I grew up on Pac-12 athletics, graduated from a Pac-12 school, and now write about the Pac-12 Conference. I am unapologetically a Pac-12 guy. I root for the teams in the conference and root for some a bit more than others, but in general I want the Conference of Champions to be what everybody is talking about. Does that always happen? Not at all. Do I see the good and bad in the conference? Absolutely. Do I pick Pac-12 teams to win their games? No doubt and I make no apologies for that. I want the best for the Pac-12 period. End of story. However, what needs to happen in this great conference to make it better? A few things.
When I was younger, the Pac-12 (Pac-10 at the time) on television was a very regional conference as were many other conferences. The Pac-12 didn’t have the television deal it has now, so exposure was fairly limited to the West. We knew that the only teams that were getting national play were USC, UCLA, and Washington, but the reason for that was they were the recognizable brands from the conference because of the winning traditions they had produced as a school in football. When the Rose Bowl game was on, we knew that the Trojans, Bruins, or Huskies were probably going to be in the game because they were the dominant figures in the conference. Things have changed.
With the creation of the Pac-12 Network, the conference has a much more national brand to it. More people can see their teams play in football than having to wait to see if their team makes a national broadcast, the games are streamed on-line, or they can keep up with the scores on a minute by minute update on different phone or computer apps. Getting the game highlights, information, or scores is just not an issue anymore. If it is, then you might just be living in a cave. However, not all of us can enjoy the Conference of Champions anytime we want and it is immensely frustrating.
If you subscribe to DIRECTV you know what I am talking about. I am one of those unfortunate people that does not get the Pac-12 Network because of the ongoing dispute between the Pac-12 and the satellite provider.
There was a glimmer of hope that something might be changed with the DIRECTV being bought by AT&T because of AT&T’s connection with the conference, but, alas, no such luck. Here is what sticks in my craw.
For a conference to be so concerned with increasing their national exposure they seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to actually doing that. Not having the estimated 3-5 million more viewers with conference football games is obviously not a positive for the conference and puts them at a severe disadvantage with other Power 5 Conferences like the Big Ten or SEC. Don’t get me wrong, those are great conferences in their own right, but I don’t really care how Northwestern, Michigan State, Mississippi State, or even Alabama does on a weekly basis. I care about how Oregon, Stanford, USC, and, yes, Oregon State look on any given Saturday. Pac-12 fans with DIRECTV are in the dark and somehow, someway, this needs to be resolved.
I want to take both parties into a room, get them seated, make sure they are comfortable, and then lock the door until they reach a deal that benefits both sides, but mostly gets the football games to the fans and increases television revenue for the conference. Get it figured out Pac-12 and DIRECTV.
Even without the DIRECTV exposure, the starting times for these football games have been an issue with coaches, players and fans alike. Being a guy who attends plenty of Arizona State Sun Devil games as a media member, the start times are atrocious. In the past few years, there have been starting times of 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m., and even a 8:30 p.m. starting time thrown in there for good measure. I like college football as much as the next guy, but why so late? It doesn’t make sense at all. Don’t tell me it’s for greater exposure.
Half of the country is asleep by the time these games start and even if the people on the East Coast are awake, they are not watching Pac-12 football. Just about guarantee you that. College football is fairly regional thing with fans. Unless there is some type of personal connection with a school in a different conference than the one they root for, they won’t watch it. Not that they hate the conference, but it doesn’t interest them. People in the SEC don’t care about what is happening out West, just like West coast fans don’t really care what happens in the Big Ten, Big 12, or SEC. It’s not where their allegiance lies. Many Pac-12 coaches have complained in the past year about the number of night games they have had to play.
Last season, UCLA, had to play on Thursday night in back to back weeks. Needless to say, head coach Jim Mora was not pleased.
“This is a complete injustice to our young men.” Mora said at news conference.
Rich Rodriguez, head coach of the Arizona Wildcats was even more upfront about a late starting time for his own Wildcats when they were to play at Washington starting at 8 p.m. Pacific time.
“I just don’t understand how this happens,” quipped Rodriguez, “At some point the conference has to have the ability to step in and say, ‘Hey, give this team one afternoon road game.’”
Stanford head coach, David Shaw, even chimed in on the issue.
“Sunday is the players’ day off, and it’s tough sometimes, getting back to their dorms at 3 or 4 in the morning from a road trip.” Shaw said.
Something has to be done because this is not fair to these players. I know people will say that this is one of prices they pay for playing big time college football, but less these same people forget, they also have school to contend with. These same players have papers to write, classes to attend, study groups to go to, tests and quizzes to pass, and any other number of things a student-athlete needs to do on a daily basis. It’s not fair to the coaches as well. Family time for coaches is affected, relationships can be affected by not spending time at home, and the coaches just need their rest too.
Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, has shown some empathy towards his football coaches and players, but has offered no solutions into what can done to solve this issue.
“I’m sympathetic to his concerns, but in some instances, there are things we can do about it and in this case there’s really nothing we can do. Our athletic directors and presidents and conference office agreed to give a certain amount of flexibility to broadcast partners to pick games and have nighttime broadcast windows. In exchange, we have blockbuster TV deals that have been incredibly beneficial to our schools and student-athletes from a resource and exposure perspective, and the trade-off is worth it.” Scott said during the football season.
In other words, deal with it coaches, players, and fans. The money is too good to turn down, so we will let the television networks dictate when we play our games. That is essentially what Larry Scott has told the Pac-12 and it’s fans.
When looked at on the whole, the Pac-12 is a great conference. Is it the greatest conference in the country right now in football? Probably not, but it is certainly towards the top. Most observers put it right behind the SEC in terms of football. Objectively, I would tend to agree with that assessment. The SEC has the hardware to show its number one in football. The Pac-12 is getting there with talent at the coaching level and at the player level, but now it’s a matter of putting it together to where the conference gets into the playoff system and wins the title a few times. People respect winning and it doesn’t matter if those people are fans or in the media. The Pac-12 hasn’t won anything in football since the glory run of USC in the mid-2000’s. The media does notice these things and will tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the conferences or teams that have won something of consequence multiple times in the past. The Pac-12 simply hasn’t done that.
The Pac-12 does battle some bias in the media at some level. People who think otherwise are just kidding themselves, but some of the issue is that the East Coast media have gone to bed by the time we get our football games rolling out here in the West. What people in the East tend to see are SportsCenter highlights and not the whole game filled with its own nuances. However, this is something that will always be there for West Coast teams simply because they are in the West. Can’t fault people for where they live, but the media back East have to take it upon themselves to watch games or at the very least tape some games to watch when they are awake, so that they can give an honest assessment of the teams out in the Pac-12.
At the end of the day, what can the Pac-12 improve upon? The issue with DIRECTV would be a good place to start for many people and then taking back a little control from the television networks with late starting times would be where I headed next. I know money rules all in college athletics, but it would be nice if the coaches, players, and the fans were taken into consideration at some point in this whole process of growing the college football game in the Pac-12.
E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.