It’s the holiday season and with that said it is bowl time in college football. 40 bowl games are on the docket which includes deciding the undisputed national champion at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. In regards to the Power Five Conferences, the race is always on to not only get to the College Football Playoff, but to see who can put the most amount of schools into a New Year’s Six Bowl Games. The Southeastern Conference is still proving to be the premier league in conference as they became the first conference to put two schools in the College Football Playoff when the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs gave us a thriller this past January in the national championship game. With the Clemson Tigers leading way, the Atlantic Coast Conference continues to show that they can hang with the big boys on the collegiate gridiron, while the Big Ten and Big 12 Conferences continue to hold their own. But as these four conferences continue to show that they are for real by getting to the College Football Playoff, the same cannot be said about the Pac-12 Conference.
When the Washington Huskies take the field in Pasadena,California next Tuesday afternoon for the Rose Bowl, they will be carrying the banner for the Pac-12 as they are the only school from the conference to make a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. The Huskies won the Pac-12 this season after they were expected to be a contender for the College Football Playoff. But a loss to the Auburn Tigers in Washington’s season opener put them behind the eight-ball, while an in-conference loss to the Oregon Ducks sealed their fate.
The Pac-12 didn’t help themselves in non-conference as they were only 3-4 versus the other Power Five Conferences as Washington’s loss to Auburn as well as the USC Trojans losing to the Texas Longhorns hurt the conference’s visibility on the national stage.
The one Pac-12 school that had a legitimate beef for being snubbed in regards to making a New Year’s Six Bowl Game were the Washington State Cougars. The Cougars finished the regular season with a record of 10-2 which included conference wins over Oregon as well as the Utah Utes. But when Washington State lost at home in the snow 28-15 to the Huskies in the Apple Cup in a game that decided the winner of the Pac-12 North, it hurt them severely. The loss by Cougars was a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving weekend as they blew their chance to show that they were for real. And when you also factor in that Washington State is not a historical national power, the Cougars had to sit back and watch four schools from the Southeastern Conference get bids to the New Year’s Six as you have to wonder if they’ll be able to get up for their Alamo Bowl showdown with the Iowa State Cyclones of the Big 12 Conference.
The Pac-12 has always had to deal with the dreaded “West Coast bias” as most people on the East Coast of the United States don’t get to see their games, and in a recent years that blame falls into the lap of their conference commissioner Larry Scott.
Scott has been calling the shots for the Pac-12 since 2009 when he succeeded Tom Hansen as the conference’s commissioner. At first Scott was able to get off to a hot start which was headlined by the conference expanding to 12 schools when they welcomed the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes in 2011. The additions of Colorado and Utah would allow the Pac-12 to have a conference championship game which after initially being held at an on-campus site of the participant with the better record, to now being a fixture at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara,California. And as the Pac-12 sought to keep up with the Joneses of college football, they would launch their own television network in August 2012. But in doing so Scott overplayed his hand and he and his beloved conference are paying for it.
In launching the Pac-12 Network, Scott sought out to make it a premier channel. Scott was able to make a deal with Dish Netowrk, but not DirecTV which has roughly 21 million subscribers. Scott has held his stance that he wants the Pac-12 Network to be part of a premier package, while DirecTV wants to keep the network as part of their basic sports package. And the result has been many of the Pac-12’s game not being seen. Visibility wise, the Pac-12 will never be on the same level Southeastern Conference who is in the midst of a lucrative television contract with CBS which runs through 2024 as each conference institution will receive $55 million per year in revenue. The Pac-12 does have conference deals with FOX as well as ESPN, but they are consistently playing second fiddle on those networks in regards to the Big Ten and Big 12. And once you add in the fact that conference powers in the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins each had losing campaigns this season, it hurt the Pac-12’s standing as a power.
Since the College Football Playoff was established, the Pac-12 has only produced two berths in the field of four which includes them missing out in each of the last two years. After the Big Ten failed to make the playoff in each of the last two years, there is a growing sentiment in regards to talking about expanding the field from four to eight which could help the Pac-12. But expanding the field from four to eight would only mean that each conference champion from the Power Five would have a seat at the table, and if the Pac-12 has already proven that they are not good enough to hang with the other power conferences, they would be setting themselves up for more embarrassment on the national stage.
Unfortunately for Scott, the Pac-12’s problems are not limited to just football as last year marked the first time since 1985 that the conference failed to put at least one school into the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, while they were only able to send three schools to the field of 68.
Scott wanted to hit a home run with his television deal, but he’s had to settle for a “Baltimore chop” as his conference is bringing up the rear in regards to their television deal, and coming up short on the national stage versus the other power conferences is not going to help their situation.
So when Washington takes the field at the Rose Bowl next Wednesday, they will be heavy underdogs to Ohio State who is looking to show that they belonged in the College Football Playoff, along with the fact that want to send their head football coach Urban Meyer off into retirement on the right note. And if the Huskies cannot find a way to pull of the upset versus the Buckeyes, it will only add to the Pac-12’s standing as being just another conference.