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The Irrelevant Conference; Sobering Numbers; Spartans Soar

The Pac-12’s steady decline into irrelevance continues.

We've written often about the conference’s loss of stature, much of it due to the inept leadership of commissioner Larry Scott.

This year, for the fifth time in the seven years of the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will not be represented. That’s a reflection not only of inadequate performance on the field, but also inadequate recruiting, revenue generation, television exposure and decision-making.

Each year, the Pac-12 falls farther and farther behind the other Power Five conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12) in revenues because of a primary TV package that was signed for too many years (12) for too little money, and a failing conference network that has cost far too much to operate and generated far too few cable subscribers, viewers and dollars.

Each year, more and more top prospects on the West Coast migrate to SEC and Big Ten schools because of the greener pastures in the south and Midwest…greener pastures in terms of more TV exposure, better facilities, better coaching, and a much better chance at making the playoff.

Even when the conference does something right—like deciding to cancel the football season because of a raging pandemic—it can’t help but screw things up, in this case by reversing course and starting an abbreviated season in November, one which has been rendered a compete farce by cancelled game after cancelled game.

Last week, one of the league’s biggest rivalries—Oregon vs. Washington—was cancelled due to COVID infections at UW.

That cancellation made Washington, with a 3-1 record, the champion of the North Division, and earned the Huskies a spot in the championship game against South winner USC on Friday night.

But wait! Because the outbreak continued, claiming the entire offensive line, the Huskies have opted out of the championship game, only to be replaced by, you guessed it, Oregon.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The conference took a huge hit on national television Saturday when ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, arguably the most respected commentator in college football, had this to say about the Pac-12:

“They’ve become less respected than the American (conference). That’s where the Pac-12 is right now. I know they started late, but they have an undefeated USC team. Colorado’s been a great story. But nothing. They’re not even a blip on the radar.”

The Numbers Don’t Lie: The Pac-12 is the most extreme example, but the other conferences are also suffering COVID infections and game cancellations at an alarming rate.

Each week between 20 and 30% of all college games are cancelled. Last week, Ohio State vs. Michigan went by the boards. Out of 65 Power Five teams, only 10 have been able to play their complete schedules.

And here are some more sobering numbers. According to a New York Times study, more than 6,600 college football athletes, coaches and athletic department staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus this year.

The real figure is much higher than that, probably almost twice as high, as only 78 of the 130 universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) replied to the Times survey.

Some of the respondents reported false numbers. LSU, whose coach Ed Orgeron previously admitted that “most of our team” has had COVID, reported zero cases.

What may never be known is, what are the long-term effects of these infections? How many players will suffer cardiovascular problems as a result of getting COVID?

As this writer and a growing number of other media observers have been saying, this truncated, bastardized, enormously risky season never should've been played. The folly of playing football in a pandemic has become more obvious and dangerous every week.

Ask yourselves, conference commissioners and athletic directors, was it worth it?

Words to Live By: Unbeaten San Jose State rallied from a 20-7 halftime deficit to beat Nevada 30-20 Friday night, thereby clinching a spot in the Mountain West Championship game against Boise State. Running back Tyler Nevens led the way with 184 yards, including a 69-yard TD burst, and defensive lineman Cade Hall contributed 2½ sacks.

The under-appreciated Spartans (6-0) are the nation’s unlikeliest undefeated team, but it hasn’t been easy. Because of Santa Clara County health restrictions, Coach Brent Brennan’s boys have had to shift operations between Humboldt State, Hawaii and Las Vegas.

San Jose State was a Cinderella story back in 2012 when Mike MacIntyre guided his team to a 10-2 record, but the program atrophied under Ron Caragher. Brennan, now in his fourth year, withstood 1-11 and 2-11 seasons before starting to turn the corner with a 5-7 mark last year. His philosophy on dealing with COVID, and life in general, bears repeating:

“I always think there’s a way forward,” he says. “That’s fundamental for me. It’s just a better way to live. I’m always going to choose to believe that we can find a way, the situation will improve, we can get it done.”

Bravo: Boston College, Pitt, Stanford and Virginia became the first teams in the country to forego the post-season, announcing that they won't play in a bowl game this year. The schools cited the physical, mental and emotional toll the season has taken on their players, as well as a desire to have players spend Christmas with their families. Ironically, BC had the fewest positive tests of any school in the country this year—one.

Line of the Year: San Francisco Chronicle columnist and old pal Bruce Jenkins commenting on the leadership qualities of NBA stars: "…the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets are suffering through the travails of Kyrie Irving and James Harden—two guys who couldn't lead a herd of starving cats to the back alley of a fish market."

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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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