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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

May 6, 2014 at 5:00 PM

A little Seahawks-Niners sideshow, and the 49ers may win this one

According to a couple of published reports Tuesday, the Pac-12 is considering moving its championship football game off campus sites and to a neutral venue. And the leader is apparently Levi’s Stadium.

That’s the San Francisco 49ers new home in Santa Clara, and wouldn’t you know it, one of the sites yearning for the game is Seattle and CenturyLink Field. Seattle Sports Commission executive director Ralph Morton told me Tuesday afternoon, “We certainly very strongly believe we’d be one of the great sites to host it.”

But both ESPN.com and SI.com mentioned Levi’s Stadium as a probable destination for the game, SI.com calling it the “clear front-runner.”

So the Niners might win this battle. (Where’s Richard Sherman when you need him?)

A couple of thoughts:

Morton says his group has made overtures in the past to the Pac-12 about Seattle hosting, but hasn’t made any formal pitch while the format for the game is campus sites. If that’s the case, it’s a little surprising if Levi’s Stadium has jumped to the fore and apparently in position to nab the 2014 game — unless it’s simply been more aggressive than other sites.

It’s also possible that commissioner Larry Scott and the league consider Levi’s Stadium the natural neutral site, located, as it is, less than an hour from league headquarters and in the geographic center of the conference.

Nothing anybody else can do about that, from Phoenix to Seattle.

Fact is, I don’t think there’s going to be anything approaching an ideal neutral site in the Pac-12 because the league is so far-flung. Even in saying Levi’s Stadium represents a geographical compromise, it’s safe to conclude that if it hosted, of the fans coming from the Northern and Southern home bases of the two schools, 90 percent or more would fly unless Stanford or Cal were in the game. Los Angeles is about a 4-5 hour drive away, doable certainly, while the closest Northern city outside Stanford or Cal is Eugene, about 570 miles from Santa Clara. Tough drive.

I’d like to see Seattle get a shot at this, because it has the most passionate fan base of Pac-12 metro areas (and would have a better chance than anybody to draw non-partisan fans), and because CenturyLink is such a good site. Meanwhile, it would be a great spot for any of the four Northwest schools, who are competitively about as good as they’ve been since 2000.

But it may be an uphill struggle. My guess is:

— If the league is bent on going to neutral sites, it’s because the 11th-hour logistics of campus hosts are difficult, not only for hotel accommodations but in stadium organizing, etc. When Oregon hosted in 2011, some season-ticket holders were rooted out to accommodate different camera locations, and a lot of things were done on the fly.

— If the Pac-12 goes to neutral sites, the concept of rotating sites probably isn’t going to be a big hit with the league.  It would mitigate the advantage in consistency of planning.

As nice as Levi’s Stadium is reputed to be, and how near it is to the league office, I wonder whether it’s the optimum venue. Think about this if it hosted in 2014: If UCLA wins the South this year (and it’s favored) and Oregon wins the North (and it might), you might expect, hmm, maybe 5-10,000 UCLA fans. It’s a notoriously tepid fan base. I wouldn’t think Oregon would bring more than maybe 25,000, if that.

That’s perhaps 35,000 people. Throw in 5,000 for comps and sponsors, etc. Is the Bay Area going to supply the 28,000 people to fill it to the 68,500-seat capacity? Not when Stanford has trouble drawing fans for a top-10 team.

As a neutral venue, Levi’s Stadium is the obvious one. But that’s what they thought for years about the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Pac-12 basketball tournament. And we all know how that turned out.

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