Oregon Football Exits The Pac-12 With A Dominating Fiesta Bowl Win

The Oregon football team made its Pac-12 Conference curtain call one to savor.

Now the Ducks are off to the Big Ten Conference and the stability and guaranteed revenue it provides, starting at about $31 million in 2024.

“We coming, Big Ten,” Oregon record-setting wide receiver Tez Johnson said. “The whole team is coming.”

The Ducks can hope their Big Ten entrance is as smooth their Pac-12 exit. Oregon rolled to decisive a 45-6 victory over mismatched Liberty in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl on Monday, the Ducks’ final Pac-12 game in the 108-year history of a league that quickly disintegrated in the absence of a coherent media rights agreement this summer.

Senior quarterback Bo Nix, who opted to play rather than skip the bowl game as many other NFL prospects did, passed for 363 yards and a tied the Fiesta Bowl record with five touchdown passes.

Nix completed is last four passes before leaving with 9:53 remaining, and by going 28-of-35 he set an NCAA record for season completion percentage at 77.45 percent, just ahead of Alabama’s Mac Jones (77.36). Johnson, a junior, had 11 receptions for 172 yards while setting a school record for receptions in a season with 86.

Oregon coach Dan Lanning said the Fiesta Bowl was about “unfinished business” after the Ducks lost to College Football Playoff participant Washington in the Pac-12 championship game a month ago.

With a new year comes new business in the Big Ten.

Taking Care of Business

The Ducks demonstrated the kind of dominance against previously undefeated Liberty that they showed while becoming arguably the most feared program in the Pac-12 over the last 15 seasons under coaches such as Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly and quarterbacks including Joey Harrington, Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert.

Oregon overtook USC for football preeminence as the millennium turned, and it rose in no small part because of the contributions of alum and Nike
co-founder Phil Knight, who has donated a reported $1 billion to the school to improve the athletic facilities and has a deep desire to see the department succeed. Knight’s concerns over the initial defections of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten are well documented.

The Ducks won the Pac-12 championship game in its first year, 2011, and again in 2014, 2019 and 2020. They played in the title game in 2021 and this season. Stanford is the only team with as many as three league titles in that span. Oregon also won the league title in 1994, 2000, 2001, 2009 and 2010, when the final standings were the determining factor.

“Oregon has cemented itself as a premier program in college football,” Lanning said after the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl. “More than anything, certainly grateful for some of the great games that exist in the Pac.

“But probably just as excited about what’s happening in the future for us. Where we are headed. The direction we are headed. The clarity of what that brings, and that is really a credit to our administration, to (athletic director) Rob Mullens and the people who have put us in that position.”

Lanning, in his second season at Oregon, will lead the transition. He received a six-year, $45 million contract extension after his first year in Eugene.

The Pac-12 Dragged Its Feet

Oregon’s move was all but forced this summer, and it made too much sense to ignore. Money talks in big-time college athletics, and because the Pac-12 was unable to negotiate a competitive media rights package in a timely manner, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah jumped for a more lucrative sure thing in the Big 12. Media distributions typically make up a large potion of an athletic department’s revenue.

As new money flowed in elsewhere, West Coast powers Oregon and Washington were left to negotiate their best deal in a bid to stay relevant on the national stage. The Big Ten had just signed a $7 billion media rights deal to run through 2029-30, and the Big 12 signed a six-year, $2.28 billion media rights deal through 2025-31. Big Ten teams will receive about $60 million annually; Big 12 teams will get about $31.6 million, according to the Sports Business Journal.

The Pac-12 had fallen so far behind that the breakup seemed inevitable. The Pac-12 was in negotiations with Apple
on a streaming media rights deal that was reported to guarantee about $20 million per team per year, with a potential to hit the mid-$30 millions if subscriber thresholds were met.

Oregon and Washington will not get the full benefit of the Big Ten bounty immediately — they had limited bargaining power because of the Pac-12’s earlier defections. Although newcomers USC and UCLA also will receive the full $60 million per season in the new deal, the Ducks and Huskies will get about $30 million apiece in 2024, and the total will increase by $1 million through the decade. Each team will get a full share of the revenue when the next TV deal arrives.

So the Pac-12 became the Pac-2 — Oregon State and Washington State control the conference and its assets after winning a court save — and the others fled to greener pastures.

Oregon will begin play in the Big Ten in 2024 with new worlds to conquer.

“We was the best team in the Pac,” Johnson said. “Always.”

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