Canzano: Oregon's biggest win of Dan Lanning era sparks collective cheer
Josh Conerly Jr. spurns USC for Ducks.
Dan Lanning has enjoyed some nice off-field victories since he was hired by the Oregon Ducks. But getting a commitment from Josh Conerly Jr. is easily Lanning’s biggest win yet.
The five-star offensive tackle picked Oregon on Friday. In doing so, Conerly Jr. spurned USC and hometown Washington and skipped out on Michigan, Oklahoma and Miami, too. Hurricanes’ coach Mario Cristobal won’t be happy about any of this.
The Ducks are thrilled.
Conerly is 6-foot-5 and 283 pounds and attends Seattle’s Rainier Beach High. He ranks as the best high school player in the state and is the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation. Lanning already had a commitment from the state of Washington’s No. 2 high school lineman (Puyallup High School four-star recruit Dave Iuli) but getting Conerly is a next-level win for the Ducks.
One that I’m certain doesn’t happen without an assist from the Division Street collective. The entity was founded last year to assist Oregon student athletes in monetizing their name/image/likeness (NIL). A group of UO super boosters provided the seed money and business connections. The group includes Nike co-founder Phil Knight, insurance-czar Pat Kilkenny, beverage-king Ed Maletis, lumber-lord Jim Morse and the Papé Family.
What did it cost to land Conerly?
That’s the question being asked across the Pac-12 footprint today. One insider told me that Conerly Jr. was influenced by the six-figure deals that Kayvon Thibodeaux enjoyed during his college tour in Eugene. Another conference source wondered if the hulking lineman might be the Pac-12’s first seven-figure endorser.
I left a message with Division Street, Inc. The collective is run by Rosemary St. Clair, former VP and GM of Nike Women. Ex-Nike VP of Sports Marketing, Rudy Chapa, is the Chairman of the Board. The UO boosters involved will tell you that they have no oversight and prefer it that way.
Speaking of — isn't the murky, unregulated feeling of the NIL world exactly what fuels everyone’s discomfort?
Athletic directors across the country are lamenting how woeful and inadequate the NCAA looks in this new world. The governing body of college athletics has asked some questions about policies and procedures at a few universities (including Oregon) but isn’t at all positioned to regulate the landscape. What we have in that void is a free-for-all dominated by those who have the means and motivation.
Said one prominent Pac-12 booster: “The NCAA had a chance to get ahead of the oncoming mess. No leadership.”
Greg Biggins is the national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. He’s been tuned into the recruiting world for years and is one of the best around. On Saturday, as everyone absorbed Oregon’s big win, I asked Biggins how collectives such as Division Street, Inc. have changed what top recruits value.
“It used to be relationship with staff, early playing time and depth chart, winning program, culture, stability of staff,” Biggins said. “Those still matter but NIL is now right near top.”
Biggins told me NIL is now a top-three item on the menu for elite athletes, “and one of the first things brought up on a visit.”
The money is out there. It’s a free market. I don’t blame Conerly Jr. one bit if that was a major factor. He’s welcome to participate and profit. I also don’t blame Division Street, Inc. The collective is simply doing what it was designed to do. But I wonder where this leaves major college athletics.
Ducks’ assistant Adrian Klemm was the point person on Conerly Jr.’s recruitment. Beating Lincoln Riley for a high-value offensive line recruiting target can’t be overstated. These are the kinds of nice offseason wins that turn into even bigger regular-season wins.
The University Washington, meanwhile, did all it could to keep Conerly Jr. in Seattle. The Huskies fell all over themselves recruiting him and even hired Courtney Morgan from Michigan. Morgan was the director of player personnel in Ann Arbor who recruited the five-star lineman on the Wolverines’ behalf.
UW also had the “Montlake Futures” collective working in the same space as Division Street, Inc. USC was busy pursuing Conerly Jr., too, and appeared by all accounts to have the inside edge. What ensued was a recruiting tug-of-war and Oregon’s third-party NIL arm apparently had enough muscle to win it.
How important is that in college football?
“Huge,” said one recruiting-world insider. “Word was (Conerly Jr.) was going to whoever was giving him the best NIL deal.”
Endorsement opportunities are part of the calculus now, like it or not. By picking Oregon Conerly Jr. chose a Nike-influenced football program that has recent success and an energetic coaching staff. It’s a manageable trip to Eugene for his family and friends to come see him play.
Playing time, check.
Coaching relationships, check.
Winning football culture, check.
Where Oregon really stands out, though, is with Knight and friends backing the collective and pushing the endorsement and marketing envelope. He and the others involved all built empires in their respective industries. They know how to win and have deep connections. Few universities will be able to match that.
“It was tough deciding between Eugene and LA,” Conerly Jr. said minutes after announcing his college decision. “… it’s the best thing that is closest to me and my family and I’m going to be able to thrive there.”
USC can’t be happy about this. Michigan must be ticked. Washington has to be wondering what more it could have done. I’m happy for the kid and his family. It sounds like he made a good choice. I remain uneasy, however, with the lack of NCAA oversight these days. We’re knee-deep in an era of full-blown, unrestricted free agency in college athletics.
Getting a commitment from Josh Conerly Jr. goes down as the biggest win of Dan Lanning’s young head coaching career.
Huge victory for the Ducks.
Game ball to Division Street, Inc.
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