Canzano: Timing is everything for Pac-12 and Oregon Ducks
A few things I've learned.
The newest voting member of the Pac-12 Conference CEO Group was tossed into the fray just a couple of weeks ago.
I doubt she’ll unpack.
Jamie Moffitt was appointed “interim president” at the University of Oregon on March 13. She replaced UO’s previous interim president, Patrick Phillips, who left that post after he didn’t get the permanent job.
John Karl Scholz will take over July 1 as the full-time president in Eugene. At that point, per a UO source, Moffitt will return to her usual duty as the school’s vice president and chief financial officer.
Got all that?
The Pac-12 Conference continues to negotiate its media rights deal and explore expansion. I was told on Wednesday by a CEO Group member that “the board likes the deal” that is taking shape, but the conference presidents and chancellors don’t seem to be in a hurry.
Multiple members of the CEO Group have gone public in recent months. Oregon has been notably silent. I’ve chalked that up to the turnover in administration in Eugene. Former president Michael Schill left for the same job at Northwestern University last August. Schill was an outspoken, experienced, stabilizing voice who served on the group’s executive committee.
Phillips was new to the role.
Moffitt is even newer.
How will Oregon weigh its options? What matters most to the Ducks? Does Phil Knight get a vote? The university trustees? Someone else?
These are important questions.
One member of the Pac-12 CEO Group confirmed on Wednesday that Moffitt has participated in recent board meetings and discussions. She’ll cast Oregon’s official vote when it comes to approving expansion or media rights, but only if that happens before July 1.
I reached out to Moffitt on Wednesday for comment. I also left a message with her public relations contact at the UO president’s office. Richie Hunter, a vice president of communications, confirmed that Moffitt is in control of Oregon’s Pac-12 CEO Group vote.
Said Hunter in a statement to me: “Interim President Moffit holds all authority as President of the University of Oregon until incoming President Scholz takes office.”
Last month, a source with knowledge told me that Oregon was “way on board” with the Pac-12. I have no reason to believe anything has changed under Interim President 2.0. The Ducks are chasing revenue like every other school in America, but also Oregon mostly just covets access to the College Football Playoff.
It has that in the Pac-12.
The Big Ten? It hasn’t extended an invitation to Oregon. The Big 12? The Ducks do not appear at all interested in a lateral move. Again, getting to the football playoff is what matters most at UO. Knight continues to play the role of the great financial equalizer. The Nike founder has raised expectations and boosted his alma mater’s profile with a billion-dollar investment.
A few other things I’ve learned this week:
• The Pac-12 is working right now to manage and re-frame the expectations on the timing of its media-rights deal. The conference hasn’t made a public comment on the matter (and likely won’t), but the tone of the conversations I’m having feels measured. The CEO Group meets next week, but I’m skeptical the conference will vote to finalize its media rights deal this month.
• The presidents and chancellors don’t seem concerned about the delay. They continue to express solidarity. The hold up appears to be due mostly to media partners that are new to the live-sports programming space (Read: Apple/Amazon).
• Some of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors contributed to increased public expectations by mentioning March and April media-rights timelines during interviews in the last six weeks. As one conference source told me on Wednesday, “I realize we played a role in that.”
• A Pac-12 source reminded me on Wednesday that the Big Ten Conference didn’t finalize its new media rights agreement until last August — only 11 months before the expiration of its deal. The Pac-12’s current media-rights contract doesn’t expire until July 1, 2024. Keep that in mind while we wait.
• ESPN remains the Pac-12’s likely Tier 1 partner. The Pac-12 Networks content (Tier 2) feels destined for a streaming service. I wonder if long-time conference fans will mind that content landing on Apple/Amazon. You tell me. Currently, if I want to get the conference’s network, I have to use Sling. It’s cumbersome. I’d welcome Apple/Amazon, but I may not be representative of the typical Pac-12 viewer.
• I continue to be told by a source with direct knowledge that Fox is definitely “in the mix” for the Pac-12 media rights. That is not likely to result in an “A” package that would include a massive number of football games, but Fox is involved. FS1 needs to fill inventory. I won’t be surprised if Fox ends up with a “B” package that includes a handful of regular-season Pac-12 football games on FS1.
• Pac-12 sources remain confident the conference will eclipse the annual $31.6 million media rights distribution the Big 12 negotiated for its members. I’m not sure that distribution benchmark matters as long as the Pac-12 lands in range of that figure, but that’s what I’m being told by those in the room.
• Pac-12 expansion involves a pile of lawyers. This also feels like a contributing factor with the pace of things lately. Both San Diego State and SMU have had regular contact with the Pac-12, per multiple sources. Those schools have lawyers, too. I continue to view both San Diego State and SMU as viable Pac-12 expansion targets.
• The Aztecs would keep the Pac-12’s toes in Southern California and add more than one million TV households. The Mustangs bring the DFW television market, deep-pocketed boosters and would kick open the door for conference members to recruit the state of Texas. There’s also a solid alumni base of a number of Pac-12 schools in the Dallas area.
It’s in Moffitt’s hands until July 1.
She has two degrees from Harvard University and solid private-sector background. One person who worked closely with Moffitt over the years at Oregon described her as “risk-averse and an off-the-charts intellect.”
Moffitt previously served as the UO’s executive senior associate athletic director for finance and administration. In that capacity, she had oversight of contracts, finances, human resources, and facilities for the athletic department. I sort of like that she knows her way around an athletic-department budget.
It’s been a tumultuous run of Oregon administrators in the last several months. The university president left. The interim president stepped down. A second interim president is now in charge while the school waits for the new hire to take over.
The Ducks are a Pac-12 tentpole now. They have an important voice in the room. I’d sure love to hear more of it.
• TV RATINGS: The television ratings for the men’s NCAA Tournament title game are out and they’re not great. UConn’s win over San Diego State on Monday night was the least-watched men’s NCAA final in history. The game drew only 14.7 million viewers for the 9:20 p.m. ET tip. The previous low was Villanova-Michigan in 2018, which registered fewer than 16 million.
It was a blowout game. Also, it lacked the traditional basketball brands. Also it was a really late tip for a swath of viewers. I’m not surprised by the numbers, but still think the 2023 men’s NCAA Tournament gave us a wildly entertaining experience.
• WOMEN WIN ON TV: The women’s national title game on Sunday between LSU and Iowa drew a record television audience. An average of 9.9 million viewers tuned in to see the Tigers title victory and the game peaked at 12.6 million viewers.
I’m not shocked with the ratings victory. I find it telling that all the talk on Monday and Tuesday was about the women’s tournament (Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark, etc.) and not the men’s title game. The whole last month goes down as a massive win for women’s college basketball.
I can’t wait to see Iowa vs. LSU next season. Just spit balling here, but how about a meeting between those two women’s programs on Thanksgiving weekend at one of the ESPN-fueled Phil Knight-palooza basketball events?
• LISTEN UP: My friend Jon Wilner and I do a weekly podcast appropriately named “Canzano & Wilner: The Podcast.” The latest episode is a fun listen. It deals with spring football, expansion talk, movie-theater popcorn and the impact of San Diego State’s historic NCAA Tournament basketball run.
Listen if you’d like:
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