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Canzano: Pac-12 officially exploring four expansion schools
Oregon remains "way on board" with Pac-12, per source.
LAS VEGAS — The Pac-12 Conference CEO Group voted to approve “further exploration” of four universities for possible conference expansion, I have learned.
SMU and San Diego State are in the quartet, according to one of the conference presidents. Colorado State may also be among the candidates. I’m still working to confirm that and the fourth school.
What else I know:
• This does not mean the Pac-12 will definitely add four schools via expansion. It just means that the board gave the “green light” to kick the tires on four possible additions. The Pac-12 CEO Group will ultimately vote to add zero, one, two, three or four new members.
• I think it’s most likely the Pac-12 adds only two members. Could be zero. I would be surprised at four additions, but I’ve been surprised before.
• Academic fit and culture are high among the Pac-12’s expansion criteria. But conference expansion is really about adding media value. If the Pac-12’s potential media partners don’t view expansion candidates as adding monetary value, the conference will stay at 10 members.
• San Diego State has been in “regular contact” with the Pac-12, per a conference source.
• Colorado State would be a curious possible addition. It has a new football stadium and is a research university, but the Pac-12 already captures the Denver television market with Colorado. For that reason, I believe any interest in Colorado State might just be that — exploration.
• No, I don’t expect Colorado to leave the Pac-12. Athletic director Rick George is on record on that front.
• UNLV is not among the expansion candidates, a university source confirmed on Friday. The academic profile of the university apparently does not fit the objectives of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors.
• Fresno State and Boise State are unlikely to be Pac-12 expansion candidates as well. Sources at both schools have told me they’ve had only limited contact with the conference in recent months. They’re better potential fits for the Big 12.
• Several Pac-12 sources say they’re confident the conference will match or beat the Big 12’s announced $31.6 million annual media-rights distribution figure. On Friday, one well-placed conference source called being in the vicinity of that number “a layup.”
• One athletic director in Las Vegas this week for the women’s tournament told me he won’t be surprised when the Pac-12 beats the Big 12’s number. Said the AD: “We have better schools, better markets and better ratings.”
• I am regularly reminded that the Pac-12 also owns its own “Tier 2” rights. Biggest question: Will the conference be able to monetize the Pac-12 Networks in a lucrative way? If so, they’ll get into the $30 million-plus distribution range. If not, they won’t.
• The University of Oregon is “way on board” with its commitment to the Pac-12, per a source with knowledge. That makes sense to me. The Big Ten isn’t offering membership. The Big 12 makes zero sense for UO. The Ducks primary objective is to make the College Football Playoff and, frankly, winning an automatic berth is easier in the Pac-12.
• I’ve had a number of athletic directors tell me they remain confident that the Pac-12 is going to get a favorable deal done and the 10 current members will remain intact. Still, it’s taking time and there are some interesting forces at work trying to undermine the effort. Be careful with what you see reported, particularly from non-sourced entities.
• Keep in mind, the votes of the presidents and chancellors are the only ones that count. The ADs are key stakeholders. But the academics that comprise the Pac-12 CEO Group ultimately hold the votes.
• We all might be tired of talking/fretting about the ongoing Pac-12 saga, but the decision-makers themselves don’t appear antsy. The board members are far more focused on cutting a shrewd, smart, sensible deal for the most revenue possible.
• Washington State president Kirk Schulz told Jon Wilner he hoped something would get done in mid-March. Oregon State president Jayathi Murthy told me earlier this week that a deal could get done by the end of March — or not.
“We’re all looking for a good, strong deal,” she said.
• I think Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff needs something to talk about next week to pacify the public. I wrote a column about it earlier Friday. When I offered that thought to a conference source on Friday, I got some pushback.
“That’s a media-driven narrative,” the source said. “Who says George has to have something to say? Not his bosses.”
• One of the hold-ups on the Pac-12’s media rights deal apparently relates to the involvement of Amazon and Apple as bidders, per multiple sources. One — or both — is in play for a piece of the Pac-12’s rights. The entities are relatively new in the space and I’m told the negotiation has moved slower than expected because of that.
• The Pac-12 CEO Group has a board meeting scheduled for next Tuesday. After that, it has subsequent meetings on the schedule for every other week.
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