Examining Nike founder Phil Knight's role in conference realignment decisions

Examining Nike founder Phil Knight’s role in conference realignment decisions

With USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, the future of the conference out west is in question. One of the big players remaining is Oregon, who could also leave for one of college football’s newly-forming super conferences. Nike founder Phil Knight wants Oregon to move to the Big Ten or SEC, at least that’s his preference if given realignment options for the Ducks, according to John Canzano.

“I had a well-placed source tell me that he didn’t think Phil Knight donated all those millions over the years for UO to get left in the college football minor leagues,” Canzano wrote. “I wrote recently about Knight’s role in this process. I believe he wants Oregon to matter and he will do whatever it takes to help position the Ducks for success.

As conference realignment continues to move full steam ahead across college football, the ACC and Pac-12 have reportedly discussed a “loose alliance” that ends the season with a joint conference championship game in Las Vegas, by CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. In an effort by both conferences, along with the Big 12, to “fortify their membership and increase their media rights revenue,” the alliance is designed to strengthen the current value of ESPN’s current contract with the leagues.

Per Dodd, this is a “strength in numbers” move that was first proposed by the ACC following USC and UCLA’s exit to the Pac-12 along with several ACC programs — including Clemson, Florida State and Miami — being rumored candidates for a jump to the SEC.

Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah were mentioned specifically as the teams being targeted by the Big 12, according to Dodd, but there is also the possibility of Oregon and Washington being included in that group.

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But not if Knight — a primary donor at Oregon — has any say in deliberations, apparently. College football insider Bruce Feldman explained this month why it doesn’t make sense for the Ducks to remain in the Pac-12 without USC or UCLA. Oregon was an original member of what was then the Pacific Coast Conference at its founding in 1915.

“Oregon is probably, in a lot of ways, a wildcard because of Phil Knight, for one. They’ve had a lot of success, and they’ve elevated their brand,” Feldman said on The Rich Eisen Show. “Right now, they’re in a league that feels like, I don’t want to say it’s fallen apart into nonexistence, but it is on such shaky ground. It is so diminished from where it was (last week). It’s not sensible for them to stay if they have other choices.”

Brad Crawford contributed to this report.

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