Pac-12 could not survive spectacular failure of leadership

Aug 4, 2023, 6:12 PM


A Pac-12 Conference logo is shown on the court before the Pac-12 Conference women's basketball tournament championship game at Michelob ULTRA Arena on March 05, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Pac-12 died on Friday. Granddaddy was 108. Strangely, the cause was not rot or old age. The coroner’s report cites a spectacular failure of leadership.

Larry Scott deserves much of the blame. So does his replacement, George Kliavkoff, who had one job and instead produced exactly the kind of subscription-based TV deal that doomed his predecessor. You’d laugh at the irony if it didn’t hurt so much.

Blame also falls on the shoulders of Arizona State president Michael Crow, who remained loyal to a fault to both Scott and the idea that the Pac-12 was too brilliant and too innovative to fail.

Crow is a visionary who has done great things improving ASU’s academics and expanding its footprint. That is inarguable. Once mocked nationally for its party school image, ASU is a decorated university full of brilliant graduates.

But he was very susceptible to a commissioner like Scott, who liked really expensive things, who peddled in the currency of big ideas, whose Pac-12 Network would offer seven channels and would feature all the wonderful Olympic sports in the conference.

A former college wrestler, that was exactly what Crow wanted to hear and exactly what he wanted for his 26 programs and 650 athletes: equal exposure for all. That was a pipedream.

I admire Crow for trying to keep the conference together. The late push for solidarity forced Oregon and Washington to effectively kill the conference, something the Arizona schools won’t have on their conscience or their Wikipedia pages. Crow can say he tried to the bitter end.

This is a terrible turn of events for college football. The chaos of conference realignment showcases the pathos of greed, ripping out threads of a majestic tapestry. Television money may yet kill a sport that was once the alternative to the business side of football.

The death of the Pac-12 hits hard. The conference will compete for another year, but it will do so as the walking dead. Every road trip will be filled with sadness and nostalgia. The Pac-12 was different and quirky, with terrific traditions and in-state rivalries. The Pac-12 was as colorful as the Grateful Dead T-shirts worn by Bill Walton, churning out Olympic champions, athletic legends and an American hero named Pat Tillman.

But when the emotions subside, the Big 12 will be a refreshing change. When Iowa State comes to Tempe for a basketball game, attendance will swell. Same with BYU. The Sun Devils are joining a conference that travels well and that should thrill Tempe hoteliers and restaurant owners.

The Pac-12 experience was also getting stale. The apathy that infested Sun Devil Stadium occurred because people were no longer interested in watching their football team play Oregon State or Washington or Stanford or Cal. With USC and UCLA heading off to greener pastures, the vibe wasn’t getting better anytime soon.

The move also means the end of Pac-12 officials, the only group more incompetent than its commissioners.

But this is a time for mourning, for a conference that was effectively given its death sentence when the Los Angeles schools bailed for the Big Ten. No one saw that coming. Apparently, no one ever sees anything coming in the Pac-12 offices. And now all that’s left is a tombstone in the collegiate graveyard:

Here lies the Conference of Champions. Killed by pride, hubris and delusion.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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