The pivot is a term commonly used for the Silicon Valley tech start up changing direction in the face of poor performance and cloudy horizons. So, perhaps it is symbolic that as the PAC 12 has offices in the high end tech sector of San Francisco, that the executive leadership is now looking at making their own pivot in the wake of unsettling and disturbing events and trends.
In a manner of days, the conference has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Inappropriate conduct by replay officials that altered the outcome of important games, revelations of lavish spending by the commissioner and execute conference staff and failure of the conference to support one of its best football teams (Washington State University) in its' effort to participate in a New Year's Six Bowl Game.
These revelations have come on the heels of other lowlights such as the FBI probe that included USC and Arizona basketball, NCAA probation for Oregon, poor general performance by both football and basketball in recent years and failure of the conference to secure tv deals with Direct TV.
Thanks to UCLA, Stanford and USC, the PAC 12 "conference of champions" has a legacy. Their unmatched tradition of excellence has bought a great deal of equity for the entire conference as it pertains to national perception. However, respect for the conference brand will continue to fade unless the conference changes its direction and takes new action. In recent days, numerous pundits have suggested removing Commissioner Larry Scott. Some believe the conference needs to realign or expand again. A few fear that a couple of schools could even threaten to leave the conference itself.
There may indeed be major issues that face the conference and its future but here are a couple of smaller based actions....or "pivots" that the commissioner could do that may help in the short and perhaps long run.
- BASKETBALL AND FOOTBALL
The 200 people that are able to watch girls beach volleyball on the PAC 12 Network are treated to viewing the best players in the country. Same can be said if you get chance to watch Water Polo. It's nice to see the conference provide a forum to promote those sports so kids and families don't have to wait for the Olympics every four years.
However, big time conferences pay for their party by producing good football and to a lesser extent, basketball products. Producing and promoting the right teams & games is critical and that is where the conference can start making an impact. The conference commissioner needs to ensure the public is watching and paying attention to Pac 12 football and basketball games. Specifically, he needs to make sure that at least three of his best football games are played at the most watchable TV hours on Saturdays.
To help do that, Scott can also encourage more of his athletic directors to schedule competitive non-conference games with the Big 10, SEC and Notre Dame. By doing so, PAC 12 teams will gain access to CBS SEC games of the week, NBC's Notre Dame coverage and will have crossover with FOX as part of their college football programing.
As a result, PAC 12 teams will have the opportunity to be featured in the Noon eastern time game, 3:30Pm Eastern time slot, late afternoon/ prime time and then use what is left for Pac 12 "after dark" at 7PM on ESPN.
Getting back to the concept of which teams to feature and when. Simply stated and unless these schools are horrendous, USC, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Oregon have no business playing multiple Friday night games nor is it feasible to have them play multiple "after dark" games. Unless, one of the other teams has been shot of canon and needs to be featured, these schools need to be protected and enhanced to salvage the Pac 12 brand. This year, one team did capture everyone's attention and that was Washington State whose quarterback became a national sensation as a result of incredible performances and having ESPN "gameday" on the scene for the game against Oregon.
Now getting to basketball.
The PAC 12 should demand and help UCLA get back on its feet asap. While Arizona is an important basketball team and so is Oregon for that matter. There is only one show in town and that is UCLA.
UCLA's lack of performance has brought down the entire PAC 12 and the turnout in Pauley Pavilion is unacceptable. The PAC 12 needs UCLA to host more non conference heavy weights and those games need to be presented on national television. This Saturday, Notre Dame returns to Westwood and old timers will remember a time when this rivalry game between Digger Phelps against UCLA was must see TV.
Instead of encouraging UCLA to play these games, the PAC 12 isn't even ensuring that it's two biggest heavyweight brands are playing each other bi-annually. UCLA and Arizona must play twice a year and both games should be played on Saturday afternoons or evenings on ESPN or FOX. Why that isn't happening is outrageous and devastates the rest of the conference.
DELIVER BETTER CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT PRODUCTS
Pac 12 basketball tournament games in Las Vegas are a hit. The games are watched on TV and have been well attended with festive crowds.
The Pac 12 football championship game however is a disgrace.
The games are played on a Friday afternoon in the pedestrian Levi's stadium located next to the rush hour traffic jam of cars leaving Silicon Valley. The TV ratings are dismal, attendance is catastrophic and the atmosphere is depressing.
The conference should pull the plug on this Friday Night experiment immediately.
The PAC 12 could and should look at doing any of the following:
a) Move the championship game back to Saturday afternoon and use a separate TV partner if needed.
b) Move the championship game to Las Vegas at the new Raider Stadium
c) Move the championship game to the team with the best record
Perhaps the commissioner and executive leadership believe fancy offices in San Francisco, ownership of content via the Pac 12 Network and nestling up to the tech giants will pay dividends as the conference looks to develop a broader and deeper reach in Asia and throughout the world but right now no one is watching and very few care. So, pivoting to focus on the core strengths of the conference like any good business would, could make a difference.