What, exactly, is Pac-12 football?
The Big Ten is grind-it-out power football with a Midwest tone. The Big 12 is prolific offenses with a Southwest feel. The SEC is balanced offenses, stingy defenses and passionate Southern fans.
They have distinctive personalities.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has done a tremendous job rebranding the conference with its new logo, realignment and media rights deal. The league's digital content and broadcast talent are top-notch. But it is lacking credibility in college football.
The Pac-12 is the Conference of Champions. Through the 2012 season, it has won 443 team national championships, not including college football. That is an impressive number, but what has it done in football, basketball or baseball lately?
In 2012, Stanford won the men's swimming and diving title, Cal women's swimming and diving, Arizona baseball and USC men's tennis. This year, USC won women's water polo and Colorado skiing. That should sit well with the country club set. But for those who dwell in man caves, the baseball championship is all that counts.
A Pac-12 team need to win championship in a revenue-generating sport. Only then will it gain more respect from its East Coast brethren.
Until then, Scott should focus on upgrading the league's image in key areas.
The 2012 Pac-12 football championship game wasn't pretty to watch. Held on a Friday night in Palo Alto, Calif., Stanford Stadium looked empty. A Friday night in the Bay Area is a traffic nightmare, more so when it rains. Californians are weather wimps and spoiled by beautiful weather. Sitting in the rain does not interest fans.
This year Scott changed the conference championship to the first Saturday of December. The move from Friday to Championship Saturday makes sense. If a league wants to be considered elite, it needs to play when the elite play.
But the improvement should not stop there. Unlike the SEC, Pac-12 schools are spread out over a wide area. There will always be empty seats at the conference championship's host stadium, but the league needs to be proactive.
Donate unsold tickets to disadvantaged kids, families and abuse victims living in shelters, or active and retired military personnel. And make sure they all get a Pac-12 T-shirt.
Unfortunately, the Pac-12's officiating crew has earned a less-than-stellar reputation. Ed Rush, the Pac-12's coordinator of basketball officiating, resigned in April during an investigation by the league.
The football officiating crew has also taken its lumps. Pac-12 officiating affected Las Vegas payouts in a 2011 game between USC and Utah. A touchdown was added to the final score two hours after the game ended. Imagine the chaos that caused in Las Vegas.
In 2011, Mike Pereira was hired as the interim coordinator of football officiating. The league dismissed 11 officials and hired 16. Pereira was surprised at the poor officiating and told CBS Sports, “I’m not saying it was horrible, but it was not at the level that it deserved to be and that this conference deserves to have.”
Tony Corrente is now in charge, but the officiating is still suspect. The crew officiated Stanford vs Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. last year and blew a call that could have affected the game's outcome.
As the final seconds of the first overtime period ticked off, Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor appeared to have scored a touchdown. The ensuing PAT would have tied the score and sent the game into a second overtime. Pac-12 officials ruled Taylor down before the goal line despite his legs still moving.
From FOXSports' officiating analyst Pereira:
I've looked at the play from every angle, and I think the call should have been reversed to a touchdown. Forward progress was not ruled, and there was not a whistle that was blown before Taylor was ruled down. The ball broke the plane before it came loose, which makes that aspect of it irrelevant.
Pereira pointed out another incorrect call. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Pereira also said a personal foul called on Stanford's Usua Amanam for an alleged helmet-to-helmet hit on quarterback Everett Golson was incorrect. Golson was forced to the sideline with blurred vision, but the 15-yard penalty contributed to the Irish drive that led to the tying field goal near the end of regulation time.
"Of course, I have the luxury of watching it in slow motion, but to me, this shouldn't have been called a foul," Pereira said. "Golson was being tackled and was almost to the ground when hit by Amanam with his upper arm, not his shoulder or helmet."
The officiating must improve this year.
The scheduling hurts its perception
Weeknight football games offer non-BCS conferences a captive audience to showcase their teams. MACtion evolved from this Thursday phenomena.
Last year the Pac-12 scheduled eight Thursday night games and that may have done one team more harm than good.
Four of Oregon's first six games were night games, including three consecutive 7:30 p.m. PT kickoffs. That caused Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens to issue an apology to Duck fans. This wasn't the league's fault. ESPN had the contractual right to sell its time slots.
This year the Ducks will see better time slots, according to the GoDucks.com. But kickoff times are always subject to change.
Scott needs to flex more muscle if teams such as Oregon, Stanford and USC are getting passed over for prime broadcast time slots. His words may fall on deaf ears, but he needs to get it on record.
When Auburn went 14-0 to win its 2010 BCS Championship, only one team held Auburn to fewer than the 22 points Oregon's defense allowed—Mississippi State lost 17-14. Yet Oregon is continually slapped with the no-defense label.
The explanation for this may be simple.
Oregon's first two games in 2012 were against Arkansas State and Fresno State. Many fans in the Midwest and East were asleep by the kickoffs. These scores were on the respective morning tickers: Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34. Oregon 42, Fresno State 25.
The scores indicate offensive shootouts, but they were not. Oregon led Arkansas State 50-10 at the half. The reserves played in the second half. Oregon led Fresno State 35-6 at the half, but three second-half fumbles led to 13 points by the Bulldogs.
Oregon was also the only team to shut out Arizona, winning 49-0. The Wildcats had the seventh-best offense in the country last year.
All three of those games have something in common. They were televised at night, with the Oregon-Arizona kickoff time at 10:30 p.m. ET. Half of the country was in bed when that game started.
Scott can not change a passing team to a rushing team. But he certainly can bolster its image through better exposure. He needs to be more aggressive with ESPN and FOX. You won't see SEC commissioner Mike Slive signing off on Florida or Alabama playing at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The Pac-12 does have a time zone disadvantage, but Scott could compensate for that by pushing for more late afternoon games.
Scott is a great commissioner. He has done a remarkable job of putting the conference back on the map. For three straight years, the Pac-12 has sent two teams to BCS bowls. The league has the richest media rights deal in college football. He deserves to be the highest-paid college commissioner.
Scott is a forward-thinking man. While he conjures up new marketing ideas to make the Pac-12 global, he should also focus on the domestic minutia at hand.
There is some major housekeeping that needs his attention.