SBD/May 7, 2014/Events and Attractions

Pac-12 Mulling Neutral-Site Championship Games; Coaches Voice Mixed Feelings

Levi's Stadium would provide the Pac-12 Championship with an ideal modern venue
The Pac-12 is in "discussions about holding its football conference title game annually at the new Levi's Stadium," according to Thamel, Mandel & Schnell of SI.com. Commissioner Larry Scott yesterday in a text message wrote that the league "is 'discussing' moving away from its current format of having one of the participants host the game, as Arizona State did last December." If a change "were made, it would go into effect this season," meaning the '14 championship game scheduled for Dec. 5 "would take place" at the new venue. Levi's Stadium would "provide the Pac-12 with an ideal modern venue to give the game the feel of a big-time championship event." Sources indicated that a "permanent site for the Pac-12 championship has been a part of the discussions at the league's annual meetings taking place this week." Other venues have "been discussed over the years, but Levi's Stadium is considered the heavy favorite." The conference presidents and chancellors would "ultimately approve whether to move the game away from on-campus sites." They "hold their annual meetings in June." The first three Pac-12 championship games were played at the home stadiums of Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon, respectively. Generally, the league has received "positive feedback from schools and coaches about the home-hosting model." But conference leaders see "multiple positives in moving the game to the Bay Area, including the fact that Pac-12 schools all have strong alumni bases nearby." The league "found difficulties for schools hosting the game on short notice." Ticket sales were "rushed, and athletic directors voiced concerns about potential issues with luxury boxes and season tickets holders needing to be moved to make room for corporate entities." But a source said that there "remains concern whether Pac-12 fans will make the trip to a neutral site in large numbers" (SI.com, 5/6).

THAT DIDN'T LAST LONG: In L.A., Chris Dufresne writes so much for Scott's "brave, some would say brilliant, decision to hold his league's annual football championship game at the site of the team with the best record." It appears Scott's "counterintuitive thinking is falling victim to the 'Pac' mentality of the other three power conferences that host at neutral site games." The first Pac-12 title game at Oregon "was a sellout and last year's game between Stanford and Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium drew an impressive 69,535." But the middle game "drew only 31,622" to Stanford. Neutral-site games in the Pac-12 "pose a risk." The league, which is "unlike" the SEC, "does not have a rich tradition of mobile fan bases." It seems "highly doubtful ... that football fans would annually fill a cavernous new football stadium in the Bay Area" (L.A. TIMES, 5/7).

COACHES REACT: ASU coach Todd Graham said that he would "favor the move 'for the right experience.'" Graham said, "For our fan base and what we needed, hosting that game, it could not have been a more perfect time for us to do that. ... I want the best experience for our players. If there's a neutral site that can provide that, then that's great." In Phoenix, Doug Haller noted when the Pac-12 first announced it would hold a championship game, several markets "expressed interest in hosting the event, including Phoenix." Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority President & CEO Tom Sadler yesterday said that interest "hasn't changed." Sadler: "Phoenix would be very interested in hosting the Pac-12 football championship game if the conference decides to go to a neutral site" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/7). Stanford coach David Shaw, who has been in the Pac-12 championship game two years in a row, said that he is "split on the idea of the neutral site game." Meanwhile, Washington State coach Mike Leach said that he is "excited about the idea of the game being played at Levi’s Stadium, though he said not every coach was as on board with the idea as he was." Washington AD Scott Woodward said the neutral-game site idea is “a total guess … but potentially a really great market." Woodward: "I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other" (ESPN.com, 5/6).
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