COLUMN: Pandemic football won’t fix the conference

We were supposed to play Stanford today? Add that to the list of "woulda, shoulda, coulda's."

Another effort crumbles, the cancellations stack up, the trend continues. They’re a “first-out, last-in” kind of group. Or as it’s more colloquially known – a coach’s nightmare.

Remember when the Pac-12 Conference cancelled fall sports before any other Power-5 counterpart? It wasn’t safe to play football, they said.

Until it was.

The Conference’s CEO group voted to bring back fall sports earlier this November – but actually just football. Call it anything but a money grab, and you’d have a very casual relationship with the truth.

“That’s our reality,” Washington State Women’s Soccer Defender Kelis Barton said. “Football will always get priority. That’s where the revenue comes from.”

So tell me, how is it safe for 100 men to crash into each other for four hours a week while it’s unsafe for a couple dozen women to play soccer? Where is the logic there?

“I don’t know why the Pac-12 did it,” Washington State Head Soccer Coach Todd Shulenberger said. He later went on to say how excited he was to compete in the spring with no loss of eligibility.

But put the half-full glass aside and you’ll see that’s just coach talk for, “it makes no sense to me.” Which I respect – it isn’t his place to publicly question these decisions.

But let’s confront reality, the conference has always been this way – ill guided and mismanaged. They released this statement to defend the CEO’s group vote on the resumption of football.

“The Pac-12 CEO Group announced today that based upon updated Pac-12 COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee recommendations that take into account material changes to testing capabilities, the prevalence of COVID-19 and cardiac issues, along with updated state and local health official guidance, the Conference will resume its football, basketball and winter sport seasons.”

Sept. 24, 2020

The conference discussed soccer, officially deferring their season to the spring. But you wouldn’t know it by the press release. Not even a mention of non-revenue sports.

And that’s the point precisely. Revenue.

We’ve seen six cancelations not even three weeks through the season. No money comes in that way. So then, the Pac-12 approves non-conference swaps where teams square off against an opponent of which they weren’t even scheduled – but only if that games is aired on an approved Pac-12 broadcast partner.

Allow my friend Pink Floyd to explain.

No complaints, however, from Commissioner Larry Scott’s 5.3 million-dollar annual salary. And someone help me understand how the Pac-12 Network President Mark Shuken reels in 840-thousand dollars annually while the conference – in the same breath – lays off and furloughs 94 hard-working employees late August.

Perhaps because they estimated the conference TV deal would payout 5-7 million per school when in reality it settled closer to less than 2 million. Or maybe it’s because conference elites enjoyed rent in downtown San Francisco – the highest cost of living in the United States – for the past decade on the dime of its members.

Even more telling, the Conference of Champions can’t live up to its self-awarded moniker. Fading away to irrelevance, the Pac-12 has missed the College Football Playoff more than any other major conference since the BCS was abolished in 2014.

It gets even worse when you consider the same conference last won a national championship in 2004 – seemingly centuries ago that Pete Carroll coached the USC Trojans – when I was literally in preschool.

For reference, I graduate from WSU in a few months.

And so in response, the Pac-12 had to piggyback on the trend. Following the Big Ten back into football season to avoid being an odd man out. To avoid being the misfit of another football season. A valiant try.

But even more likely, it was probably to avoid another bill they couldn’t pay. And to break another word they knew they couldn’t keep. After all, what’s one more?

(Top Photo: Courtesy WSU Athletics)

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