Canzano: Running toward 2024... with a look back
Pac-12 plan, Big Ten, Big 12, and Chip Kelly's vision...
I covered the Big Ten Conference in the late 1990s as a beat reporter. I remember snow, rivalries and the drives between Midwestern towns.
I got a traffic ticket in rural Indiana, and saw big football crowds at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. I was snowed into a hotel in Columbus, Ohio during college basketball season. Fortunately, I had a jump rope in my suitcase to keep me occupied. It was a long couple of days, particularly for the guests in the room one floor beneath me.
My indoctrination into the Big Ten was a doozy. The learning curve was steep. I grew up in the Bay Area of California and flew to Indiana late that first summer with only one suitcase. I bought a car not long after I arrived — a terrific deal from a private party on an eight-year old BMW.
Sales price: $3,800.
I discovered why the car was so cheap after the first snow.
Front-wheel drive, folks.
Steering that sled in the snow was an eye-opening experience. So were the rivalries in the conference, the sleepy college towns that sprung to life on game day, and the tailgate scene. The fans were rabid in some places, and apathetic in others. It depended on the sport. I found that no different than the Pac-12.
We’ve spent a lot of time in this space lamenting the end of the Pac-12 as we knew it. I grew up on the 108-year-old conference. No way around it. It stinks. But it’s time we stopped saying the conference is dead. Oregon State and Washington State are in control and focused on a rebuild. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it.
Some other thoughts as we head toward 2024:
• Chip Kelly’s visionary plan to separate the top 64 schools in college football and have them splinter away from the other sports on campus is the best idea out there. But as one Pac-12 athletic director told me last week: “It would take real leadership in college football to happen. College football needs leadership.” Is there a commissioner-type out there capable of steering the idea? Greg Sankey of the SEC may be the right guy.
• By the way, I heard from Chip Kelly on Christmas. We exchanged messages. Years ago he told me that his mother always gave him a football as a gift. Even as Kelly grew up and became the head coach at Oregon, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 49ers and UCLA, Kelly always got a football from his mother for Christmas.
He has a pile of footballs.
Kelly texted me a photo at 9:30 p.m. on Christmas night with the words: “Mom for the win!”
The football Mrs. Kelly purchased her son this year is billed as a “beach football” with real laces. It’s waterproof, recommended for ages 5+, and retails for just under $15. I am going to buy one for my daughters.
• I love holiday traditions. Do you have one in your family? Tell me in the comment section. One of my other favorite stories is about a family that traditionally cut the Thanksgiving turkey in half before roasting it. Nobody gave a second thought about it. They just chopped the bird in two and cooked it every year.
Finally, someone in the family asked: “Why do we cut the turkey in half?” After a few phone calls and some research it was discovered that the kitchen that their great grandmother grew up in had a very small oven. They’d moved to a bigger home, had a normal-size oven, generations passed, but continued to cut the turkey in half. I hope they’re still doing it, too.
• Anyone else struggling with the 2023 college football bowl season? I mean, if you put college football on the TV, I’ll watch it. But I’m really having to be intentional and focused with my bowl-game viewing habits.
• Everyone thought the College Football Playoff would kill the bowl system. It really hasn’t been the biggest culprit, so far. What’s hurting the bowls is the transfer portal. The opt-outs make some of the bowl games cringy.
• I keep waiting for the bowl-game sponsors to step up with NIL deals that keep star players engaged, but I think the bigger issue is the calendar. The transfer portal’s first 30-day window opened Dec. 4. The bowl games happen as more than 1,000 players are changing zip codes.
• There’s been talk about moving the transfer portal window a little later, but the Dec. 4-Jan. 2 date works for getting transfers enrolled in time for the term that begins in early January. They’re student-athletes, remember?
• Does the portal really need 30 days? How about 15 days? Or 10? Does that change anything? Discuss.
• I’ve also wondered if we might see the college football season slide a couple of weeks earlier, schedule Week 1 in mid-August and put the bulk of the non-playoff bowl games in the two weeks immediately after the college championship games.
• That intrigues me, but it also ignores the fact that the bowl games are driven and funded by TV (Note: ESPN owns 17 bowl games). The networks need programming for when we’re all sitting around the living room in late December. Does it really work for TV if the bowl games are happening earlier in the month?
• This reminds me of the cut-in-half turkey story. Nobody asks why. They just keep doing it, over and over. Someone in charge needs to ask why college football does what it does… and whether that still works. But that comes back to the leadership void. College football needs a czar who has a duty to act on behalf of the game.
• I’m currently 1-0 against the spread with my bowl picks this season. I went 6-1 last season picking the bowl games against the spread. I’m knocking on wood right now.
• Oregon State and Washington State will have a war chest of $255 million to help with the rebuild of the Pac-12. That includes $190 million in future revenues (i.e. NCAA Tournament units, Rose Bowl equivalency payments, etc.) and another $65 million in payments from the 10 departing schools paid over the next two years.
• That’s a $6.5 million payment per departing school over 2024/2025. Why is the payment over two years? I’m told by sources that some of the departing schools cried poverty. Some of them took pennies on the dollar to join their new conferences and a few other athletic departments are in dire financial position with thin margins.
• The travel for the departing schools is going to be a bitch for the non-football sports in 2024 and beyond. The financials of this don’t make sense for some of the defectors. That a $6.5 million settlement put a strain on some of the departing schools isn’t a surprise. They’re facing expanding travel costs. The whole scene makes me wonder how temporary the current round of realignment is.
• Florida State is suing the ACC over the grants of rights. The sources I talk with are skeptical the agreement will be unwound. But colleges aren’t real-world businesses. How long will the ACC presidents want to hold a member that doesn’t want to stay? Will this be the straw that causes football to splinter away from other sports?
• Oregon State and Washington State took great interest in the Florida State lawsuit. Said one high-ranking official in the Pacific Northwest: “Everyone knows the landscape will eventually be reshaped. This Florida State lawsuit has the potential to accelerate the timeline.”
• OSU and WSU have a football schedule locked in for 2024, and are finalizing the plans for the other sports teams. They’re also focused on planning for 2025, 2026 and beyond. It’s a moving target, though. If football splits away from the other sports, the calculus changes. Because of that the Beavers and Cougars are treading carefully.
• The 38-page filing from Florida State’s attorneys stated that the ACC “missed the point of conference realignment” by taking Cal and Stanford over Oregon State. Hearing that is of little consolation to OSU… and the premise also ignores the value of the Bay Area media market. Still, the whole thing underscores the absurdity of realignment. Cal and Stanford don’t make a shred of sense in the ACC.
• Oregon and Washington will do well in the Big Ten. Football-wise, they’ll compete and be fun. The USC and UCLA football programs will make a ‘go’ of it too. But the non-revenue sports at all four of those schools should be staying in the Pac-12 alongside Oregon State and Washington State. Like Chip Kelly said: “Our sport is different than everything else… why are we treating it the same?”
• Utah and Arizona are going to dominate the Big 12 in football in 2024 and beyond. Colorado’s ascension and ASU’s rebuild will get better traction in the Big 12 as well. None of those four schools will have to seriously deal with USC, Oregon and Washington outside of a playoff game.
• Ex-Utah athletic director Chris Hill has told me on more that one occasion that he believes the presidents of the 10 departing schools never considered the non-revenue sports when making their decision to leave the Pac-12.
“I think (expansion) happened so fast that I don’t know how a conversation about volleyball would get a second worth of interest,” Hill told me.
I’ll bet the presidents of the departing schools have done some thinking since. The travel costs have now been factored into the equation. I won’t be surprised if all the non-revenue sports end up back in the Pac-12 fold in the coming years.
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