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Pac-12 Plumbs Depths, Raiders Score with Two Browns

Yesterday the brackets for the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament were announced. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) had three of the four No. 1 seeds, with Duke, North Carolina and Virginia all getting the top nod in their regions. In all, seven ACC teams received bids. The Big Ten led the way with eight participants.

At the other end of the spectrum was the pitiful Pac-12. The “conference of champions” had just three teams selected…barely.

Regular season champion Washington was given a No. 9 seed, roughly the equivalent of being rated No. 33 overall. Pac-12 tourney champ Oregon got a No. 12, roughly No. 45. And Arizona State was awarded with a play-in game; they have to beat St. John's just to get into the 64-team field.

Last year none of the three Pac-12 teams made it past the first round. The same thing could happen this year.

This from the conference of John Wooden, Lute Olson and Mike Montgomery. The conference of Lew Alcindor/Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Sean Elliott, Hank Luisetti, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Bill Walton (think of the player, not the announcer).

It’s been 22 years since Arizona won the Pac-12’s last NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, and it doesn’t look like there will be another one anytime soon. The two most prominent programs—UCLA and Arizona—are both in tatters, and the national power base has shifted heavily to the East.

Consider that in the last ten years, four schools have each won the NCAA twice: Villanova, North Carolina, Duke and Connecticut; the other two winners were Louisville and Kentucky.

The Pac-12’s basketball embarrassment comes on the heels of a desultory football season, when, once again, the conference failed to get a team into the College Football Playoff and was beaten in the Rose Bowl.

The gap between the Pac-12 and the other Power Five Conferences in terms of performance, revenues, facilities, and TV exposure is becoming an abyss. With four more years before the conference can negotiate a new TV deal, it’s only going to get worse.

Yet tone deaf Larry Scott, the highest-paid but lowest achieving commissioner in college sports, stayed in a $7,500 a night suite, complete with a butler, during the Pac-12 tourney in Las Vegas. Yes, the suite was comped, but the optics were still awful.

Deliciously, the Pac-12 Network reportedly wasn’t carried on the TV in his room.

In a recent, contentious conference meeting, the Pac-12 athletic directors apparently staged a mini-coup against Scott, demanding answers and wresting control of a number of initiatives.

It’s about time.

Antonio Revisited: A couple subscribers took issue with my suggestion last week that the Raiders scored a coup in getting All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown for third and fifth-round draft choices because he’s a jerk and may disrupt the Oakland/Las Vegas locker room.

I fully understand Brown’s bad rep, but I guess I’d respond this way.

1) The NFL has a lot of jerks. If you’re going to have a jerk, at least have one that catches 100 passes a year.

2) The Raiders have taken a chance on malcontents before and done quite well. They won three Super Bowls with a roster that wasn’t exactly made up of choir boys.

3) There’s something bad going down in Pittsburgh. When your two best players are so desperate to leave (Brown demanding a trade and LeVeon Bell sitting out the season), you know something’s amiss.

4) Brown is one of the three best receivers in the league. If he was disruptive in the locker room, he certainly wasn’t on the field. All he did was catch 104 passes for 1297 yards and 15 touchdowns. In fact, he’s caught over 100 passes for the last six years, during which he scored 67 touchdowns and made first-team All-Pro four times.

Only time will tell, but I think it was a risk worth taking, particularly given what little they had to give up.

Brown #2: The Raiders inked another free-agent named Brown, Patriots’ offensive tackle Trent Brown, to a four-year deal that made him the richest offensive lineman in the game. Brown, a giant of a man at 6-8, 380 pounds, protected Tom Brady’s blind side this year for the Super Bowl champions. And he did it well.

Ironically, Brown was originally drafted by the 49ers out of Florida, but they gave up on him after a year, shipping him to New England along with a fifth-round draft choice in exchange for a third-round pick. He missed most of the 2017 season with an injury but blossomed into one of the NFL’s best linemen last fall.

Perhaps the happiest man on the planet is Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr, who was sacked 52 times last season.

NFL values: Brown’s contract was representative of a recent trend in the NFL, whereby pass protectors and pass rushers are highly valued while running backs are seen as expendable parts. Consider that last week the 49ers agreed to pay edge rusher Dee Ford $87.5 over five years and linebacker Kwon Alexander $54M over four. Meanwhile, versatile running back Tevin Coleman got just $8.5 over two years.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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