But I was reminded while watching PSU athletes this week — including the men’s and women’s basketball teams that showed up, too — that the spirit of college athletics is still alive.
I needed that.
Maybe you did, too.
I’m having a lot of fun with this new writing endeavor. I love that I could share that little tidbit with you. I’m appreciative of those who have subscribed or given family members and friends gift subscriptions. Thanks to all who have read, subscribed and encouraged me.
Onto the mailbag… your questions, my answers:
Q: What happens to the Big 12 if/when the Pac-12 raids and steals their top four teams? — @benwilkinson
A: There’s a lot of Big 12 vs. Pac-12 sentiment out there. I don’t think your scenario spells the end of the Big 12, necessarily, but would it force that conference to take on new partners that don’t bring as much media-rights value. The Big 12 TV footprint isn’t great as it stands. Access to the College Football Playoff becomes problematic, too. But I think we’re going to see turmoil and uncertainty for the next few years before things settle down.
Q: When it all comes down to it, what do you think will ultimately save the Pac 12? — @vakaviti
A: The same thing that threatens it — television. ESPN and a potential streaming partner (ESPN+ or Amazon or Apple TV+) are now the solution. Also, some good leadership. Commissioner George Kliavkoff spent his first year connecting with campus leaders across the Pac-12. That generated some good will, but now it’s time to slide into visionary mode and lead.
Q: Any chance the remaining Pac-10 ADs and presidents declare UCLA and USC ineligible for conference championships in their final two seasons? I know the answer is ‘no’ but it sure would feed my vindictiveness. — @CenterFielder3
A: The Bruins and Trojans are contractually bound to the Pac-12 through the summer of 2024. The parties could negotiate an early out, but there’s no kicking USC and UCLA out of the conference without compensation. If it makes you feel better, I suspect the football teams at USC and UCLA will be met with hostility on the road this season.
Q: What are the chances of unequal revenue sharing? — @hmckee53
A: An imbalanced split of media revenue feels like it is very much on the table. Minimally, it’s being discussed. I suspect Washington, Arizona, Stanford, Cal and ASU feel entitled to larger than an equal share because of their TV markets. I also think Oregon believes its brand merits additional compensation. They all have leverage right now.
Q: Phil Knight’s impact on UO and Duck sports specifically are massive. But while we hope he lives forever for all of the positive things he does, have he and/or the university talked about what happens after he’s gone? Will the Ducks and their brand take a big step back? — @robbieparness
A: Phil and Penny Knight have given more than $1 billion to the University of Oregon over the years. In 2021, they stepped up with $500 million more for the Knight Campus. Insiders tell me there is already a plan in place for a massive endowment from Knight that would continue to subsidize UO’s athletic department. I’ll have more on this in the coming weeks.
Q: Will hot pretzels return to Autzen this year? They weren’t part of last season’s reduced menu, and I was surprised how much I missed them. I can’t wait to watch a game in person, forget about realignment and enjoy the little things that make game day special. — @WoodburnDuck
A: I am on the “hot pretzel” beat now. I loved this question. And you’re right, it’s the little things that make a college football Saturday. If Autzen Stadium doesn’t bring the pretzels back, I will lead the crusade for their return.
Q: Amazon’s relationship with CBS/Paramount+ is intriguing. There’s a possible avenue to network-TV there, which I assume is still important. Despite the social media nonsense (I HAVE SOURCES) why would there be any other movement before other outlets can get involved after Aug 4? — @SteinerLine36
A: ESPN and Fox are in an exclusive, 30-day negotiating period with the Pac-12 that ends Aug. 4. There’s incentive for ESPN, particularly, to come with a strong Tier 1 offer and get the primary deal done without bidding against others. But I’d expect the streaming part of this could take additional time because the Pac-12 would want to talk with Amazon, Apple, etc. and let the market weigh in.
Q: What about adding Hawaii as football-only to sell last time slot of the night as part of package to ESPN and then adding Gonzaga as member for all other sports? Will the Bay Area schools not go for Gonzaga? — @ReedJones
A: Football is driving 80-85 percent of the revenue in college athletics. Gonzaga is a great basketball brand, but it doesn’t move the needle for television without football involved. Hawaii has only 445,000 television households in its market. That makes UH a long shot. That late college football TV window is probably more likely to go to a Pac-12 program in a much larger TV market kicking off at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.
Q: Is there a trickle-down effect for FCS football when the FBS completely changes? Also what sport other than football gets the biggest change due to realignment? — @TylerHergert
A: I spoke to a number of Big Sky Conference sources who tell me they’re not worried… for now. There will always be a need among FBS members for lucrative payday football games. The FCS members are focused on ensuring they continue to receive revenue from the NCAA Tournament. As long as they keep access to the college basketball tournaments and that TV money, the FCS members should be OK.
Q: If the Pac-12 expands, how important is getting into the Central Time Zone? Or is it more important to lock down California? — @RoaringForkDvl
A: I took a deep dive on why television markets matter a couple of weeks ago. If you try to think like a TV executive, the strategy makes sense. ESPN needs content in the Pacific Time Zone. But if a Mountain or Central Time Zone university can add value to a TV contract, they become important.
Next Friday is Pac-12 Media Day. I'll be on the scene in Los Angeles for a big chunk of the week. My goal is to make you smarter and elevate the conversations you’re having with friends, neighbors and family. If you’re looking for sourced, in-depth reporting and commentary… you’re in the right place. Thanks for being here.
Have a great weekend.
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