Canzano: Mailbag deals with death of coach, Pac-12, Larry Scott, Trail Blazers, and Bill Walton
Your questions, my answers.
I called my old high school baseball coach the other day. I wanted to let Jim Gama know how much I appreciated his influence on my life. He cared about baseball and kids. We almost never lost a game my senior season.
A couple of weeks ago, an old teammate let me know Gama wasn’t doing well. “His cancer is back and it’s aggressive,” he messaged. I picked up the phone, dialed my old coach, and let him know I was thinking about him.
Gama died on Saturday morning.
He was 77.
I learned a lot of things from that old coach. He was big on fundamentals, urged us to be opportunistic, and fostered intense competition in practices. But most of all, I think about Gama whenever it rains.
Once, on a game day during my senior season, I showed up to school at 8 a.m. and saw dark clouds and a sprinkle of rain. The chance of playing that afternoon’s game looked bleak. I parked my car and noticed Gama out on the field, raking the pitcher’s mound. So I walked over to talk with him.
“Looks like a rainout,” I said.
“Get that out of your head,” he shot back.
Then, he set the rake down and explained the danger of mentally calling off the game. Gama insisted that players should always prepare to play, no matter what. If the game gets canceled, no harm. However, if you arrive thinking — “rainout” — only to find the game played, there’s a difficult mental shift.
The guy was a stoic philosopher.
He was right about the mental preparation. We played that afternoon. And I’ve used his logic often over the years. I’ve even shared it with my wife and children. It’s always more beneficial to mentally expect to play.
I’m glad I got the chance to let my old coach know I was thinking about him before he died. It was nice to hear his voice. I don’t know if there’s a teacher or coach who was influential in your life. If so, give them a call or write them a note today. Don’t wait.
I’ve thought a lot lately about how difficult things are for teachers right now. We’re barely removed from the pandemic and the lingering effects have changed classroom dynamics. Some students lost a year-plus of in-person instruction. There are behavioral issues, a lag in learning, and staff shortages.
We owe a thanks to educators.
I’m grateful for those who subscribe to this publication. Thanks to those who have purchased a gift subscription to a friend or family member. Also, I appreciate those who donate paid subscriptions for seniors/readers on fixed budgets.
Onto the this week’s mailbag…
Q: How would YOU fix the fan experience at Matthew Knight Arena? — @insomniac1970
A: The experience has to stretch beyond the basketball itself. Students are showing up. That’s half the battle. But Oregon’s administration needs to get out and see what other colleges and professional teams are doing from a game-operations standpoint. There are some fun, energetic, creative ideas out there. Get out, see it, and invest. The UO fans I talked with this week complained about how stale the experience feels in Eugene.
I also think there may be a contributing issue with some of the well-meaning, high-dollar donors who live out of the area. The donors purchase blocks of premium seats but frequently don’t fill them. Those empty seats are highly visible and contribute to the lack of atmosphere.
Q: Do dogs get colds? — @AlmostFamous412
A: They do. They just don’t whine and tell everyone about it.
Q: How much is the Pac-12’s desire for more control over football kickoff times and announcements of game times holding things up? — @draywilson29
A: Several involved parties have continually reminded me that Apple/Amazon are new to negotiations such as this. You brought up the announcement of football kickoff times so I’ll use that as an example. I was told by a source that the discussion about how each week’s Pac-12 football games are “drafted” by the media partners typically only takes about about an hour with traditional partners (ESPN, FOX, etc.). The same conversation apparently took a week with the streamers. They went back to their lawyers, returned with questions, went back to the lawyers, returned with questions… you get the idea.
I also think the Pac-12 isn’t in any hurry, despite the public anxiety over the whole thing. Like a lot of you, I’m eager to see some numbers, but there isn’t another major college conference currently negotiating rights. Because of that, the Pac-12 appears content to do this at its own pace.
Q: Will Pac-12's basketball success eventually take over football and if so, why not bring in Gonzaga? — @Joeythewxman
A: Basketball will never eclipse football in media value, no matter the on-court success. The sport is only worth 15 to 20 cents of every media-rights dollar. Football makes up the rest. If we’re using a target of $32 million a year in media-rights distributions, then basketball would be worth approximately $6.4 million a year.
Gonzaga hired a high-profile Chicago-based firm — Navigate — to help it study its value and explore a possible move. The Zags may garner an invitation from another conference (Read: Big East or Big 12), but I doubt that will come from the Pac-12. The conference appears to admire and respect Gonzaga basketball, but I don’t sense a lot of enthusiasm for actually adding the Zags.
Gonzaga has it cushy in the WCC. It gets a larger share of media dollars and postseason revenue and enjoys a clear path to the NCAA Tournament every season. I don’t blame the Zags for exploring the options, but I won’t be surprised if they stay right where they are and continue to compete for Final Fours.
Q: I know Gonzaga was previously brought up as a potential addition, but what about adding Saint Mary’s as well? Could you see the conference adding two basketball-only programs? — @LesterGates
A: It’s OK to dream, but I don’t see it happening. Adding Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s along with San Diego State would make the Pac-12 immediately more relevant in men’s basketball. That said, football is where the money is. Football — not basketball — is driving the expansion conversation in the Pac-12.
Q: Clearly there is zero chance that Presidents Robert Robbins (Arizona), Michael Crow (ASU), and Taylor Randall (Utah) would’ve expressed solidarity and optimism unless they were getting positive updates from George Kliavkoff, but what level of detail do you suppose they’re actually getting relative to how close their deal is to the finish line? The timing messaging ranged from “within the next two weeks” to “this process can take awhile.” It appears each has their own take on timing, though all seem confident they’ll get a deal done that’s at least “good enough.” What’s their actual knowledge of timing? — @bdbigelow89
A: You’re right, the presidents wouldn’t have gone public if they weren’t seeing and hearing things that made them confident about getting an agreeable number. I think the whole thing was an orchestrated grass-roots media blitz, designed to carefully blow holes in “The sky is falling!!!!” narrative being sold by Chicken Little.
The presidents and chancellors are deeply involved in this. I think they were trying to send a message — committed, unified, encouraged. I didn’t make too much of the timeline comments because it felt like an attempt to manage expectations. Keep in mind, we’re dealing with academics here. Anyone who has worked on a campus will tell you that they’re process-oriented folks and procedural.
Q: What happened to the importance of the “fourth time window”? — @RavenThom1
A: The Pacific Time Zone remains an attractive selling point for the Pac-12 and some others. FOX still has some late FS1 broadcast windows it will need to fill with inventory. I was told on Wednesday by two Pac-12 sources that FOX is talking with the conference. That was refuted by other media members, but it’s what I’m being told and I trust my sourcing. I’ll be curious to see if the Pac-12 ends up with some games on FS1.
Q: A few of the national writers are almost giddy at the possibility of the Pac-12 blowing up. Why, in your estimation, do they care so much? Why are some of them passing along obvious propaganda? Whats in it for them? Just clicks? That's sad if true. — @realSWB
A: There’s a ton of interest in realignment and conference expansion. That “imminent demise of the Pac-12” narrative is peddled, in part, because it gets lots of clicks. There are also some parties fueling the gloom and hysteria behind the scenes. Instability in the Pac-12 benefits their interests.
I’m here to provide in-depth, sourced reporting and commentary. I’m interested in telling readers what is actually going on… not what some third party wants out there.
Q: Any news from the meeting of Pac-12 CEOs on Wednesday? Lots of buildup to it, and then radio silence after it. — Joe Clark
A: I was told by a conference source on Wednesday that the meeting was “productive and positive.” The next scheduled meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group is April 10. The board could call for a vote before then. It could move the meeting. The finish line on this thing still feels fluid. But, given the tenor of the messaging from the Pac-12 presidents in the last couple of weeks, I’m inclined to think they’re wrapping this up.
Q: When this whole Pac-12 media rights expansion fiasco is over, what will you title your book about this mess??? — @NewsManLou
A: “Someone check on Chicken Little” Or maybe “Thanks for nothing, Larry Scott.”
Q: Loved the recent piece about the Pac-12’s need to invest in basketball. Purdue, Kansas State, Baylor, NC State, Iowa and even Texas Tech consistently have teams in the tournament. (not every year) Peer conferences. Are these schools basketball budgets much bigger? — @sdetroit
A: I took a quick look at the first four schools you listed. Purdue spent $8.9 million in men’s basketball and Kansas State spent only $7.6 million in the fiscal year ending in 2022. Credit to both. That’s excellent value for the on-court results. But keep in mind, those schools may have increased budgets in the last year. We won’t get that data for a while.
Meanwhile, Baylor spent $13.3 million on men’s basketball and North Carolina State listed $10 million in expenses. By comparison, UCLA spent $11.9 million and Arizona invested $12.2 million in the same period. The Pac-12 teams that are spending more liberally are winning games with more consistency. Investment is not a 100-percent guarantee of success, but it’s a strong indicator.
Q: Regarding Oregon State and coach Jonathan Smith… am I jumping the gun thinking they could contend for the NATTY in five years time? — Scott Derby
A: OK. We need to put a moratorium on the use of the word “Natty.” I have a friend in his 70s who uses “natty” all the time to describe the national championship. It’s not a good look. That said, Oregon State won 10 games last season. When the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams, it will essentially come with automatic qualifiers.
Smith was a good QB away from being an 11-win regular-season team last season. (I think the Beavers would have beat USC and Washington with better QB play.) So no, you’re not crazy to think OSU could make the CFP field in the next five years.
Q: Are the Trail Blazers the worst-run franchise in the NBA? What about the rest of sports? — @bjonz0
A: Great sports organizations have solid leadership from ownership to management to head coach. There’s congruency of vision in those areas for successful teams. The Blazers don’t have a true owner. They have a “trustee” in Jody Allen. The general manager, Joe Cronin, is doing the GM job for the first time. And the coach, Chauncey Billups, had never been a head coach at any level. It’s simply not a pyramid built for success.
Q: What are Jody Allen’s ransom demands?? — @TravisinBoring
A: I don’t know, but she appears to value giraffe bones.
Q: Is Drew Timme the guy the Blazers should focus on getting in the draft? — @BakerMeow
A: I sat by former NBA and college coach Larry Brown at a Gonzaga game last season. Brown leaned over at one point and told me, “Timme is my favorite college player.” I love Timme’s game and he’s a wonderful college player, but not sure his skills translate well to the NBA. The Blazers can do better in the draft.
Q: Has Chauncey Billups earned another year? Not impressed with what I’ve seen this season from the Trail Blazers coach. — @CashMoney503
A: I’m not impressed either, but a coach is only as good as his roster. The roster is broken. Billups signed a five-year contract. He’s in season No. 2. The fifth year is a team option. I think the Blazers give Billups one more season unless there’s some unexpected development.
Q: You see a young John Canzano — what do you tell him that is of great importance to being a columnist? — @JoeyAMancuso
A: Don’t be in a hurry. Make sure you appreciate and soak up every step of the journey. I worked at six different newspapers. I went from small markets to large markets. I worked all over the country and had valuable experiences.
As a beat reporter and columnist, I covered Bobby Knight, Jerry Tarkanian, Indiana basketball, Notre Dame football, Purdue basketball and football, the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the NFL, NBA and MLB. I went to five Olympics, nine Super Bowls and covered a pile of Little League games. I learned vital things at every stop and gained valuable sourcing.
I was in a hurry to get to the next professional destination, but as I look back I’m grateful that I had every one of those experiences. They were important building blocks. My work is better for it. I wish I’d known that at that time, though.
Q: Bill Walton just cracks me up. Since he was spoofed on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, if he were given the opportunity to host SNL do you think he would do it? Maybe work in the Grateful Dead farewell tour as the musical guest? — David Gressett
A: This is a terrific idea, however, does the show have time for Walton’s opening monologue?
Have a great weekend…
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Sorry for your loss John, my sympathies to you and Coach Gama’s family.
What great, real world advice Coach Gama passed onto you. My 2nd season in the American League, I had the plate in Texas when our 7:00 game started just after 10 because of rain.
Arriving at the park at 5:30, I was confident we would be postponed. When we weren’t and by the time the game started, mentally I wasn’t there. Had one of the worst games of my career.
Always be prepared to play/work until you aren’t.
One more thing and thank you for mentioning it. Please, I beg everyone, stop using the term “natty!” I can’t tell you how much I hate that non-word!
Great Answers! They would need to make SNL a 5 hour show for Walton's opening monologue. He might go long if he starts talking about UCLA leaving the Conference of Champions.