Monday, February 24, 2014

Pac-12 Must Shed Its Losing Ways in CFP

The big loser in the BCS era, without question, is the Pac-10/12 Conference, on and off the field.

And it began with so much promise, too, with UCLA one win away from playing in the inaugural BCS championship game in 1998. The middle part of the 16-year BCS run was dominated by USC, which nearly pulled off a three-peat. Oregon and Stanford were perennial BCS bowl participants in the waning years, after NCAA sanctions ended the Trojans' reign.

Off the field, the conference also made a series of moves to bolster its profile after Larry Scott took over as commissioner in 2009. It made a bid to become a super conference, spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. It created the first wholly owned TV network by a conference. And its schools doubled their revenue from the first half of the BCS era, with each program collecting over $20 million annually.

But there's one problem—Scott and his conference came up short in just about everything they set out to do:

*The Pac-10 was on the forefront of the expansion craze. But instead of landing the likes of Texas and Oklahoma to become Pac-16, it had to settle for Colorado and Utah for just Pac-12.

*The Pac-12 Network was supposed to improve the conference's visibility from coast to coast, in addition to being a new revenue stream. But because of Scott's inability to cut a deal with DirecTV, it's missing out on over 20 million subscribers. Many of them reside in the Pac-12 footprint, including DirecTV's home and largest customer base in southern California.

*While the Pac-12 has greatly padded its bottom line, it still falls short of what the Big Ten and SEC make. In fact, with the launching of the SEC Network and the Big Ten due for a new TV deal, that gap is only going to widen in the coming years.

On the field, the Pac-10/12 also was probably the biggest victim of the capricious BCS format. In 2003, USC was denied a chance to play for the BCS title despite being ranked No. 1 in both major polls. In the 16 years of the BCS, only three Pac-12 teams made it to the title game, with just a single championship—the Trojans in 2004—to show for the entire era.

Pac-10/12 teams also were routinely bypassed for lucrative BCS bowls, getting a final reminder in the BCS's last season when Oregon was snubbed by the Sugar Bowl in favor of Oklahoma. The conference, which still has one of the weakest bowl lineups, went nearly a decade (2003-09) without having a second team picked for a BCS bowl.

BCS Title Games and Bowl Games By Conference
ConferenceTitle GamesBCS Bowl GamesRecord
Big Ten3 (1-2)2813-15 (.464)
SEC10 (9-2) *2717-10 (.630)
Big 127 (2-5)2210-12 (.455)
Pac-123 (1-2)2113-8 (.619)
ACC4 (2-2)185-13 (.278)
Big East/American3 (1-2)169-7 (.563)
Mountain West043-1 (.750)
Notre Dame1 (0-1)40-4 (.000)
WAC032-1 (.667)
MAC010-1 (.000)

So what can Scott and Pac-12 do going forward with the dawn of a new era? In some ways, the College Football Playoff may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Pac-10/12's biggest on-field problem in the BCS era was opportunity, which will be partly alleviated since now four teams (instead of two) will have a chance to play for the championship and 12 teams (instead of 10) will play in lucrative CFP bowls. Pac-10/12 teams in fact have performed very well in big games when given the chance, with a winning percentage second only to the SEC (among major conferences) in BCS bowl games.

On the business end of it, increased participation in CFP games will bring in more revenue for the conference, but Scott must swallow his pride and get a deal done with DirecTV before the Pac-12 goes the way of the The Weather Channel.

With the SEC and a new Dodgers channel demanding additional subscriber fees, it's possible the Pac-12 Network will go into a third season—and perhaps for the foreseeable future—being locked out on DirecTV. That development will bode ill for the conference, as DirecTV is still the choice of most sports fans (and bars) because of its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package.

With geography already hampering its competitive edge due to late game times, the Pac-12 can ill afford to be further out of sight, out of mind. Winning on the field alone isn't going to help the conference end its losing streak.

No comments: