Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: Revisionist history is an ugly game
Let the football tell the Pac-12 story.
Some of the presidents and chancellors of the soon-to-be defunct Pac-12 Conference are in full-blown “Cover Your A—” mode. They want to revise history and walk away with clean hands. Either that or the University of Washington president just has a poor recollection of the events that led to the downfall of her soon-to-be former conference.
I reported last month that ESPN made an offer of $30 million per school to the Pac-12 in October of 2022. The conference presidents met and instructed commissioner George Kliavkoff to counter at $50 million.
Ana Mari Cauce, UW’s president, told Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News in a piece published this week that she doesn’t remember it going down that way. That it would have been “stupid” to counter offer that high.
“I cannot tell you for sure that (Kliavkoff) asked for $50 million per school, but I would be very surprised if that was a serious counteroffer,” Cauce said. “I have notes, and $50 million is never something we were told. I don’t believe that ever happened.”
Multiple Pac-12 sources refute Cauce’s account. One campus president insisted that the conference was worth $50 million per school, I’m told. A couple of other board members quickly joined the chorus. Others didn’t have strong feelings either way but followed the herd anyway. Welcome to the world of academia.
Kliavkoff took the fateful counteroffer to ESPN, I’m told. The network ended the negotiations, pivoted to the Big 12 and spent its money there. Wilner’s subsequent reporting in the very same piece shot holes in Cauce’s claim.
Per the story:
Several sources took issue with Cauce’s interpretation of the negotiations with ESPN last fall and said the presidents supported asking for $50 million per school per year.
Why is Cauce trying to re-imagine how things transpired? Only she knows, for sure. But it’s a puzzling stance the UW leader assumed this week — trying to distance herself from the wreckage while walking into the arms of the Big Ten.
I should stop right here and point out how exhausted readers must be with this story. I’m weary with it, too. I much prefer breaking news and writing opinion about the games, players and coaches. The terrific play in the Pac-12 this season has been a delightful reminder to us all of how joyful things are when the sports themselves take center stage.
Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been dazzling on the field. Colorado has captured the eyeballs of America. Oregon seized the national spotlight last Saturday. Utah is 4-0. So is Washington State. Colorado’s year-over-year sponsorship revenues are up 42 percent. And there are five or six teams that can make a straight-faced argument for ending up in the conference championship game.
Cauce interrupted that sweet music.
I’d happily sit down with any of the presidents and chancellors to discuss what happened over the last 14 months. As long as they want to get real about it. I spoke with a number of them throughout the media-rights negotiations. I kept notes, too. They talked of solidarity and unity. But in the end, when the conference needed inspired leadership, they scattered like a bunch of squirrels thrown into rush-hour traffic.
The individual members did what they thought was best for themselves, not the conference. They chased the money and ran for the hills. That’s fine. We all saw it happen. But why not own that? What’s with the revisionist ploy?
I listened carefully on Thursday as a legislative committee at the Oregon State Capitol met with the presidents of Oregon and Oregon State. The public hearing was mostly just for show. Oregon State may be positioning itself to ask the state for financial assistance. But my ears perked up when UO president Karl Scholz said: “We had only one choice.”
Scholz was talking about the proposed $23 million Apple deal vs. the $32.5 million per school his school will make in the Big Ten. Be clear, Oregon had a choice. Neither of the options were ideal given the shifting sands and travel expenses. But it definitely amounted to a fork in the road.
Washington had a choice, too. The Ducks and Huskies did what was best for themselves. I might have done exactly the same in their shoes, but let’s not pretend realignment isn’t a dirty, messy, back-stabbing business. There was a lot of collateral damage. And the whole thing could have been prevented with better leadership.
Ever heard of “The Great Man Theory”?
It’s the stuff of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian and philosopher. He believed that history could be explained by the impact of great men and women. Heroes shape history, basically. It’s why they’re all over the books in our libraries. But when I look at the Pac-12 CEO Group through that prism I don’t see much in the way of inspiring leadership.
After the last 14 months I’m convinced that the world of academia is the absolute last place we should expect to find heroic and courageous leaders. That’s not a personal slap at the board. They’re smart people. They’ve worked hard in their careers. But real-world leadership is just not what the campus ecosystem is rooted in.
You don’t get promoted in the university community by being disagreeable, bold, heroic and visionary. You get there by being agreeable, career-oriented and intelligent. A professor may very well rise to become dean, then provost, then one day slide into the president’s office and get the big desk. But they’re playing a collegial game all the way. They don’t dare challenge and criticize each other. Especially not in public.
It was explained to me years ago by one of the Pac-12’s former Chief Financial Officers that we’d never in a million years see the conference board members publicly split on an issue. There were plenty of divisive issues, but it’s not how things work in academia.
“Even a 7-5 or a 8-4 vote ends up a 12-0 vote if you know what I mean,” the CFO said.
It helps explain the Pac-12’s ridiculous $50 million counter offer. Also, why the identity of the board members who strongly supported it still haven’t gone public. They’re still protecting each other, even as they just finished stabbing each other in the backs.
Cauce got one thing right — it was stupid to counteroffer that high. So out of line that it demanded push back from the commissioner and other board members, including her. But it’s just not the world the presidents and chancellors live in.
The commissioner failed the Pac-12.
The board failed it, too.
Let’s not try to make it pretty.
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