Antonio González (AP)
SAN FRANCISCO .- The Pac-12 Conference will announce at a news conference Thursday that it is moving the league championship game to the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara, a person familiar with the decision said.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press on Wednesday because the official announcement is pending. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, 49ers CEO Jed York and team President Paraag Marathe are scheduled to unveil additional details for the conference’s championship game at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday.
Scott said last week that the league was mulling whether to move its championship game to the 68,500-seat, $1.2 billion stadium that opens this year. The first three conference championship 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 said during a break at the conference’s meetings in Phoenix last week. “But there are some unique opportunities, particularly this Levi’s opportunity.”
Attendance was good at two of the three title games, with Stanford being the exception — partly due to rain and a 5 p.m. Friday kickoff that gridlocked traffic in the Bay Area. The SEC, Big Ten and ACC stage their title games at neutral sites.
In previous years, Scott had noted the challenges in staging the championship game at a host school when the site — not to mention the teams — often isn’t known until a week before the game. He also has acknowledged concern from school presidents about the travel demands that fans would face if teams in the far-flung conference — which stretches from Washington to Arizona — would have to travel to get to Santa Clara, which is about 15 miles from the Stanford campus and just across the bay from Berkeley.
But having a neutral location also has its benefits, he has said, notably giving the conference time to plan logistics and sell tickets locally. Scott also repeatedly talked about the “wow” factor of the Santa Clara site last week, comparing the stadium’s opening to the high level of attention the opulent Dallas Cowboys stadium received.
The 49ers also have been trying to fill dates at the new stadium, getting Cal to host Oregon there this fall. The NFL already has awarded the stadium the 50th Super Bowl to be played in February 2016.