Pac-12 Disasters Continue
It may seem like beating a dead horse, but we’d be remiss not to comment on the Pac-12’s pathetic performance in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, continuing what might just be the most disastrous year ever for a major athletic conference.
The “Conference of Champions” was able to get only three teams into the tournament, and two of them were selected for the play-in round. Translation: the Pac-12 had only one of the top 60 teams in the country—Arizona.
Both UCLA and Arizona State were essentially slotted between No. 61 and 68 and given a chance to “play-in” to the 64-team field. However, both teams lost the play-in game, so the conference was left with just one team—one team!—participating in March Madness.
And then the unthinkable happened. Arizona, a No. 4 seed tabbed as a dark horse for the Final Four by many pundits, including the Pac-12 Hotline’s Jon Wilner, lost in the first round.
To No. 13 seed Buffalo...by 21 points.
Aside from the fact that the Pac-12’s failure to get even one team beyond the first round could cost each school in the conference over $1 million, consider the embarrassment, loss in prestige, recruiting ramifications, and ongoing humiliation.
We’ve written previously about how the Pac-12 suffered through one embarrassment after another in 2017 stemming in large part from its inadequate television coverage. One of the conference's national TV partners dumped a marquee football game for a truck race. And its own minor league network, with test pattern ratings and less than 20 million viewers, was repeatedly and pointedly criticized by high-profile announcers as well as the league’s own football coaches and school presidents.
There were numerous black eyes off the field. Assistant basketball coaches from two member schools (Arizona and USC) were arrested by the FBI, and three basketball players from UCLA were arrested for shoplifting in China. The head football coach at Arizona was fired after being sued for sexual harassment. The head basketball coach at Arizona was accused of discussing a $100,000 payment to a basketball recruit on an FBI wiretap.
On the football field, the Pac-12 was snubbed by the College Football Playoff and then went 1-8 in bowl games, marking the worst performance in history by a Power Five league.
So where is the league office in all of this?
Commissioner Larry Scott, who predicted last week that the conference would get “quite a few teams” into March Madness, has not distinguished himself with his tone deaf comments praising corporate partners while more responsible voices were addressing criminal behavior, his inability to finalize a deal with Direct TV and expand distribution of the Pac-12 Network, and his seeming insensitivity to how late football kickoffs and weeknight games affect Pac-12 exposure, recruiting and student-athlete welfare.
Scott and his colleagues like to talk about the Pac-12’s litany of national championships in sports like swimming, golf, tennis, cross country, volleyball, and water polo.
But the sports that really matter are football and basketball.
And in those two sports, the conference is becoming irrelevant.
Note: The Inside Track will be on vacation next week and will return March 27.