Las Vegas, Nev—Last Friday, in a nightclub at Las Vegas Resorts World, the Pac-12 held its annual football Media Days.
For the record, I still cannot believe I just wrote that.
First off, the event was one day, not “days,” so the welcome sign’s subterfuge was already setting the tone before any coach or player had spoken. Did the other Power 5 conferences that hold media days —and actually take several days to hold them—notice?
Follow up: Did they still watch despite Coach Prime’s absence?
Then there were the optics of holding this event in a nightclub. The smallish, dark room matched the mood of the media. So there’s that, I guess.
The predictability of this event was not a surprise.
In true Pac-12 tradition, Wi-Fi connectivity was either intermittent or completely unavailable. Maybe they do not want us to report on things here, I mused. I gave up trying to connect through the Pac-12’s secured connection and just used the hotel’s unsecured network. [crossed fingers]
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff took the stage and kicked things off. Actually, it was more like a shanked punt.
The predictable speech (including the mandatory mention of Stanford winning another Director’s Cup) was given. It seemed like the only Pac-12 achievement not highlighted or celebrated was a victory by the chess club.
Splashy videos, loud, booming music and an array of graphics rendered us dazed and confused. Was that on purpose? The glitzy impact temporarily distracted media from the elephant in the room. And the crappy Wi-Fi.
On to the fun. And unintentional fireworks.
A smiling Kliavkoff told us, “I think it’s fair to say this is the most highly anticipated Pac-12 media day in recent memory.” Maybe, but not for the reasons he thinks.
Reminder: in some countries, town square beheadings draw major crowds.
When asked about potential poaching from other conferences, the Commish told us with a straight face that it was “not a concern.”
“Our schools are committed to each other and to the Pac-12. The truth is we have bigger fish to fry.”
More on that fish in a bit.
Kliavkoff also touched on some pressing matters. Like, you know, what’s up with the media rights deal? Or lack of it?
“We are not announcing a [media rights] deal on purpose today because I want the focus to be on football,” the Commish announced.
Now, to most folks, that sounds an awful lot like “we have a deal, we just don’t want to announce it because we want you to talk about football.” How else could anyone interpret that? [camera pans to Colorado’s athletic director]
The media, of course, pounced. One reporter—OK, really all of us—wanted clarity on the Commish’s statement and asked/stated/challenged him.
“That would imply that the deal is done and codified and you’re just waiting until after today.”
Kliavkoff answered, “I think you’re reading too much into that.”
Reading too much into it? Nah, that’s not it.
Announcing you aren’t announcing something that hasn’t been announced because today is not the day to announce it even though today was actually the perfect day to announce it is, well… breathtakingly deceptive.
It gets better.
OK… I lied.
“The longer we wait for the deal, the better our options get,” Kliavkoff explained.
“I think our board realizes that.”
The conference is losing the No. 2 media market in the country (Los Angeles) next year with USC and UCLA off to the Big Ten and Kliavkoff thinks he has better negotiating power? With whom? Home Shopping Network?
Kliavkoff also revealed his insight into the future. In case we had any doubts about the Pac-12, err, Pac-10’s future.
“I think the realignment that’s going on in college athletics will come to an end for this cycle.”
That was proclaimed six days ago.
Today, according to multiple news outlets, Colorado will be returning to the Big XII, the conference it ditched in 2010. The Big XII issued a statement today regarding Colorado. It was just two words. “They’re back.”
You have to admire the Big XII, a conference once looking dead, now stomping all over the Pac-12, err, Pac-10, err, Pac-9’s heart.
ESPN actually has a conference realignment tracker to keep up with all the rumors and facts, thereby smacking the Pac-12 Commish’s Pollyanna prognostication into oblivion.
This is peak Pac-12.
Since the conference currently has no (err, announced) media rights deal in place, this is going to cause a chain reaction. A four-corner state dominoes effect, if you will. Better description: a 90-car pileup on the I-95.
The Arizona schools will probably leave (flee) for the Big XII and Utah will likely follow. BYU and Utah in the same conference makes sense.
So what about everyone else? AKA the collateral damage.
Oregon does not look like a good fit for the Big Ten but does for the Big XII. Why?
Big Ten football is more traditional, more un-Oregon like. It is everything Oregon is not. The Ducks’ baseball, basketball and track and field programs are top notch. Having Uncle Phil as a supporter is a nice asset too. But probably not enough for Flyover Country. Ultra-liberal values, lots of trick plays and silly-looking stuff just do not mesh well with Midwest football’s blue-bloods. (Do not come at me, people. Half my family is from the Midwest.)
Washington and Stanford would fit in well in the Big Ten, especially with the high academic standards and—that’s right—the Director’s Cup monopoly. These schools take tailgating seriously.
Cardinal fans whip out the white linen tablecloths and chandeliers—if only they would remember to enter the stadium to watch the game—while Husky fans “sterngate” on their boats grilling salmon and sipping on Chardonnay. Also, Stanford v Northwestern has a nice, mega-educated ring to it, doesn’t it?
Washington State, Oregon State and Cal may have a come-to-Jesus moment in their futures. Could they be relegated to a Group of 5 conference?
While many Cal students probably would not even notice—the Bears notched a paltry 61 percent stadium capacity last year—the Cougar and Beaver fans deserve a Power 5 conference invite. Their fans are incredible. Their programs are improving.
Nobody wants to play Oregon State this year. Reser Stadium’s attendance is ranked No. 3 among all Power 5 teams. Cal is ranked No. 97, but to be fair to Cal, UCLA is the worst in the conference at No. 122.
So there you have it.
A conference in despair, despite having bigger fish to fry. Maybe it does. With a grunion.
Many (most) pundits will point fingers at former Commish Larry Scott—I’ll take the hit for the team and be the first in line with my finger pointed—but Kliavkoff never unraveled what Scott tangled. After two years on the job, he never recognized what a mess he had on his hands until Colorado’s Ralphie dropped a deuce on the Conference of Champions this week.
ESPN is reportedly only interested in airing a few Pac-12 games this season. Amazon and Apple are potential streaming sites while ION and CW, according to the report, are mentioned as possible network suitors.
Rest in peace, Pac-9.