It's One, Two, Three Sports You're Out in the Ol' Pac 12

Top-ranked UCLA baseball's loss brings closure to a lost season of hopes, dreams and perceptions

The Big Three at Yalta: Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin.

The Big Three of golf: Palmer, Nicklaus, Player.

The Big “3” of baseball: Babe Ruth.

The Big Three of Beatles: John, Paul, George (sorry Ringo).

The Big Three of organized sports: football, basketball, baseball.

We congregate here today in the ugly aftermath of top-ranked UCLA’s elimination, by Michigan, in Sunday’s super-regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Call it Jim Delany's parting shot to Larry Scott.

The pitching-rich Bruins blew the save in putting a clamp on the blood gushing from the Pac 12’s main, perceptual, artery.

“Just a tough way to finish,” UCLA Coach John Savage told the L.A. Times in a quote that could have been forwarded to Pac 12 offices for universal year-end distribution.

Super-regional baseball exits by UCLA and Stanford gave those proud programs something mutual about Omaha: neither will be attending this year’s College World Series.

The Pac 12 conference ends the 2018-19 athletic calendar at Zero-For-Three in the power-tool sports.

Football failed (again) to make the four-team playoff although it did “improve” its bowl record from 1-8 to 3-4.

Basketball failed (again) to make the Elite although it did lead collegiate sports in Sean Millers, college admission skulduggery, sentencing hearings and stadium naming-rights controversies.

Whew, though, USC escaped the wrath of complete embarrassment by not allowing United Airlines to become a title sponsor of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, considered until five minutes ago a hallowed no-fly zone commemorating the sacrifice of World War I veterans.

Deal makers ran Student Body Right around the controversy by agreeing only to hand United a bag of gaseous peanuts and naming rights to the playing surface.

Thanks, but just to let you know: many of us in the news gathering business were never going to mention “United Airlines” in reference to the Coliseum.

Any more than we were ever going to write “The Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.”

Fresno State, which opens the season at USC later this summer, has already called UnitedPlus Rewards to upgrade for one foot of additional space to use in any fourth-and-inches situation against the Trojans.

Back to Pac 12 altitude loss.

UCLA’s baseball bow-out is going to sting for at least a few weeks.

The Pac will continue to crow about leading the world in total NCAA championships while the SEC baseball sends an armed armada of four schools to Omaha.

And this, folks, is how that works: when the Pac 12 is good at baseball, it is dismissed as an empty-seat sport accomplishment worthy of two head pats.

Oregon State, the defending NCAA champions, has won three titles since 2005. UCLA won it all in 2013 and USC has more baseball titles than anybody.

The state of the Pac 12 is such, however, that NCAA baseball is only important if the SEC (2017, Florida, 2014 Vanderbilt) or ACC (2015, Virginia) wins.

The Pac 12 simply can't shake a nasty vocal-chord virus in the national narrative, for reasons that are real, if not sometimes unfair.

A few national college writers, on a retreat\reunion last week in Chicago, invited out-going Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to golf with us at gushy Glen Club.

After the round, over a beer, I sat next to Delany in the air-conditioned clubhouse restaurant.

I congratulated him for a remarkable, 30-year run as the most powerful man in college sports.

Delany leaves as a conquering hero while, conversely, Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott continues to be shouted down as an overpaid showman who uses the company card to pay for $7,000-per-night stays in Las Vegas.

It got me to thinking: why was Delany so successful?

It comes down to this: he delivered, not in revenue sport performances, so much, as in revenue-sport revenue.

Delany’s legacy is as much about the Big Ten Network as it is about the Big Ten.

This century, in the power sports, the Pac 12 and Big Ten are rather comparable—something you’d never know without looking it up.

The conferences have each produced two national titles in football, both by the same school: USC (2003, 2004) and Ohio State (2002, 2014).

The Pac 12 hasn’t won a basketball title since 1997 (Arizona), true, but the Big Ten hasn’t won a title since Michigan State (2000).

The Pac 12, however, has claimed five NCAA baseball titles this century; the Big Ten hasn’t won in baseball since 1966 (Ohio State). Conquering Michigan is making its first CWS trip since 1984.

The Pac 12, with 526 total NCAA titles, is crushing the national Bill Walton sweepstakes.

Stanford leads all schools with 123; Michigan leads the Big Ten with 36.

Here's the thing: IT…DOES…NOT…MATTER.

Delany is rolling out out on a chariot--while Scott is explaining his expense reports--because Dollar Jim has financially-set the Big Ten for years to come.

Money talks (and wins) even if you can argue Pac 12 sports are stronger than Big Ten sports.

USA Today recently reported the Big Ten would be distributing $54 million this year to its 12 longest-standing members (newcomers Rutgers and Maryland get a smaller piece).

That’s winning.

The Pac 12 distribution was $29.5 million per team and came with a slew of circumstantial explanations and IOU notes for delivering $5 million less per school than the Big 12.

That’s losing.

The Big Ten is sitting on Cash Mountain while the Pac is seeking an outside equity partner for an infusion of cash.

Got an extra $750 million? That’s right, you could own 13% of the conference where Roy Riegels once ran the wrong way in the Rose Bowl.

I remember, once, thinking Krispy Kreme donuts was a good investment, failing to heed this important word: diabetes.

Delany earned $5.5 million in annual salary this year.

Scott earned $5.3 million, with a $500,000 raise in total compensation.

Ah, there’s the rub.

This isn’t only about top-seeded UCLA getting knocked out of a not-so-super regional.

This is about perception, public relations, money, messaging and getting the message out.

Delany leaves the Big Ten with plaudits despite a tenure that included several national scandals (Penn State, Urban Meyer) and the bow-tied resignation of liar\coach\charlatan Jim Tressel. Delany also made two dubious additions to the conference, Maryland and Rutgers.

Delany won the long game, though, by filling Big Ten coffers. He hired former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg to help build the Big Ten Network, the most powerful locomotive in collegiate sports.

Larry Scott was smart enough to also hire Weiberg to get Pac 12 Net started, but left out the all-important detail of getting it distributed to the masses.

Scott is selling pork-belly futures and looking, somewhere over the rainbow, toward future negotiating windows laced with lollipops and sugar plums.

Scott may, or may not, deliver. What we know today, though, is that Jim Delany already did.

And as we stand, four power conferences continue to boat race down the information super highway.

The other wants your FAX number.


Chris Dufresne
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