Canzano: Oregon Ducks make a wish list, while Pac-12 rallies behind scenes
Ducks covet Big Ten or SEC invite.
The geography stinks. The discount would be steep. But Phil Knight apparently wants the University of Oregon to be part of the Big Ten Conference.
Or even, the SEC.
Both options are currently being explored by the Ducks with Knight’s backing, per UO sources. That’s apparently one of the possible paths for Oregon. Another possible outcome would be the Ducks taking a tentpole position in a blended, ESPN-backed version of the Pac-12 and Big 12/ACC.
Arizona, ASU, Utah and Colorado were reported late last week to be leaning into a possible contingency escape to the Big 12 themselves, but I’m told by a high-ranking official at one of those universities to pump the brakes on that speculation.
“There is no meeting on the books for us with the Big 12,” the source said, “and George is kicking ass.”
George — is George Kliavkoff — the Pac-12 commissioner who was blindsided by the news last week. It was easily his worst day on the job since taking over for Larry Scott. USC and UCLA announced they will leave the Pac-12 in 2024. They’ll join the Big Ten and share in that conference’s $1 billion television deal with Fox.
Former Fox Sports Network president Bob Thompson told me last week that he estimated the Pac-12’s next media rights contract would command $500 million a year before the defection. With the Los Angeles’ television market gone, Thompson says the Pac-12’s media value is reduced to $300 million a year.
That appears to be a 40-percent wholesale discount. But it pencils out to a 28 percent reduction, per university, given that the $300 million would now be split only 10 ways ($30 million each) vs. $500 million being split 12 ways ($41.6 million each).
That kind of media math puts the Pac-12 and Kliavkoff in a tough spot. He and his team are currently exploring expansion candidates. But any potential university (Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, etc.) that might be added to the Pac-12 needs to bring more than $30 million in annual media revenue value (or take a steep discount) for the numbers to work.
Notre Dame, for example, works.
It’s why the Big Ten is so busy chasing the Irish.
Boise State? Probably not, unless it takes a deeply discounted cut. There are only 517,000 television homes in Idaho. Currently, Boise State is getting $4 million a year from CBS and FS1 as part of their contract with the Mountain West Conference.
“They probably deserve more than that for what they bring to the MWC,” Thompson said, “but I’d have a hard time ascribing much more than $8 million if they were to join the Pac-12.”
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 issued a statement on Tuesday morning, indicating that its board had authorized the conference to “immediately” begin negotiations for the next media rights agreement.
That caught my attention. Because it sounds like the Pac-12 already has a media partner (ESPN? Apple?) and is ready to move forward with a new plan. My hunch is the Pac-12 accelerated the negotiation because it has some specific additional conference additions (from the Big 12? ACC?) in mind. I’ll update this as it develops.
Some other stuff:
• Oregon Gov. Kate Brown may throw a wrinkle into the UO plans. There’s been some speculation that she might step in and attempt to force the Ducks to stay in lockstep with Oregon State. Some lawmakers in Washington have indicated they’d do the same on Washington State’s behalf. I think it’s unlikely that politicians would be successful in blocking potential conference moves by Oregon and Washington.
• I keep wondering how the USC/UCLA departures will affect short-term recruiting, but Oregon State doesn’t seem to be having any problems. While everyone is fretting about what is going to happen, coach Jonathan Smith landed some key wins in recruiting. In the last 10 days, Smith got commitments from two offensive lineman (Jacob Anderson and Andrew Johnson), a wide receiver (Tastean Reddicks) from Florida, and a 6-foot-3 defensive back William “The Blanket” Lee from Missouri.
• Lee is a cornerback, in case you’re wondering. “The Blanket” recently tweeted:
• A source at UCLA told me that the discussions with the Big Ten got intense about eight weeks ago. Also, I’m told that USC and UCLA didn’t communicate with each other about their Pac-12 departures until “the 11th hour” when Bruins’ AD Martin Jarmond and Trojans’ AD Mike Bohn got on the phone together. Said one source, “I can’t believe this didn’t get leaked.”
• Along those lines, a gentle reminder to go slow with the speculation. I’m only sharing what I can confirm with multiple sources, but I’ve heard a bunch of wild, unsubstantiated things. I can tell you, the Pac-12 members are experiencing a swirl of emotions. They’re angry and feel misled by USC, in particular. Also, they’re simultaneously mourning the loss of the traditional Pac-12 while trying to be hopeful and jockey for new position.
That comment, “George is kicking ass,” caught my eye.
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Oregon needs to stay. Sorry. It’s an absolute fish out of water in the SEC. It’s only mildly better in the Big Ten. Uncle Phil needs to screw his head on straight. There’s not a great answer here but we’re talking entire universities worth of athletics here, not just football. These are kids and they go to school.
I don’t care how many people say “it’s all about the money!” It sort of isn’t. Maybe at a few high-profile, Div I football and basketball schools, it is...but, beyond that, it absolutely is not. So we need to be careful.
Also, again, NCAA football is not the NFL. It’s nowhere near the caliber, so we shouldn’t approach it as if it is. If we want the NFL, watch the NFL. I don’t want to watch a younger version of the USFL. At least the USFL is effectively a professional minor league...and very few universities are gonna beat a USFL team.
No, I don’t care if the difference is $28M/yr. Sadly, for a lot of universities, that’s chump change - even some of the mid-sized ones like UO. Heck, UO’s annual budget alone is $1.1B, meaning this amounts to about 2.5% of the total. For UW, it’s WAY less - like 0.5%. All of this assumes that there is no loss in revenue from a conference move - a loss in competitiveness, a diminished brand, harder recruitment (we get lots from CA, HI, and Pacific islands), reduced merchandise and ticket sales, etc. I could easily see this netting out to half this total...which means we need to SLOW. THIS. DOWN.
Thanks for your reporting on this, John.