Canzano: Mailbag focuses on Pac-12, irrational fans and a $49 billion question
Your questions and my answers.
In early December, I traveled to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Conference championship football game between Utah and USC. I was standing in a casino, not far from a roulette table, when a Pac-12 executive wandered by.
The discussion turned to the 2023 football schedule.
Nine conference games? A reduction to eight? A return to the North-South Division model? Or not? The conference athletic directors were knee-deep in discussions. They were sorting through a variety of possibilities. The executive expected the schedule to be finalized sometime around Dec. 15.
We’re now three weeks beyond that date and still no schedule.
A mailbag reader (@GLagzz ) asked this week: “When will the Pac-12 football schedule be released? It seems late to not know yet.”
The reader is right. The football schedule is traditionally released in mid-December. Fans are making plans for the year. I was told by one conference AD last week: “We are close.”
Given that uncertainty isn’t the Pac-12’s friend right now, I think it’s important the conference wraps this up.
Like — now.
The athletic directors get the final approval on the schedule. In late December, the ADs circled back, I’m told, and asked the conference to run some additional models. The prevailing thought is that we will get the approved 2023 schedule next week.
What I expect:
Nine conference games — not eight.
No return to North-South Divisions.
Everyone thinking they got a raw deal.
The conference sees the logic in reducing to eight conference games. However, there’s some pushback from a couple of members who are already having a tricky time finding (and paying for) three non-conference football opponents every season.
The North-South Division debate is ongoing. But if the aim is to get two conference teams in the expanded playoff, putting the two highest-ranked teams in the title game feels like solid strategy.
On the raw deal part? Nothing to see there. People love to bellyache. Complaints over Oregon’s bye week and who USC doesn’t have to play in the regular season are an annual schedule-release ritual. I’m also curious to see whether the 10 holdover athletic directors form a block that votes for a schedule that isn’t all that favorable to Big Ten defectors (UCLA and USC).
When will the schedule be out? I’m no fence sitter. I’m setting Tuesday afternoon as the over/under for the release. I’d be surprised if conference members allow fans and coaches to stay in limbo for another week.
I’m having a lot of fun with this writing endeavor. When I launched it, I vowed to give you sourced, in-depth reporting and commentary. I have big plans for 2023. In the coming days, you’re going to read about a little girl who beat the odds, a lost legend, a unique look at two of the best college basketball teams in the country, and a mind-blowing tale of perseverance.
I love covering games and teams. I’m deeply sourced and tuned in. Beyond that, I love writing about people. You know that. I appreciate all who have invested in my work with paid subscriptions or given a gift subscription to a friend or family member. It means the world to me. Also, a big thanks to those who donate paid subscriptions for readers on fixed budgets. That kindness is gold.
I received great questions again this week.
Onto the mailbag…
Q: You’ve won the Mother of all Lotteries. You’re now worth $49 billion. The one stipulation: You must buy an existing pro sports franchise. Who do you buy? Let’s assume they’re all for sale. — @bbasstravel
A: Hold up. I’m worth $49 billion? I immediately buy a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card and stick it between the spokes of my bike and ride around the neighborhood.
I’m not sure I’d want to own a pro sports franchise. Too many day-to-day headaches. I’m not the kind of person who dabbles, either. I’d have to be all-in. But given that you’re forcing me to buy one with my sudden fortune — I’ll buy the Portland Trail Blazers and promptly donate them back to the fan base.
They’d be the first publicly owned NBA franchise. Sort of like the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, but without the Lambeau Field snow. Every resident of Oregon gets one voting share of the team. The team president and general manager are elected positions with four-year terms. We use excess franchise revenues to build homeless shelters and provide services. Hotdogs are always $2. Beers are $4. Everyone wins.
What franchise would you buy? How would you run your team? Tell me in the comment section.
Q: With UCLA and USC leaving after next year how will that effect the Pac-12’s bowl line up with potential less teams and for sure less marquis teams? — @BarbarianDad
A: The bowl season may feel a little less important to some after the expansion of the College Football Playoff in 2024. If the conference adds a member or two, I don’t think the Pac-12 needs fewer bowl affiliations. I do think the lineup is a little stale. I wonder if the Las Vegas Bowl or Holiday Bowl should be a higher-profile game in the pecking order vs. the Alamo Bowl. (Also, “marquis teams”? UCLA basically finished sixth this season and played in the Sun Bowl. USC was great in the regular season, but lost the Pac-12 title game and lost to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl.)
Q: What’s going on with Cal football? Do they just not care about football/not ready for NIL? Can the Pac-12 enforce members to prioritize resources to football since it can lead to the destruction of our conference and loss of tens of millions of dollars for members? — @Raider_T_510
A: While many of the conference schools were upside down in 2020, Cal’s athletic department turned a profit of $3.2 million. Wrap your head around that. Cal got a huge financial assist from the rest of the campus in that fiscal year. It still needs to find a way to participate more regularly with the transfer portal. That will require a much more significant buy-in from the rest of the campus — basically, lowering the academic standards for athlete admission. There’s a big holistic question lingering both Stanford and Cal on that front.
Q: Oregon coach Dan Lanning has signed a lot of players and is currently over the 85-scholarship limit. What happens if enough players don’t transfer or retire to create the space needed to fit new guys? Take away current scholarships? Lose new signees? — @Deafdux
A: That’s where “roster management” comes into play. I expect Oregon and others are already looking at players who might receive medical hardships, which keep them from counting against the limit. Beyond that, honest conversations between holdover players and coaches often result in players entering the portal and seeking a place where they can get more playing time. The Ducks aren’t alone here. The NCAA has a strict 85-scholarship limit for major college football teams. I’ve had several conversations with players (and parents) in different programs who find themselves being nudged out.
Q: What happened to the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team? — @bugoslav
A: There’s definitely something amiss here. The Ducks appear to have lost their Canadian recruiting pipeline. Assistant Tony Stubblefield left for the DePaul job a couple of seasons ago. Dana Altman’s teams have also found themselves affected by injury. I wrote about it this week, but have my eyes on the program tonight as the Ducks play Utah in Salt Lake City. I want to see energy from the team. The effort earlier this week in a blowout loss to Colorado was alarming. More to come on this front.
Q: Is Dana Altman still the right coach for Oregon men’s basketball? — @quinneyd
A: Altman is 64. Given the transfer portal and NIL rules, it may be a question he’s asking himself. We’ve watched a number of high-profile coaches throw in the keys in the last couple of seasons. An administrator at another Pac-12 school texted me in November and wrote: “I look at Dana Altman and think… why would he still want to do this $@%?”
Q: What needs to happen for the Pac-12 to become more relevant in men’s basketball? Especially post UCLA departure. — @WSURedZone
A: Football did a very nice job this season of elevating the product. But that came after investment. The conference should have five football teams ranked in the preseason Top 25.
In men’s basketball, Arizona is a perennial contender. It’s possible the Pac-12 could explore the addition of Gonzaga in 2024. The Zags have more NCAA Tournament units than any program in the country in the last five seasons.
I’d like to see a bigger investment in men’s hoops from the conference as a whole. I think Pac-12 basketball has huge untapped potential. A few programs have fallen off (See: Oregon, Washington) recently. Some others look stalled. We all see an uptick in performance from Utah and ASU. It’s time for basketball to follow the blueprint that Pac-12 football has provided.
Q: What’s your best guess timeline wise to week zero becoming a full slate of games given the pending 12-team playoff? — @howeskevin
A: The NFL is playing a couple of Saturday games this weekend. The playoffs will also include some Saturdays. If I’m college football and its TV partners, I want to get as far away from head-to-head matchups with the NFL as I can get. I expect the 2024 college football season may fit the timeline/scenario you mentioned.
Q: In your travels around the Pac-12 footprint (including Las Vegas), what are some of your favorite restaurants? — @D1ffl
A: This could be an entire column. I need more time. Also, you’re making me hungry. I’ll take suggestions from readers in the comment section below. You’ve inspired me to publish a full Pac-12 travel food guide in front of next college football season. Let’s do this.
Q: Is your family from Abruzzo? — @ghost7actual
A: My grandfather’s family was from Caserta. Grandma was from Calabria, which I’m told is gorgeous. I need to see both places, but as my Italian grandfather liked to say, “Giovanni… if it was any damn good, we wouldn’t have left it.”
Q: How do you keep your sanity dealing with zealous, irrational fans and the extreme negativity that can be directed towards you personally? This is a serious, not a flip question. Thanks! — @JeffD51934095
A: I covered Bobby Knight as a beat reporter in the 1990s. After that, I covered Jerry Tarkanian as a columnist. I developed thick skin. The “mute” function on Twitter is great, too. That said, I think the vast majority of sports fans are reasonable and rational. It’s a thin stripe who lose their marbles. They’re not hard to spot.
Q: Does the addition of transfer QB DJ Uiagalelei make Oregon State a sweeter spot for a transfer receiver? — @LoveMyBeavers
A: I definitely think the Uiagalelei addition will help OSU recruit receivers and tight ends. The 10-win football season didn’t hurt, either.
Q: If Fresno State and San Diego State were “not Pac-12 material” before, how are they now? (Is adding MWC teams a step in the wrong direction? Does the academic profile of member institutions matter less, or have they enhanced their academics? If so, how?) — @PDX_JonathanW
A: San Diego State did some smart things in the last few years. It now offers doctorate degrees on its own campus, for example. I covered some of this in an in-depth piece I wrote about the dance going on between the Pac-12 and SDSU.
I think the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors are weighing the educational part of expansion heavily. Remember, they’re academics themselves. They won’t want to dilute the academic profile of their conference.
Q: What does 2023 hold for your new journalism venture? Will you make any changes, or broaden your scope and territory that you report on? — @2023SportsGuy
A: I am going to go where the great stories are. My aim is to give readers deeply sourced, in-depth content they can’t get anywhere else. I’ll broaden the scope and territory, a little. If there’s a great story to be told, I’ll chase it. But I also won’t stop writing about the things my readers care about.
Have a great weekend…
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