Pac-12 Wakes Up

For the past several years, the Pac-12 Conference has been in denial about its significant problems both on and off the field.

Embattled commissioner Larry Scott has trumpeted NCAA championships in water polo and volleyball ad nauseum, while downplaying the fact that his television network is a joke and his league has failed to get a team in the College Football Playoff three of the last four years, performed miserably in bowl games, become totally irrelevant in men's basketball (other than having coaches arrested for bribing recruits), experienced a ton of embarrassing officiating gaffes, and fallen well behind the other conferences in TV revenue and national exposure.

But suddenly there are a few signs of self-realization, a few baby steps of progress.

A newly-humbled Scott for the first time acknowledged many of the Pac-12's issues at last week's "Media Day," which was staged in (where, else?) Hollywood.

“There’s no question that the past couple of seasons have fallen short of the historical standards for the Pac-12 and where our programs aspire to be,” he said early in his ‘state of the conference’ address. (Apparently water polo wasn't mentioned until much later).

“We have to acknowledge many of the criticisms that the conference has received, and I can tell you that collectively we’ve taken a hard look at everything about how we’re operating when it comes to football.”

One of the first things they looked at was officiating. An outside consultant and a committee headed by Arizona State Athletic Director Ray Anderson—the former Stanford kick returner and NFL executive—recommended a number of changes that will be implemented this season to improve the conference’s woeful football officiating.

Among them: better training, more transparency if there’s a blown call, and no interference from unqualified league administrators. Last year one of Scott’s many high-paid lieutenants, Woodie Dixon, over-ruled a call in the replay booth. After a whole lot of waffling, back tracking, and double talk, the conference finally admitted that was not a good way to run an airline, much less a football game.

In another development, Scott announced that starting next year, the conference championship will be moved from Levi’s Stadium, where the ushers and concessionaires have often outnumbered the crowd, to the Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas.

This is an improvement, but I have long maintained that this game should be played on the campus of the conference’s top-rated team. Because of the novelty and the number of folks looking for something to do other than lose money at the blackjack table, Vegas will draw better than Santa Clara. But as the first four years of the championship proved decisively, on campus games provide a better atmosphere and will usually sell out.

Finally, there’s the issue of late kickoff times, the bane of every Pac-12 fan’s, coach’s and player’s existence. After years spent trying to defend night games and arguing that ratings are better because there's fewer games than during the day, Scott finally admitted, “There’s

a lot of frustration from fans relative to late night kicks.”

The commissioner, who loves to be called a “visionary,” then unveiled the notion of 9:00 am kickoffs.

“I’ve always been willing to think outside the box," he boasted. "I’m hoping we’ll experiment with a 12 noon kick (Eastern). Why not the occasional Pac-12 game in that window?”

Here’s why not: there’d be tens of thousands of empty seats.

I doubt many fans will like 9am any better than they like 8pm. I live in Danville. I go to a lot of Stanford and Cal games. For me to make a 9am kickoff in either Palo Alto or Berkeley, I’d have to leave my house at 7am. If I wanted to down a few Bloody Marys at a tailgate, I’d have to leave even earlier.

While it might make sense for an occasional Utah game at 10am Mountain (because the Utes rarely get TV exposure) or for the Arizonas in sweltering September, it’s going to be a tough sell in California, Oregon and Washington.

The Pac-12 has to realize something fundamental.

The solution to their exposure problem isn't moving kickoff times. The solution is to win more games.

If the Pac-12 has teams contending for the playoff, the networks will give the conference more desirable kickoff times (12:00 and 3:30 Pacific). If the Pac-12 is irrelevant, they'll continue to have a lot of 8 and 9pm kicks.

Football Guru Needed: Oregonian and OregonLive columnist John Canzano, who for my money does the best job of covering the Pac-12, had a novel idea of his own. Canzano accurately notes that “what the conference executive team lacks is anyone with a shred of football knowledge.”

Canzano’s right. Scott is a tennis guy. Deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich is a basketball guy. Prior to becoming a self-proclaimed officiating expert, Dixon's only football experience was negotiating NFL contracts.

The conference needs "a reasonable, rational, credible football voice in the room when they’re making football policy….a football administrator with credibility who knows the game,” Canzano says.

He suggested Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. Tyrone Willingham would be another excellent choice.

Shaw on Playoff Expansion: Last week we noted that expansion of the College Football Playoff is inevitable. Stanford coach David Shaw agrees.

“There’s no way we stay at four," Shaw said. "From the day we announced that there's going to be a four-team playoff, I said, 'that's awesome, that's great, that's what we need, until we get to eight.'

“You've got to start someplace, we started at four, but it’s too restrictive. You're not guaranteed that you're getting the four best teams…every single year there's one, two and sometimes three teams that raise their hand and have a legitimate case to be included in the playoff, and the only way I think you truly get it right is to have eight teams at the end of the year battle for that National Championship.”

Amen.

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//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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