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Canzano: Pac-12 and San Diego State in a dance
Parties in "ongoing communication."
San Diego State University has worked with Huron Consulting Group for years on a variety of higher education matters.
It wasn’t until recently that Jim Delany joined the team.
Delany spent three decades as commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. After he retired and left his post in early 2020, Delany launched a consulting business. In early 2021, Huron contracted Delany to collaborate with them. He went to work helping San Diego State position itself for a potential move to a Power Five Conference.
The Pac-12 Conference has had “ongoing communication” with SDSU as a potential expansion target, per a well-placed source.
Huron’s Managing Director Tim Walsh confirmed on Wednesday that San Diego State hired his firm and that it “beat out 20-something competitors” for the job. Delany and retired Duke University athletic director Kevin White are both part of the Huron team.
“Our relationship with San Diego State is well known,” Walsh said. “We continue to advise, but as far as conference expansion, we have no comment.”
Athletic department officials at SDSU declined comment for this piece. The Pac-12 president and chancellors aren’t talking, either. They’re hunkered down this week in San Francisco, with two days of meetings on the conference’s media rights and expansion fronts. But conference commissioner George Kliavkoff has been clear with the Pac-12’s timeline.
First, the completion of the conference’s media-rights deal.
Then, possible expansion.
Said Kliavkoff last week: “We’re going to be looking at schools that make sense for us.”
San Diego State has been busy, too. The Aztecs broke ground on a new 35,000-seat football stadium in August of 2020. They spent $310 million and used favorable Southern California weather to zip through the construction process. They opened Snapdragon Stadium this football season.
Premium seating has been a big hit. The luxury boxes sold out. The club seats went next. Also sold out are four “Founders Suites,” which hold 30 guests and require a 15-year commitment.
All-inclusive price for a Founders Suite: $3.75 million.
The higher education folks at San Diego State have also been busy elevating their mission. The 125-year-old university had long desired the ability to offer an independent doctorate degree. It was hamstrung by an archaic state law, however. The law required California State University institutions to partner with a doctoral degree-granting institution, like the University of California.
SDSU’s Vice President of Research, Hala Madanat, and the university’s Dean of Graduate Studies, Tracy Love, wrote a joint editorial in The San Diego Union Tribune last March.
“It is time to change and to move forward,” they wrote.
Politicians in California agreed. In late September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law SB 684. It allows CSU campuses to offer independent Doctor of Public Health programs. That not only raised the profile of San Diego State, it positioned the university as a more attractive academic addition to the Pac-12.
Walsh, the Huron executive, said the higher education mission and athletics missions aren’t independent.
“They’re part of the same strategy,” he said. “San Diego State wanted to elevate its brand into a different stratosphere.”
So what now?
That’s become the question to ask.
The Pac-12 is kicking the tires. San Diego State wants to be a Power Five member. Also, the Big 12 is lurking and may have interest in SDSU as well. Over the weekend, the Big 12 announced it re-upped its media-rights deal with ESPN and Fox, netting an average of $31.6 million annual distribution for its members.
There’s something interesting in the Big 12’s new media deal, however. The pro-rata clause for expansion was only agreed upon by ESPN, which holds 63 percent of the new contract. Fox, which owns the other 37 percent, declined to include it. The clause also only allows for the addition of a Power Five member, per media insiders.
I bounced that tidbit off Bob Thompson, the retired president of Fox Sports Networks. He said: “Networks hate those clauses. Basically, the Big 12 doesn’t get any guaranteed extra money for adding San Diego State. It’s not automatic. And if they add a Power Five member, they’d only get 63 percent. The current members would have to take a haircut. That helps the Pac-12.”
While I had Thompson’s ear, I asked about the potential addition of San Diego State. The Pac-12 is losing USC and UCLA — and 5.7 million Los Angeles-area television households — to the Big Ten Conference in 2024. Does the addition of San Diego State and 1.2 million TV homes move the needle?
“It’s bigger than Eugene and Pullman, Wash.,” Thompson said. “In the eyes of television, it’s obviously not San Francisco and Los Angeles, but it’s solid.”
If the Pac-12 adds San Diego State, would it also add another institution to get back to 12 members? If so, who are the other candidates? UNLV or SMU? Boise State or Fresno State? Someone else? There doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer. And given that the NCAA now allows conferences to hold a football championship game without having divisions, an unbalanced conference (11 members) would work.
On Monday, the Pac-12 CEO Group met alongside the conference athletic directors in downtown San Francisco. The ADs participated in strategy sessions and talked media rights. The presidents and chancellors reconvened on Wednesday morning for a second session without the athletic directors present.
That's where things stand… while San Diego State waits.
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