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Dan Bickley

College football, Pac-12 in need of a complete overhaul

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

College football is rigged. Audiences are fatigued. Endings are utterly predictable.

After crowning a new champion on Monday, this sport could use a shower and a complete overhaul.

Look around. Three programs are lords of the ring. Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson have combined for 16 of the 28 postseason berths awarded by the College Football Playoff in the past seven years. They are attracting an ever-growing percentage of top-tier recruits in America, further tilting the playing field at the top.

Alabama is making the SEC look easy. Ohio State is miles better than Michigan. Clemson does laps around the rest of the ACC. This trio effectively leaves one playoff berth for the rest of the country, to be fought over by the nearly elite (Oklahoma, Notre Dame) and random SEC schools that catch lightning in a bottle.

So how does an ambitious West coast program crack the cabal running this sport?

The question will dog Arizona State’s nascent program in the coming months, a program entering a pivotal year under Herm Edwards. It may eventually confront the new regime in Tucson, a coaching staff that has Arizona alumni strangely excited. And it haunts the Pac-12, a conference that hasn’t had a playoff berth since 2016, a conference that has rarely been lower on the food chain.

To wit:

In 2021, five Heisman Trophy candidates will hail from the state of Arizona. Three of them passed on the Pac-12. All of them left our state for greener pastures.

California schools are now losing their homegrown recruits to the SEC and Clemson. Najee Harris started in San Francisco’s East Bay and ended up in Tuscaloosa. This stuff was unthinkable in the past, mostly because Southern schools were such a culture shock to West coast athletes.

But now, the year-round passion, on-field dominance and extravagant facilities of SEC schools are proving irresistible to West coast athletes, draining the Pac-12’s pool of impact players. Meanwhile, Clemson has snagged four key players from California in the past three years, including five-star quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei.

Red flags are everywhere, starting with money. The SEC just signed a $3 billion deal with Disney/ESPN/ABC, reaping in more money and more marquee time slots. Football-mad universities pour ludicrous sums of money back into the football programs, where nine of 10 assistant coaches at Clemson earned more than $500,000 this past season; where the new facilities at Auburn will feature recording studios and a flight simulator.

The Pac-12 will face even greater hurdles following a pathetic performance inside a pandemic, from a commissioner who bungled the timeline to a conference that couldn’t play enough games to qualify for a playoff. Those recruiting against the Pac-12 in the future will surely ask a lot of damaging questions.

For now, it’s bad enough that the Pac-12 has just two playoff appearances in seven years (Oregon, 2014; Washington, 2016), vanishing off the map of relevance.

In 2020, unbeaten Cincinnati was robbed by the system. In the future, would it surprise you to see an unbeaten Pac-12 champion get aced out of the playoffs by a one-loss SEC team that failed to win its conference? Me, neither.

That’s why the Pac-12 needs immediate reform. It needs to replace Larry Scott, installing a new commissioner with a new plan and a new vision. It needs less expenses and more money distributed to member schools. It needs its best players to stay at home. It needs reform at the top of the industry, with a central authority to oversee the sport of college football, expanding the playoffs while curbing the chaos, corruption and inherent bias.

More than anything, it needs to produce a playoff team in 2021. A year when ASU might be our best hope to crack the cabal.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier