Your Weekend Reader for Sept. 2-4

by | Sep 2, 2023 | Weekend Reader | 0 comments

Regardless of what faithful Weekend Reader readers might think, I don’t like the idea of leading each edition with a fresh batch of Pac-12 Conference news — but when the latest shoe in the saga drops on a Friday, what am I supposed to do?

That latest shoe — one that was widely expected — dropped Friday, when the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that it had decided to open a West Coast annex, adding Stanford and Cal to the mix (in addition to Southern Methodist University, which earlier this year appeared to be a virtual lock to join the Pac-12).

That leaves Oregon State University and Washington State University as the only remaining schools in the Pac-12 after this school year.

This wasn’t unexpected. Although ACC schools earlier had rejected the addition, ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips needed to flip just one vote, and North Carolina State provided that vote. (Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson continued to oppose the expansion.)

At a press conference on Friday, OSU President Jayathi Murthy and Scott Barnes, the school’s athletics director, called the decision by Stanford and Cal “regrettable, but not unexpected,” but offered few other details about the school’s next steps.

To add insult to injury, the American Athletic Conference — considered a potential destination for OSU and WSU — said this week that it would not be expanding westward.

Many observers believe that the only real remaining option for OSU and WSU is to join the Mountain West Conference, and absorb the big financial hit that would come from dropping from a Power Five conference (soon to be the Super Four, or whatever) to a Group of Five conference.

And, to be honest, that’s what I think is most likely to happen, mainly because the clock is ticking: Just one year remains for the current Pac-12 configuration, and the NCAA requires that a reconfigured conference would need at least eight members by the summer of 2026.

But maybe not.

Jon Wilner, for years the best Pac-12 reporter in the nation, spells out some of the (potentially considerable) financial reasons why it might make sense for OSU or WSU to try to rebuild the conference. Here’s the gist of it: If the two schools join another conference, the remaining assets of the Pac-12 are split among the 12 former members. If OSU and WSU manage to rebuild the conference — or arrange a so-called “reverse merger” with the Mountain West, the two schools alone would share the Pac-12 assets. So the action now on this story hinges with lawyers and accountants, as they pore over conference bylaws and its financial records.

That will take time. But OSU and WSU would be wise to move as quickly as possible. In the words of the ACC’s Phillips, “You either get busy or you get left behind.”

Meanwhile, as we wait to see those spreadsheets, here’s some of this week’s essential reading on realignment:

Ralph D. Russo, The Associated Press’ longtime college football writer, has an analysis piece in which he makes an interesting point: Part of the reason for the conference’s stunning collapse was the failure of its members to recognize other Power Five conferences as not partners, but competitors.

Here’s Oregonian columnist Bill Oram with a nice piece about the Pac-12 football season that will “only break your heart.”

Anne Peterson filed this piece for the AP about the options for OSU and WSU.

OSU and WSU administrators might want to keep this story from The Athletic sports website in mind as they plan their next steps: SMU was one of the schools left behind when the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995. It took the school nearly three decades to get back into a power conference. (Stories from The Athletic are available only to its subscribers and New York Times subscribers.)

The New York Times has a fascinating diagram tracing how conference realignment has played out through the years that you can easily waste a couple of hours with. But it is Labor Day weekend.

Shockingly, I do have other stories available this week if you’re weary of reading about conference realignment:

Bad news from “Margaritaville:” Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who parleyed his biggest hit into a billion-dollar empire, has died at the age of 76. The AP’s Mark Kennedy has a well-done obituary.

Are you a “median” Oregon taxpayer — that is, a taxpayer whose adjusted gross income falls between $35,000 and $40,000? Good news for you: You’ll receive close to $1,000 back on next year’s tax bill, thanks to the state’s oddball “kicker” provision — and because tax revenues in Oregon continue to outpace expectations. That’s good news — although one could argue that some of the money flowing back to taxpayers could be used to, oh, I don’t know, pay for additional housing or shelters for homeless people or public universities, things like that. Of course, if you’re among the top 1% of Oregon earners and bring home more than $500,000, you’re likely to save $44,000 or so on your tax bill. Economists explained this by noting that it’s good to be rich. Julian Shumway has the details in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

You occasionally will hear someone cite Oregon’s so-called “red-flag” law as a sensible way to help prevent firearms deaths. The law sets up a civil procedure in which family members or law enforcement officials can petition a court for someone to turn in their firearms if they are a risk to themselves or others. Oregon’s rate of firearm-related suicides is 42% higher than the national rate. (About 455 Oregonians died of suicide with a firearm in 2020, according to the Oregon Health Authority. That same year, another 110 Oregonians died of firearm-related homicides.) A new report from state auditorsAlden this week concluded this week that Oregon can do a better job to increase awareness of the “red-flag” law. Ben Botkin had the story for the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

I missed this item from the Poynter Institute from early August, and I apologize: Both Lee Enterprises, the owner of the Gazette-Times and the Democrat-Herald, and Gannett, which owns the Register-Guard in Eugene and the Statesman Journal in Salem, posted growth in digital revenue during the quarter ending June 30. Lee made $2 million profit in the quarter, thanks primarily to cost-cutting steps; total revenue was down at both companies. Both companies still have significant debt, Poynter reports.

Meanwhile, Alden Global Capital — the hedge fund that buys newspapers and then institutes rapacious newsroom cuts — has acquired four newspapers in Pennsylvania. The notice that ran in the papers about the sale mentioned how these announcements typically tout how the new owners will continue a tradition of strong local reporting and intend to carry on the legacy of the previous owners. “Sadly,” the notice said, “we feel none of that will be true in our case.”

The talk of the journalism world this week, though, has been a college newspaper — the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, which distinguished itself with its coverage of an Aug. 28 shooting on campus. The front page of the Aug. 30 edition was, brilliantly, devoted to nothing but text messages from students, parents, faculty and staff members. It’s a powerful work of journalism. And Harvard’s Nieman Lab notes how student publications increasingly are filling the void as other local newspapers shut down. (Both these links will take you to images of the Tar Heel’s front page, which — completely appropriately — includes profanity.)

Longtime readers of the Weekend Reader will know of my enthusiasm for the James Webb Space Telescope, which now is peering into previously unseen corners of the cosmos. And it’s starting to see things that shouldn’t be there — most notably, the existence of fully formed galaxies far earlier than should have been possible according to the so-called standard model of cosmology. The implications, two scientists argue in this mind-blowing column from The New York Times, might go far behind the world of science.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy the weekend as you ponder the mysteries of the cosmos — pondering that sometimes goes better with a cold adult beverage — and we’ll meet again next weekend.

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