Canzano: Mailbag deals with Fresno State, Ducks, and Pac-12 vs. Big 12 fight
Who would win a fight between commissioners?
FRESNO, Calif. — Oregon State has never won a football game in Fresno. The Beavers are 0-6 in the Central Valley and the last time they visited, NFL-bound quarterback Derek Anderson threw five interceptions.
I was there that night.
On Thursday, I asked Anderson what he thought of Oregon State’s game this week at Fresno State. I barely got the word “Fresno…” out of my mouth and the former Pro Bowler shot back: “I hate that place.”
I was also at Bulldog Stadium in 2001, when No. 10-ranked Oregon State lost 44-24 with now-coach Jonathan Smith at quarterback. Now-Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called the plays for the Bulldogs. David Carr, the eventual No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns.
After the game, Fresno State coach Pat Hill was so excited about the win that he raced back to the press box after the post-game news conference. I’ve never seen anyone else do that. He apparently ran out of people to talk with in the football offices and locker room. Hill showed up in the press box, slapped me on the back, yelled, “How about that, Johnny!?!” Then, the coach stood behind me for a spell, chattering about the game, as I wrote my column.
I worked at The Fresno Bee for a few years in the early 2000s. It was among my six stops in this business. The people of the Central California Valley are incredibly proud, love their teams, and help feed the country with the agriculture they create. Fresno sits between Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, but a big issue is how Highway 99 — the main thoroughfare — passes through the city.
The highway cuts along the far edge of Fresno, amid the stockyards, junkyards and industrial warehouses. It’s an ugly drive. Those passing by don’t get to see the citrus groves, almond orchards, vineyards, and beautiful neighborhoods. Basically, they don’t get to see Fresno. I’ve long wondered why city leaders don’t invest more in the beautification of the Highway 99 corridor.
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Onto this week’s mailbag…
Q: Why are college football games scheduled and announced up to a decade in advance but basketball schedules aren’t known and released until maybe a month before the season? — @bkbeban
A: College football scheduling requires a lot of brokering. It’s about getting the right schedule balance, locking in home games, and the economics of it dwarf every other sport. Basketball’s non-conference strategy is about improving RPI and positioning your program for the NCAA Tournament. For those reasons, the basketball schedules and pre-season tournaments come together on a shorter timeline.
Q: Who would win in a fight between our Pac-12 commish and the Big 12 commish, and would it air on the Pac-12 Network? — @jkimball5506
A: The Big 12’s Brett Yormark is a talker. He would win the pre-bout news conference and drive pay-per-view interest. But George Kliavkoff was a rower in college. He towers over Yormark, height-wise, and has a distinct reach advantage. Unless Yormark can get inside and pepper Kliavkoff at close range, he gets jabbed into submission. My call: Kliavkoff in three rounds. Winner gets San Diego State?
Q: How close do you think the Pac-12 is to having these early-season games in LA or Vegas instead of always going to Atlanta? I think you talked about this on the podcast, but it sounds like a great idea and I don't know why it isn’t happening already. — @WorkishFromHome
A: The Pac-12 wants to play games in Los Angeles to help fill the void left by USC and UCLA’s departure. I expect the conference’s next media partner (ESPN) will broker non-conference games between the Pac-12 and ACC as early as 2024. Doing so would help create more revenue for both conferences. Oregon got $4.5 million to play Georgia in Atlanta, for example. I’d sign-up to see the Ducks vs. Miami at SoFi Stadium or Clemson vs. Utah at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Q: Is the Oregon State win over Boise State a good indication of where they are or will that be decided in Fresno? — @Boise49er
A: Boise State is 7-6 in its last 13 games. The Beavers, playing at home, probably did what they should have done to a struggling program. Oregon State was 6-0 at home last season, but 1-6 away from Reser Stadium. Jonathan Smith’s program gets a bigger test in Week 2 and I think the Beavers pass it. I picked OSU to win the game, 30-24.
Q: What is it going to take to get Fresno State into the Pac-12? — @BarrioRiffa
A: I think the Pac-12 is going to add at least one team, maybe two or more. It needs to replace the lost inventory. What Fresno State would need to be seriously considered is a full-blown expansion that featured at least four additions, because I don’t see the Bulldogs in the top two. Fresno State is up against San Diego State, SMU, UNLV and Boise State and some others. After San Diego State, it’s a muddled group.
Q: What do you think the actual timing will be on the Pac-12’s new media rights deal? Should we expect something this month, or just wait and be surprised when it eventually happens? — @hereforsportUoU
A: Commissioner George Kliavkoff told me — very casually — on Media Day that something would get done, “by the end of the year.” I think he was leaving himself a lot of room with that statement. I expect some news by mid-to-late October. I’m told if it takes longer than that, the conference may be exploring some kind of radical new deal with a variety of partners. How should we expect this to be finalized? Bob Thompson, the former Fox Sports Networks president, told me, “It is possible they get a binding term sheet done, announce, and then work on final agreement.”
Q: Early opinion on the impact of “Paid College Athletes” on team morale? — @lesjoel123
A: Arizona State coach Herm Edwards told me he thought NIL deals might cause problems in the locker room, but I haven’t seen evidence of that yet. The majority of deals are relatively small and players seem to be happy for each other. But I’ve been thinking a lot about how NIL may factor in early-season personnel decisions. Is a head coach more likely to start a QB who signed a lucrative NIL deal with a powerful booster group vs. a player that didn’t, for example? There are a lot of tentacles to this stuff.
Q: Oregon's defense seems to have lost any kind of identity since last November, starting with the double disaster against Utah, the forgettable bowl game and now being trucked by Georgia last weekend. What happened to all this 5-star and 4-star talent that Mario Cristobal and Dan Lanning recruited? — @SpatzSteven
A: The absence of identity is a major concern. But we shouldn’t blame this season’s defense for what happened last season. There’s a new coaching staff in Eugene and Oregon’s Week 1 opponent (Georgia) was tremendously talented. I don’t like the trend, but we need a larger sample size. That said, I think the issue likely stems from poor defensive-line play. Oregon is getting stoned at the point of attack, not getting any pressure on the QB, and the Ducks’ DBs aren’t good enough to hold up. That’s my best answer. Let’s see how it unfolds, though.
Q: Would Oregon have an easier path to the College Football Playoff in a new Pac-10 or an expanded Big Ten? — @JasonWiegert
A: Oregon is far better off in the Pac-12, where it doesn’t have to get past Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State to get to the playoff. I also think there’s a strong possibility that the Pac-12 rewards its playoff teams by allowing them to keep a larger share of the playoff payout. That would help close the staggering gap between the Pac-12 and Big Ten’s media-rights deals.
Q: Is the Big 12 making a serious play for San Diego State? Our commissioner appears to be slow-playing this thing, couldn’t that backfire? It’s like a game of Risk now. Be aggressive or die. — @Smittytheclownn
A: I don’t think the Pac-12 has done a very good job of controlling its own story. It’s been too quiet in the wake of the USC and UCLA defections and that’s been publicly perceived as weakness. I don’t think San Diego State is better off in the Big 12 and the Aztecs know it. Still, I think they’re wise to use the Big 12 as leverage.
Have a great weekend…
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John, as a retired journalist who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune, I admire your career. You went where the work was and where there was lots of stuff to cover that no one was covering. The only time Cal played Fresno State in Fresno, the Bulldogs won 17-3. Fresno won in Berkeley the time before that. Couple of once-overlooked Fresno players, Derek Carr and Devante Adams, have a chance to do something special this year if the rest of the Raiders are finally up to it.
You don't get to read much about the Pat Hills of the sports world in the Bay Area anymore. I worked with Scott Ostler at the SF Chronicle among others. Wonderful guy, but his favorite athlete: Colin Kaepernick.