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Why did the Pac-12 bother to show up at all?

Conference didn’t do itself any favors in handling of college football season, or by teams’ play on the field

AP Photo/Ralph Freso

Let’s see if we’ve got this straight. Seven Pac-12 teams announced they would decline any bowl invitations that might come their way. This from the league that announced in July it would play only conferences games, then in August said it wouldn’t play at all this season, then in September said it would try to play the season, then in October said it would play seven (conference-only) games, but wouldn’t begin until Nov. 7 (two months after many teams had begun playing), then in November said it would allow nonconference games, after all, then in December most of the Pac-12 schools said they’re “opting out” of bowl play.

Why did they even bother to show up this season?

Who’s in charge of this thing — Larry Scott or Michael Scott?

In a messy season of COVID-19, the Pac-12 was the messiest mess of all, which should surprise no one; it has been declining for years. It’s a mystery why it is still considered one of the Power Five conferences. Can we just call it the Power Four from now on?

The Pac-12 desperately wanted to salvage its reputation this season, but it only got worse. The league hoped Oregon and USC would carry the flag. Oregon was ranked No. 11 after winning its first two games, then lost the next two, to lowly Cal and Oregon State. USC was ranked No. 13 at 5-0 and then lost to Oregon. After playing so few games, they never should have been ranked in the first place, as those losses proved.

Only one Pac-12 school finished in the top 25 of the College Football Playoff ratings — Oregon, just barely, at No. 25, with two losses in six games. This is easily the poorest showing by the Pac-12 since the CFP was created in 2014.

So, the Pac-12 will not be represented in the College Football Playoff; no surprise there. Seven CFP fields have been selected, offering a total of 28 berths; the Pac-12 has claimed just two of them — Oregon in 2014, Washington in 2016 — by far the worst among P5 leagues.

Only two Pac-12 schools will play in bowl games, tying the Mid-America Conference for fewest bowl teams among the 10 conferences. Colorado played Texas in the Alamo Bowl (and lost 55-23), and Oregon will play Iowa State Jan. 2 in the Fiesta Bowl, a berth it filled only because the Ducks won the Pac-12 championship game, in which they were not originally qualified to play. USC’s championship game opponent was supposed to be Washington, but the Huskies had to bow out after a COVID breakout and were replaced by Oregon, which then beat USC.

USC, UCLA, Utah, Stanford, Arizona State, Washington and Washington State said they would opt out of any bowl invitations they might be offered. Meanwhile, teams such as 2-8 South Carolina, 3-7 Mississippi State and 3-7 Arkansas State will play in bowls.

Any way you look at it, the Pac-12, which hasn’t won a national championship since claiming a three-way tie in 2007, is downtrending. Pac-12 schools have lost 11 of their last 15 games to SEC teams; 16 of their last 19 to Big Ten teams; 21 of their last 34 to Big 12 teams; and 21 of their last 32 bowl games.

In September, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott asked the College Football Playoff selection committee to consider expanding the playoff from four to eight schools. His request was denied. Not that it mattered to the Pac-12 anyway — the league would not have benefitted even if the CFP had quadrupled the field.

The Pac-12’s decline is difficult to understand. Four of the schools are based in California, one of the top recruiting grounds in the country. Stanford, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Cal and Stanford are among the most prestigious schools in the West.

Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon wrote of the league, “(Pac-12) programs rarely win marquee games. Its own network isn’t readily available around the country, and that’s pummeling the bottom line. Its referees and reviews are perceived as flawed. And championships? Forget about those. The Pac-12 is a mess, and few things are changing for the better.”

He wrote that almost two years ago — in January 2019 — and things haven’t improved.

The Pac-12 is almost irrelevant, and there are some contributing factors to its decline that can’t be changed. A big part of the country doesn’t see Pac-12 games — a 7:30 p.m. kickoff time in California is 10:30 on the East Coast. Which is why, as noted by Kenyon, the Pac-12 Network isn’t carried by YouTube TV, DirectTV or U-verse, unlike the networks at the other P5 leagues. That’s a big loss of revenue.

Last fall, Jon Wilner, the fine reporter for the Mercury News, reported that from 2013-18 the Pac-12 had by far the biggest drop in attendance among the P5 conferences. All of college football experienced an attendance decline during those years, but the Pac-12’s decline was almost twice that of any other conference, at 13.3%. That’s another revenue hit.

Combine that with a poor performance on the field and it’s evident that the Pac-12 faces serious challenges. A drop in revenues and TV exposure means a drop in recruiting and that means a drop in performance on the field and that means a drop in attendance and the vicious cycle continues with a drop in revenues.

Meanwhile, the league pays $5.3 million in salary to Scott and $6.9 million to rent its pretentious San Francisco headquarters (now emptied by coronavirus) — by far, the costliest of all conferences on both accounts.

The future doesn’t look promising for the Pac-12.