Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with Friday night’s championship game and more problems for Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott ...
1. I’ve always seen the job of conference commissioner as being akin to the job of professional sports owner: It’s possible to screw it up, but you really have to try.
That’s because, in both cases, the financial playing field is tilted so heavily in your direction. Pro sports franchises continue to get more valuable regardless of what you do to them. And when you’re in charge of a conference that receives millions in TV revenue while capitalizing on unpaid labor, it’s basically a given that you’re going to get rich.
The question is HOW rich, and where the money goes. Which brings us to the Pac-12’s Larry Scott and the continued drumbeat of discontent.
The Oregonian’s John Canzano did a terrific four-part series this week on the state of the Pac-12. Part Four is here; the whole thing is a must-read.
Canzano’s series makes it clear there’s little respect for Scott among the Pac-12’s rank-and-file. But from the perspective of Scott’s bosses, the university presidents — most of whom have bigger things to worry about than sports — the Pac-12 is making money, winning championships in Olympic sports and hitting whatever benchmarks Scott lays out.
2. The problem comes when you start comparing the Pac-12 to other conferences, which are making even more money and appear to be spending it more wisely. Among the details in Canzano’s series: The Pac-12 pays $6.9 million annually to rent its headquarters in downtown San Francisco and spent $3.1 million on travel expenses last year so, among other things, Scott could fly around to games in a private jet. Also, Scott earns more annually ($4.8 million) than the commissioner and top five employees in either the SEC or the Big Ten.
3. Scott’s salary is justified by the fact that, in addition to being Pac-12 commissioner, he also oversees the Pac-12 Network. But the network hasn’t been a success. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News reported this week that AT&T is dropping the Pac-12 Networks from its U-Verse service, which could affect 500,000 subscribers. It’s yet another sign that the Pac-12 is struggling to make its product available to fans.
Selling an ownership stake in the Pac-12 Network is one way the league could create a short-term revenue boost for its members. But that feels like selling low, doesn’t it? It’s already been demonstrated that the Pac-12 overestimated the demand for its network. Scott seems to prefer maintaining full control of the network and hoping it pays off down the line.
4. Scott isn’t to blame for all of the Pac-12’s problems. When you travel to other parts of the country, it becomes clear that college football doesn’t have the same rabid following on the West Coast that it has in the Midwest and Southeast. Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti noticed the difference while visiting spring games in the SEC, which can draw upwards of 80,000 fans.
Still, you can make a case that the Pac-12 is doing better in the stands than it is on the field. The league went 1-8 in bowl games last year and failed to advance a team past the first round of the men’s NCAA Tournament. Combined with the late game times, can you blame fans for having a laissez-faire attitude?
5. We’ve made it this far without even discussing the Pac-12’s replay issues. One more nugget from Canzano’s series: When the Pac-12 handed down discipline for the replay incident involving VP/general counsel Woodie Dixon, apparently Dixon and head of officiating David Coleman were the two parties punished. Not Scott, even though he publicly took blame for the mistake. That seems to fit the pattern of a commissioner who’s rarely held to account.
6. Symbolic of the Pac-12’s diminished standing, Washington State is No. 13 in the latest CFP rankings. Coach Mike Leach and AD Pat Chun went on the offensive this week, questioning why 10-2 Washington State should be ranked behind three-loss Florida, LSU and Penn State.
The Cougars would need to move up at least one spot to have a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl game. But even that would be dicey. Washington State is competing for one of six at-large spots — i.e., spots not determined by conference affiliation. Notre Dame already claimed one. Michigan will get another. Georgia or Alabama will get a third. If Oklahoma or Ohio State were to lose in their respective conference title games, they’d be at-large selections as well.
Basically, the Cougars need to root for favorites and hope the committee decides to reevaluate its rankings from last week.
7. Friday night’s Pac-12 title game isn’t generating a lot of buzz relative to the other conference title games, partly because the game has absolutely no bearing on the College Football Playoff.
Washington and Utah are playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl, which certainly matters to fans in Seattle and Salt Lake. Despite numerous other accomplishments, seniors Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin haven’t been to a Rose Bowl and would like to check that one off the bucket list.
8. These teams met in September, with Washington winning 21-7 in Salt Lake. That was before Utah really found its groove, but it was also when the Utes had a healthy Tyler Huntley at quarterback and Zack Moss at running back.
As Adam Jude writes here in The Seattle Times, it’s the first time in the eight-year history of the Pac-12 title game that the league’s top two defenses have squared off.
9. The Utes are making their first trip to the Pac-12 title game, which could be followed by their first trip to the Rose Bowl. In the Salt Lake Tribune, Christopher Kamrani wonders if this qualifies as Kyle Whittingham’s best coaching job.
Hard to top Utah’s undefeated season in 2008, but Whittingham has done a terrific job, no doubt.
10. Also in the Salt Lake Tribune, Gordon Monson notes that in Washington’s three losses, opponents have held the Husky running game in check. Myles Gaskin didn’t play in Washington’s loss to Cal but has been on a tear since then, averaging 150 yards in his last three games.
11. Not to be overlooked, there will be one more Pac-12 regular-season game to be played after Friday’s title game. Cal and Stanford will meet Saturday in a game rescheduled due to air quality concerns in the Bay Area.
If Stanford wins, the Cardinal would be 6-3 and in the mix for one of the Pac-12’s top four bowl spots. Cal can get to 5-4, which would put the Bears in a tie with Oregon and Arizona State.
The wildcard in the bowl discussion is what happens to the loser of the Pac-12 title game. If Washington loses and Wazzu gets left out of the Fiesta Bowl, would the Alamo Bowl want the 10-2 Cougars or the 9-4 Huskies? If Utah loses, could the Utes fall all the way to the Sun Bowl, behind Washington (Rose), Washington State (Alamo), Oregon (Holiday) and Stanford (Redbox)?
Since we’re talking about Cal-Stanford, here’s a good read from Jeff Faraudo of Cal Bears Maven about Justin Wilcox’s upbringing on the family farm in Junction City.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read this story by Hamed Aleaziz in Buzzfeed about a nurse deported 15 months ago getting clearance to return to the U.S.