More Problems for Pac-12, College Basketball
It’s been a bad year for the Pac-12 Conference, and a bad year for college basketball. And things got much worse this week.
A quick recap: In late September, after a two-year investigation, the FBI arrested 10 men for bribery, fraud, and making payments to college basketball recruits in an attempt to get them to sign with certain universities. Assistant coaches at Arizona and USC were among those arrested.
Throughout October, several coaches—including Washington’s Chris Petersen, Stanford’s David Shaw and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez—complained about the frequency of Pac-12 night games and the impact the late kickoffs were having on fans, recruits, and national exposure for their programs.
At the same time, a growing chorus of announcers took potshots at the Pac-12 Network, including ESPN’s Chris Fowler and CBS’s Rick Neuheisel. Others—ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, Rod Gilmore and Quint Kessenich—took inappropriate shots at Peterson for complaining about the late kickoffs. (As a result, the network was forced to apologize to Washington Athletic Director Jen Cohen).
A few weeks ago, WSU President Kirk Schulz and Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke criticized the conference for disappointing Pac-12 network revenues and exposure.
Last week, the first quarter of the conference's marquee matchup--Washington at Stanford--was bumped from FS1 because of a truck race.
But the bottom really fell out on Nov. 7, when UCLA basketball players LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were arrested in Hangzhou, China, for shoplifting while their team was in town for the “Pac-12 China Game” against Georgia Tech. The players stole some designer sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team hotel and were later found to have shoplifted from two other local stores.
Through the intercession of President Donald Trump, the players escaped what could have been a 10-year prison sentence and were allowed to return home with their team.
Then it got worse.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott issued a tone-deaf statement about the “unfortunate incident” and proceeded to thank his Chinese hosts and sponsor, Alibaba, and boast that the student-athletes had “memorable cultural, educational and athletic experiences that will enrich their lives and provide lifetime memories.”
Really? Somehow, I think the only thing Ball, Hill and Riley will remember is that they were incredibly lucky to get out of Dodge.
Yesterday, at a press conference on the UCLA campus, during which no questions were permitted, the players apologized for their bad judgment and thanked President Trump. Head coach Steve Alford and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero announced “indefinite” suspensions of the three young men.
My daughter graduated from UCLA and Guerrero is a good friend of mine. But I’m sorry. There’s no excuse for not immediately suspending the three shoplifters for the entire season. No other punishment will be sufficient.
Hopefully, after the Bruins’ office of student conduct completes its investigation, the appropriate penalty will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, John Wooden is turning over in his grave, and the Pac-12 has another embarrassing black eye.
Big Game: Much is at stake when Stanford and Cal meet on Saturday in the 120th edition of the Big Game. Stanford needs a win to keep its Pac-12 South Division hopes alive. A victory over Cal coupled with a Washington State loss to Washington next weekend would put the Cardinal in the Conference Championship game on Dec. 1 at Levi’s Stadium. Cal brings a 5-5 record to Palo Alto, needing one more win to become bowl eligible. If the Bears lose to Stanford, they’ll have another chance to get win No. 6 next weekend at UCLA.
The oddsmakers have installed Stanford as a 16-point favorite. I think it’ll be a little closer than that. Say Stanford 34, Cal 23.
The Play Revisited: This year’s Big Game marks the 35th anniversary of “The Play”, which Cal fans consider the greatest play in the history of college football, and Stanford fans consider a travesty that denied them a victory and a fitting end to John Elway’s storied career. Stanford went into the 1982 game with a 5-5 record and Cal was 6-4. However, because of Elway’s star power, Stanford had a tentative bid from the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama, contingent on a victory over Cal.
A few months earlier, I had left my position as Associate Athletic Director at Stanford to head up a TV and management company called Shasta Sports Productions. We were producing the University’s football highlights show, so I was up in the booth with our announce team when the play unfolded.
With Cal ahead 19-17 in the closing seconds, Stanford faced a fourth-and-17 from its own 13-yard line. Elway completed a miraculous 29-yard pass to Emile Harry and then moved his team into position for a game-winning field goal. After Mark Harmon drilled a 35-yarder to give Stanford a 20-19 lead with four seconds left, our analyst, former Stanford linebacker Gordy Ceresino, exclaimed “Pack your bags, we’re going to Birmingham!”
Well, not so fast.