By Rob Moseley
Oregon will play the first ever college football game hosted by Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., in October. If all goes well, the Ducks will play in the second college game hosted by the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium, too.
Levi’s Stadium will host the Pac-12 Championship game this year, under a three-year agreement with the conference announced Thursday.
This year's title game is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 5. The Ducks will play a regular-season game there against California on Friday, Oct. 24.
Levi’s Stadium is positioning itself to be the West Coast’s version of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the Ducks lost to LSU in the 2011 Cowboys Classic, and which also hosts the Big 12 title game and Cotton Bowl. Levi’s Stadium is the new home of the Fight Hunger Bowl, will host the Super Bowl in 2016 and has explored the idea of hosting a showcase nonconference college football game similar to the Cowboys Classic, for which Oregon would seem to be a natural fit.
“This is a positive move for our institutions and fan bases,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday. "The neutral site location will allow us to showcase the Conference, our member institutions and important initiatives on a big stage, as well as treat fans to multiple events during championship week."
Anchoring the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium ends, for at least the next three years, three seasons of holding it on a campus. Oregon hosted the inaugural title game in 2011, beating UCLA before 59,376 in Autzen Stadium.
Just 31,622 watched host Stanford beat UCLA in 2012. Arizona State’s fans had a better showing last season, when 69,535 packed Sun Devil Stadium and watched ASU lose to the Cardinal.
Conference officials consider the opening of a sparkling new NFL stadium, with its schedule of showcase events already booked, the perfect chance to explore hosting the Pac-12 Championship at a neutral site.
In conjunction with the title game, the conference will also host an “innovation summit” with officials from member universities and top Silicon Valley executives.
As the prospect of playing in the title game isn’t one Mark Helfrich will need to consider for several months, his reaction to Thursday’s news reflected a “Win the Day” spirit.
“We’re focused on right now more than anything else,” Helfrich said. “We need to finish the term strong academically and prepare for a great summer.”