Opinion: Pac-12 a conference of champions or conference of appeasement?


The Pac-12 should not replace the chaos caused by USC’s and UCLA’s plans to leave the conference with more chaos, the author writes. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu


Rick Metsger

Metsger is a former KOIN TV sports editor and served in the Oregon Senate from 1999 to 2011 representing parts of Multnomah, Hood River and Clackamas counties.

One did not have to be a seismologist to have felt the shaking along the West Coast when the news erupted that UCLA and USC were bolting the Pac-12 Conference for the Big Ten Conference. The tremors, however, have been rumbling for some time.

Just as Oklahoma and Texas did in announcing they would defect from their regional athletic conference to join the Southeastern Conference, the Los Angeles schools are chasing a more lucrative TV payout by the grandmasters of college football – ESPN and Fox Sports.

College presidents, trustees and fans are wondering what that means for them. Will the Pac-12 merge with another conference, such as the Big 12 or ACC, go hunting on its own ­– or surrender and dissolve?

What should be most prominent in these discussions is agreement that the TV football gods should not be allowed to dictate to the institutions their traditions, relationships and values. Football is only one of many sports at Division 1 schools. As such, it should not disenfranchise the hundreds of athletes competing in basketball, volleyball, swimming and other sports who will disproportionately be impacted by conference realignments that force more time away from the classroom and campus life. A college football team may have to travel long distance three or four times in a 12-game season. The women’s softball team, meanwhile, plays about 50 games in a season, and men’s basketball more than 30. The burden imposed by time and travel is significant. Where is the commitment to equity and education?

College football presidents and athletic directors are doing the driving. Where are the voices of all the student-athletes?

The Pac-12, in one iteration or another, has been around for decades. It involves more than just athletics. The conference also collaborates academically such as in the arts and sciences. Essentially signing over power of attorney to ESPN and Fox to dictate conference members future is not the answer.

As talk centers around Oregon and Washington trying to jump to the Big Ten, or the conference merging with the Big 12, there is a better approach to dealing with chaos than by creating more chaos.

The first step is to recognize, if not embrace, the reality that football is the tail wagging the dog. Time to move quickly through the seven steps from denial to acceptance. The Pac-12 does not have to graft itself onto the root stock of the Big 12 or ACC. It does not have to bulk up with new members and hope someone will want to watch Oregon battle Colorado State at 0-Dark Thirty some Saturday night.

Recognize that college football has become its own life form and implement a plan that extracts it from the rest of college athletic programs. The Pac-12 could form a football only mega-league with, say, the Big 12 or ACC and keep all other original conference programs, traditions, rivalries, and decision-making intact and distinct. No need to sacrifice tens of thousands of other student-athletes collegiate experience simply due to an inability to think creatively.

The dash for cash should not lead the Pac-12 to sacrifice the pursuit of equity for all students or surrender institutional control of its own future. Maximizing football revenue can help stabilize other non-revenue sports without disrupting traditional alliances and adding additional cost that might endanger their future viability. The conference must decide if it wants to remain the Conference of Champions ­– or the Conference of Appeasement.

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