A few months ago I was embarrassed by my alma mater, USC. Not just because they got hosed by Oregon, but because ESPN’s College Football GameDay was finally in Los Angeles and there was hardly anyone at their Coliseum pre-game show.
Hey, I know it was early in the morning, but still. If GameDay showed up in Tuscaloosa in the middle of the night it would be jam-packed.
The following week, the Pac-10 was embarrassed again, this time in Palo Alto. The Stanford-Arizona game was on ABC in prime time, which hardly ever happens on the East Coast. What’s the first shot I see of the stadium? Empty seats.
Then for two weeks in a row—during the apex of the college football season—there wasn’t a single Pac-10 football game on any of the networks or ESPN outside of the West Coast.
The SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 don’t have this problem and the Pac-10 shouldn’t either.
There’s a reason “East Coast bias” exists, and it’s not just because journalists are too lazy to stay up late to watch the games. It’s because the games lack buzz, intensity and emotion in their communities.
Yeah, I know there’s more to do in Los Angeles or San Francisco than there is in Knoxville, but it’s no excuse. There are also a lot more people in LA or San Fran, and it shouldn’t be tough to round up a few thousand eager fans once a week.
Larry Scott, the new Pac-10 Commissioner, deserves a hardy round of applause for his efforts to remake the conference’s image. He’s expanded the conference, added a conference championship game in football, hired public relations giant Creative Artists Agency, instituted an East Coast media day and announced the reform of football officiating, among other important steps.
Here are five more reforms the Pac 10 should adopt (some of which are under consideration) :
1. Energize the fan base
With the exception of the Oregon schools, Pac-10 football games are a snooze-fest. If I’m a star recruit, there is very little question that I’d much rather go to an SEC school where people give a damn about what I’m doing. The Pac-10 is already three hours behind the dreaded East Coast bias.
If their games continue to be played at a whisper, they won’t be on television, which wants it loud and crazy. Otherwise, they’ll take their cameras (and Toby Gerhardt’s Heisman) elsewhere. If the Pac-10 wants to be taken seriously as a conference, as it deserves, they have to put butts and loud mouths in the seats. And show up for GameDay.
If the stadiums aren’t full, then the tickets are too expensive. Attract fans to games with promotions where everyone gets something either for free or at a deep discount. Draw on the awesome entertainment talent out west for unrivaled pre-game and halftime shows. Have a competition among schools for highest attendance (as a percentage since stadiums are different capacities), where the winner gets a free on-campus concert by a major recording artist (or whatever the brilliant minds at CAA can think of). Re-define the college football experience for the fans and players.
2. Create the Pac-10 network
I know this is in the works but it’s currently an “if” not a “when.” Two of their flagship schools are in the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles, and one of them, USC, has the best film school in the nation. Use these local resources to create a network that blows the Big Ten network out of the water and, in the long-term, challenges ESPN. The Pac-10 is a great athletic conference and has won more national championships than any other. Time to let everyone in on the secret.
3. Fund full athletic scholarships
A recent study found that the average “full” athletic scholarship falls $3,000 short of actual need. The Pac-10 should be smarter than the NCAA legal eagles and find a way to match scholarships to the actual cost of attendance in all sports. It’ll be another example of how the conference is cutting edge and the best athletes will want to play there.
4. Increase national exposure. Schedule non-conference games with East Coast teams. Cut deals with major sporting goods chains to showcase Pac-10 gear. Even during USC’s heyday, it was hard to find team gear out East. Most importantly, use famous Pac-10 alumni—football and basketball players, Olympians, entertainers, actors, musicians, entrepreneurs—to market the conference and its teams.
5. Keep the Pac-10 brand. No one thinks conference realignments are over, and you can’t keep changing the name every time the number of schools changes. The Big Ten doesn’t have 10 schools, and no one is agitating to change its name. Besides, pac12.com is taken by a Tupac fan and pursuing an intellectual property claim is just silly. The Pac Ten brand is a known quantity. Spend financial and creative resources elsewhere.