Presidents of Pac-12 universities could vote in June to move the conference’s football championship game to the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott would not say whether he favored the move but said if it’s done it would make sense to do it this year, the first season of the 68,500-seat, $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium.
The first three conference title games have been held in the stadium of the division champion with the best conference record — Oregon in 2011, Stanford in 2012 and Arizona State last year.
”We’re not dissatisfied with what we have,” Scott told reporters Wednesday during a break in Pac-12 meetings at a Phoenix resort, ”but there are some unique opportunities, particularly this Levi’s opportunity.”
Pac-12 presidents meet in Newport Beach, California, from June 6-7, and Scott said a vote would be necessary then if the conference is to move to Levi’s Stadium in the coming season.
Attendance was good at two of the three title games, with Stanford the exception, partly because of weather and a 5 p.m. Friday kickoff.
Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said money will be an important factor in the decision, especially considering anticipated new rules expected to boost the financial support given athletes at the schools.
”The financial model they’re talking about is a good one,” Byrne said. ”There’d be a guaranteed revenue stream each year for us. As we look at the additional costs that will come down the pike from a student-athlete welfare standpoint and all the things that are going to go along with it, the facility needs we have, we always have to be open to what some of those new things are.”
Scott said the move was considered and rejected last year but discussions continued and are ”very far along.”
”You’ve got a new stadium that’s going to be state of the art, screen innovation, have a lot of buzz about it,” he said. ”To be able to launch with the newest, most state of the art NFL venue in the contract is very on-brand for the Pac-12 and right smack in the middle of our footprint.”
Scott acknowledged concern about the travel demands that fans would face if teams in the far-flung conference — say Washington and Arizona — would have to travel to get to Santa Clara, where Stanford and California are right next door.
”We realize that we’re always going to have more challenges in terms of getting fans to games because they have to fly rather than drive depending on where they’re coming from,” Scott said, ”and it can be more expensive.”
Byrne, though, said every school in the conference has a large fan base in the Bay Area.
”I think there’s a lot of support to take a look at the thing,” he said.
USC athletic director Pat Haden said schools benefit when they host the game.
”I think the home-host model has worked for us pretty well,” he said. ”It rewards the team with the best schedule (record) and places like USC — we haven’t hosted it yet — it gives your facility another day of activation.”
Haden said many of the schools have invested millions in their stadiums and hosting the Pac-12 title game is a way to help pay for that work.
He said he had visited Levi’s Stadium.
”It’s an interesting venue,” Haden said. ”If they decide to play there, we’ll play there.”
Scott said there are challenges in staging the championship game at a host school when the site isn’t known until a week before the game.
Having a neutral location has obvious benefits in planning, he said.
The commissioner repeatedly talked about the wow factor of the Santa Clara site.
Scott likened the stadium’s opening to the high level of attention the opulent Dallas Cowboys’ stadium received.
”It was a place teams wanted to play, student athletes wanted to play, fans wanted to go,” he said. ”It was a bit of a gee whiz factor about it, a halo. I think Levi’s Stadium will have some of that dynamic.”
The SEC, Big Ten and ACC stage their title games at neutral sites.
In another matter, Scott indicated no progress in the ongoing efforts for an agreement to get Direct TV to add the Pac-12 Network.
”There’s always discussions going on,” he said. ”Our people stay in touch regularly, but there’s nothing imminent.”