PAC 12: Brother, Where Art Thou?

PAC 12
Jim Quist @ACCTheQ

After the run that UCLA had during the regular season it came as a surprise that the Bruins stumbled in the Super Regionals. What about Stanford who seemingly is in the midst of every NCAA championship? The ‘conference of champions’ has stumbled when it comes to NCAA baseball. They’ve also had a rough go of it lately in all three major college sports. This isn’t meant to dismiss the PAC 12 but you can’t help notice when a P-5 conference is off the radar.

The last time a conference team won the NCAA football championship was in 2004. The team, USC, eventually had the title vacated by the NCAA because of infractions. The year previous USC were co-champions with LSU. I had to go back to 1972 to find a year in which a PAC 12 team wasn’t sharing the title and once again it was, USC.

How about basketball? Now we can talk about the ‘conference of champions’, right? Let’s see, I’m scrolling, scrolling, scrolling…..ahhh, here we have it. Arizona with a 84-79 OT win over Kentucky in 1997. Then there was UCLA in 1995 and then again, I’m scrolling, scrolling until I find a 1975 win by UCLA.

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Now, when it comes to baseball, that’s a whole different story. Last year’s Oregon State win was one for the books. The PAC 12 has an amazing story in baseball. We can start with a five year run from 1970 to 1974 by USC.

PAC 12

When we look at the list from that period forward you can see that the PAC 12 has been nothing short of dominant in NCAA baseball. How many conferences can brag on having six teams with championship titles in that time frame? The SEC comes close with five teams but certainly not the consistency demonstrated by their western brethren.

It could be argued (more for the sake of arguing) that the PAC 12 has even seen a drop off in their baseball performance in the last five years. With only one team out of five being a conference school the dominant conference has been the SEC. The argument falls a bit flat because there’s a difference of one team bringing home the bacon. Statistically, it may raise an eyebrow with the PAC 12 owning 20% while the SEC has 40%. That’s not how stats are not supposed to be used, i.e., cherry picked to support arguments.

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Now, all in all the question, ‘Brother, where art thou’ really comes into play not so much with baseball. Though, it would have been nice to see how UCLA would have done had they made it to the CWS. The question truly comes into play when looking at how the conference as a whole has performed with the big three sports.

When you take a closer look at the athletic well-being of the PAC 12 you see a competitive conference in Olympic sports. A conference dominant in softball, rowing and beach volleyball. I don’t dismiss any of that but the question that comes into play here has to do with money and fan-bases.

Money Makers

Those big 3 are the money makers for most colleges and that income stream goes to support the other sports. The more people hitting the stadiums and arenas or glued to the tv or smartphone then the higher the revenue. The conference took a hit last year losing $12.5 million in total revenue. It’s more than a one-off year. It’s a story-line that the ACC appears to have thoughtfully planned past as they initiate their new ACC Network via ESPN.

PAC 12

The PAC 12’s media rights have been valued at $5 billion and to help create an infusion of cash the conference plans on selling an equity stake. According to SportsBusiness Journal’s Michael Smith, the conference has received multiple bids of at least $750 million. In the short haul, the cash infusion will be a boon to schools. But, long term it may also bite into what each team ultimately receives.

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Many point a finger at Commissioner Larry Scott as a source of many of the woes the conference is suffering. That appears to be changing as Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano has taken over as the chair of the PAC 12’s CEO group. DiStefano is taking more of a hands on and business approach to addressing issues in an attempt to get Scott and the conference back on track.

Changes Must Be Made

DiStefano is realistic when it comes to improving football and basketball in the conference. How the success of each of those sports are critical to the success of the conference as well. “Everyone wants to win. And it’s about recruiting, and it’s about bringing in the best talent that can be successful,” said DiStefano. When it comes to the down turns in football and basketball? “And I do believe it’s cyclical. And I do think we’ll see a change.”

The success of all of the P-5 conferences is critical to maintaining a degree of equilibrium for all. Should the PAC 12 slip further behind in football and basketball the journey back will be just that much more difficult. Long term failure will see schools fleeing to other conferences or new conferences emerging that will learn from the failures of the past.

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Upsetting the apple cart can be viewed through two lenses. One, change is good. The other, change for the sake of change isn’t always good. If the landscape of college sports is truly evolving this is an area that we need to keep an eye on.

Financial insecurity in business is a red flag that must be rapidly addressed before the patient bleeds out. Is the PAC 12 raising red flags? Will there come a time when someone is tasked with pulling the plug? The decisions made in the coming weeks regarding the sale or non-sale of media rights may give us a glimpse into the future.

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