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Canzano: Oregon lawmakers will hear from Beavers and Ducks
Presidents, ADs are invited to Thursday meeting.
The presidents at the University of Oregon and Oregon State will give public testimony Thursday in the Oregon State Capitol about the impact of the downfall of the Pac-12 Conference.
The agenda and list of invited speakers includes the presidents and athletic directors of both schools. Also among the guests are a couple of deans, an analyst, a student-athlete, and a professor of economics from West Virginia University.
The hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. There’s bound to be finger pointing and questions. There may be some public scolding, too. The financial impact of Oregon’s departure to the Big Ten is staggering to OSU. Oregon may present a compelling case, too. But I’m told by involved sources that nobody thinks a “Calimony” tax for the Ducks is likely.
Still, what are lawmakers up to?
Public posturing? Just listening? Or preparing to act?
The Governor has been silent. Lawmakers don’t appear to have any fresh legislation on college athletics cooking for the upcoming February session. I was told by a source that there aren’t any new bills in the works “officially.” But when I ran that tidbit by retired president of the Oregon Senate Peter Courtney on Thursday he quipped: “They’re not officially doing anything until they are.”
This news is bound to be greeted by cries that government ought to stay away from sports. I typically include myself in that crowd. But I do so knowing that the NFL, MLB, NBA and college athletics have routinely turned to state and federal lawmakers for cover. In fact, the NCAA recently hired a politician as its president. Then, it promptly got about lobbying federal lawmakers on the NIL front.
It could just be that Oregon State wants to lay groundwork for additional financial assistance from the state. OSU president Jayathi Murthy wrote in an open letter earlier this week that athletic department revenue could fall by 44 percent for the fiscal year 2025. The Beavers likely need help to stay afloat.
On Thursday, Murthy gets the platform to make that pitch directly to state lawmakers. She’ll do it with her counterparts at Oregon listening and watching. As OSU athletic director, Scott Barnes, told me on Thursday morning: “Financial assistance from the state is critical as we craft a new path forward for our student athletes.”
The whole thing has me thinking about Senate Bill 242. Remember it? I’ll bet you don’t. But it’s the bill that sailed through Oregon legislative session in the winter of 2011.
It passed 29-1.
Lawmakers decentralized the state’s higher education system with that vote. Each public school got its own board of trustees instead of having a single board that oversaw all of the state-funded schools. Legislators believed that doing so would help the larger public universities save time and money.
“The discussion didn’t include athletics,” one lawmaker who worked on that bill told me.
Nobody thought about the potential demolition of the Pac-12 back in 2011. It was unthinkable. Nobody considered whether Oregon State and Oregon needed a centralized board of trustees to bind them together in the event the Big Ten ever came calling.
In August, the Arizona Board of Regents directed the presidents of Arizona and ASU to stick together — because that board is charged with acting in the best interest of BOTH schools, not just one. The Big 12 eventually took both Arizona schools.
The public universities in Oregon and Washington have their own separate regents. They think with the best interests of the individual schools in mind. And that’s exactly what happened in August when trustees at UW and UO cleared the way for those two schools bolt to the Big Ten.
The Big Ten wanted the Ducks and Huskies. What would the conference have done if it were faced with having to also take the Beavers and Cougars? Would it have added all four? Just the two Oregon schools? Or two Washington schools? Or none of them?
Thursday’s committee meeting may just amount to some posturing. Maybe Oregon gets publicly reprimanded for leaving its rival behind. Or maybe this is really more about OSU raising awareness and paving the way for some future assistance.
The politicians have been quiet since August. Sports is not their groove. Also, elected officials stand to alienate about half the state if they pick a side. It’s late in the game. But I find it interesting that folks in Salem suddenly want to talk things over.
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