Pac-12 Showing No Signs of Ending Reign as CFB's Worst Power 5 Conference

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2019

ADVANCE FOR SATURDAY, OCT. 1 - In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo,  a PAC-12 logo is seen painted on the field before an NCAA college football game between Washington State and Oregon in Eugene, Ore. Larry Scott helped transform and modernize the Pac-12 when he took over as commissioner, helped the conference land a $3 billion TV deal and create its own network. Eight years later, the conference is reaping financial rewards and he believes it is well-positioned to adapt to the changing landscape of both college sports and media rights. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang, File)
Ryan Kang/Associated Press

At least one power conference will be left out of the College Football Playoff every year. But when the same league is seemingly the most likely candidate each season, there's a big problem.

Unfortunately for the Pac-12, that's only the beginning.

Its programs rarely win marquee games. Its own network isn't readily available around the country, and that's pummeling the bottom line. Its referees and reviews are perceived as flawed. And championships? Forget about those.

The Pac-12 is a mess, and few things are changing for the better.

This season, per the Colley Matrix, the Pac-12 posted the lowest nonconference winning percentage of the Power Five conferences. Against other Power Five teams, only the ACC finished with a lower clip.

But the ACC has a dynasty, one with four straight CFP appearances. Clemson has put the ACC on the national stage every year since the 2015 campaign and sent Florida State to the tournament during the prior season.

No conference has missed the College Football Playoff more than the Pac-12. Oregon fell in the 2014 season's national championship, and Washington bowed out in the semifinals two years later.

Worse yet, the Pac-12 has rarely offered a case as the "snubbed" league when it missed the target. During the final CFP ranking of the 2015, 2017 and 2018 campaigns, the top school ranked sixth, eighth and ninth. Being the first team out is frustrating; not joining the conversation should be unacceptable.

In the immediate future, can anyone other than Washington change it? USC is rebuilding, and Oregon is promising but no sure thing. Stanford and Washington State are reliably decent but seldom elite. UCLA isn't that close, either.

Justin Herbert hopes to make Oregon a national threat as a senior in 2019.
Justin Herbert hopes to make Oregon a national threat as a senior in 2019.Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

Partly because of that perception, the Pac-12 isn't appointment viewing. True, the league is also at a geographic disadvantage. Eastern Time zoners may need a special reason to stay up late.

In 2017, though, one of the season's most impactful gamesWashington at Stanfordwas supposed to kick off at 10:30 p.m. ET. It was delayed by a truck race and moved to a secondary channel while the race ended.

Access is a glaring issue for the conference.

The Pac-12 Network isn't available on DirecTV, YouTube TV or U-versethe last of which recently dropped the channel. The lost revenue is enormous. Neither the Big Ten Network nor SEC Network has lost a major carrier, and both are prominently featured on cable, satellite and streaming. The ACC Network will arrive in 2019.

Even the conference's supporters aren't flocking to watch. There's a distinct lack of fan interest for the title game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

The Pac-12 hasn't cracked 60,000 in attendance during the CFP era. Of the 17 other P5 championship matchups in that time, only the 2016 ACC title fell below the mark. The other leagues are averaging at least 64,898 since 2014; the Pac-12 is shy of 47,000.

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

Six minutes until kickoff. A Rose Bowl berth on the line. https://t.co/kE4Ps6itcm

One possible tweak is moving the game to conference sites to help attendance, but there's still an overall "who's watching?" problem. According to Sports Media Watch, this year's Pac-12 title clash drew the fewest total viewers despite its Friday time slot and absence of a competing P5 championship game.

Again, fewer eyeballs means less revenue.

"The Pac-12 schools have got to be competitive with the ACC, the SEC and the Big Ten and Big 12, and we're falling behind," Washington State President Kirk Schulz said, per Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com.

Once the ACC Network is live, the Pac-12 is expected to distribute the least cash to its member schools of all P5 leagues. That means, relative to other P5 conferences, there is less money to improve the programs. Which is needed to compete for national titles, which attracts attention, which brings revenue.

The Pac-12 knows this is a problem, so it's trying to come up with a creative solution. John Canzano of The Oregonian reported the league is seeking $500 million from private investors for a 10 percent stake in the "Pac-12 NewCo."

Would it help? Sure. But if selling equity was such a wonderful idea, wouldn't we see thriving conferences do it too?

On the field, the Pac-12 product has a clear deficiency.

Few college football-related hashtags are more popular than #Pac12Refs, something best described as a technological eye roll. While trends on social media shouldn't be used to make a complete point, it's a representation of the negative perception.

Oregon apparently missed on 4-star cornerback Chris Steele because he thought his physical style didn't suit the officiating.

Andrew Nemec @AndrewNemec

According to @NBCSports, 5-star CB Chris Steele, a physical corner, says #Pac12refs part of reason he left. Felt they'd penalize him for physical play more than SEC. He's not wrong!

A controversial non-call sealed Washington's victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It happens. But the postgame comments from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham should be a dagger: "I don't know what I can say. Wouldn't you be upset? I'm used to it."

I'm used to it.

Somehow, this gets worse. Following USC's win over Washington State, a Yahoo report detailed an untrained observer contributing to a targeting penalty being improperly reversed. That the conference official (Pac-12 general counsel and senior vice president of business affairs Woodie Dixon) was merely part of the discussion is an issue.

According to Jon Wilner of the Mercury News, out of the Power Five conferences, only the Pac-12 allowed untrained officials to participate in the review process. That has since changed yet remains an egregious oversight.

Not long after, commissioner Larry Scott emailed to schools that writers were using the officiating issue, college basketball trial, the DirecTV situation, poor postseason results in football and men's basketball to conclude the Pac-12 is in turmoil, per Wilner.

"I do not believe any of us would agree these matters are somehow connected, nor that we are in turmoil," Scott said.

Perhaps it's merely coincidence the couch is on fire, the TV is finicky and the performance review at work is subpar.

Or, maybe a combination of unconnected issues adds up to one glaring problem. Without widespread, thorough corrections, Pac-12 football will continue being the odd league out.


Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Recruiting information from 247Sports. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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