The Pac-12 hates you. Well, not you specifically, but really anyone who follows the Pac-12 or supports a team within the conference. The Pac-12 wants to hurt you in so many different ways.
The basketball season has already been a mess for the Pac-12 because every team that was supposed to be good is not good. Teams that should have had a chance at making the NCAA tournament are not going to make it because of inexplicable losses. The Washington Huskies, the one consistent team this year, holds the tiny amount of positive reputation Pac-12 basketball has left in their hand like a small bird.
Hope is dying across the conference. California has been dead and buried since before the season started. Arizona has also been laid to rest after these last couple of weeks. UCLA and USC are stuck in some sort of basketball purgatory where they see the potential their teams have while also having the misery of never seeing their teams reach that potential. Washington State and Colorado seemed dead but have resurrected to make a push towards being considered a middle tier basketball team. Washington fans are probably fairly happy, the way one is happy when defeating their five-year old cousins in a game of NBA 2K. The rest of the teams in the conference are trapped, living in an existence that offers them small glimmers of hope, only to have that hope gleefully crushed in their faces, then they have the fates that be offer some more hope only for it be crushed again. Welcome to the Pac-12 basketball season.
The Pac-12 conference hates us, and this is our sad reality. The conference continues to employ Larry Scott as commissioner. It decides to hire PR firms to try and cover up their problems rather than actually fix those problems. The Pac-12 Network is becoming even more of a joke among college athletics as new reports are coming out of how many homes actually receive the network and how few dollars the network is making. The Pac-12 reaches 17.9 million homes, which is 42.1 million homes less than REELZCHANNEL, whatever the heck that is. The network has only made each school in the conference $1.6 million per year, which is $5.3 million less than the conference is paying for office space for the network each year. It’s also $3.2 million less than Larry Scott makes each year. Great.
If there was one thing that could cure all the bad press that the Pac-12 has been taking, basically since its inception, but especially in the last year, it would be winning. Winning cures all. People like winners. The quickest fix to the Pac-12 image problem would be to have exceptional teams coming from the two sports that receive mass attention, basketball and football. It’s been discussed at length the Pac-12’s inability to get teams into the College Football Playoff. So that one is not going so great.
In basketball, it has also been discussed at great length how little success the conference has had in basketball. In fact, the Pac-12 is still on track for the worst showing of any major conference in NCAA tournament history. This is surprising, not only because the Pac-12 probably set the bar for that last year by going 0-3 in tournament games, but also because there is a very real chance there will only be one Pac-12 team in the tournament. Washington is the only team who would receive an at-large bid at the moment, Arizona State is a fringe team, and everyone else is currently on the outside barring a Pac-12 tournament title.
This is the life the Pac-12 is living, and there’s no immediate way out of it. But hey, at least there’s a PR firm now which can explain why this is actually a good thing.
Football season doesn’t start for over six months, so what are some ways we could try to enjoy what has been a weird and disappointing basketball season? With the Pac-12 lacking any matchups between ranked teams on the schedule, and lacking ranked teams in general, there won’t be any games that get national attention. Washington has a three-game lead in the Pac-12 standings with six games left, so they’ve basically got the regular season title locked up. Most teams are playing for second through fourth in the conference standings, for pride, or because they’re forced to go out on the court the nights they have games scheduled (hi Arizona and Cal). That leaves one thing that hopefully we can all truly find joy in together, and that’s embracing the craziness of the Pac-12 season and at least getting to enjoy some fun basketball games where we have no idea what’s going to happen.
That’s been the philosophy behind the #Pac12AfterDark phenomena during the college football season. Fans across the country who love football enjoy the late-night games between Pac-12 schools where chaos always seems to break out and everyone embraces that nonsense together. Unfortunately, that’s been a lot harder to implement in basketball. First, because the Pac-12 hates us all, teams are forced to play nightmarish games scheduled to tip-off at 9 PM on a Wednesday night. Not 9 P.M. on the east coast, 9 P.M. for the school competing in the game. For example, Utah’s game this coming Wednesday against Washington which tips-off at 9 P.M. Salt Lake City time. Only the most die-hard college basketball fans, some people who live on the west coast or people who bet their entire lives on this game are going to stay up that late to watch a game like that. That time slot is a major test for regular people with things like jobs and families and whatever else people whose jobs don’t revolve around sports choose to do with their free time.
All of this stacks the odds against people watching Pac-12 basketball for any other reason than they love the sport, they love their school, or they love seeing rival schools fail (there’s been that in abundance this year). So, at the very least, the Pac-12 could let us watch really fun basketball and ignore all the outside problems, right? Wrong. Because the Pac-12 hates us.
Let’s turn back the clock to Saturday night for a game scheduled to tip-off at 8 P.M. local time between the visiting Arizona State Sun Devils and the Utah Utes. Both teams have strong offenses, some really fun/talented players, and are currently two of the four best teams in the conference. Sounds like it has the chance to be an enjoyable game. Of course, this means that the Pac-12 is going to turn it into a game of misery for all sides involved. That’s because Pac-12 officiating took over this game.
There were 47 fouls called during this game. That’s more than a foul per minute of game play. It was utterly ridiculous on both ends of the floor. ASU got called for 26 and Utah was called for 21. As fun as it was to heckle Bobby Hurley for the student section, both coaches had good reason to have beef with the way the game was officiated. It was the ultimate Pac-12 refs night. Pac-12 officials are mocked across all of college football for general terribleness, and it is seeping into basketball as well.
There were 33 fouls called in the second half alone, making the game last what felt like a lifetime. Utah was in the bonus with 16 minutes left in the second half and in the double bonus with over 13 minutes still left in the half. Ultimately, the Utes shot 30 free throws in the second half alone. ASU faired about the same, they were in the bonus with 14 minutes left in the second half. This left fans to be treated to a trip down the court, a foul being called, and then watching two free throws only to have the motion repeated 30 seconds later on the other end of the court. The teams combined to shoot a mind-numbing 60 free throws, because the Pac-12 refs couldn’t help but call a foul every time a player started breathing an opposing player’s air.
While Larry Krystkowiak was in a perpetual state of doing this angry hop that he does whenever he’s mad at the refs, and Bobby Hurley was about to turn into Bobby Hurl-a-Chair, the fans were also getting incredibly upset at the product that they were being forced to watch. Chants from the crowd can be indicative of how the fans feel, and there were two in the Huntsman Center that stuck out more than any other.
The first broke out with about ten minutes left in the second half: “Refs you suck!”
Now this one isn’t clever or original by any means, it’s a favorite of student sections across the country and breaks out from the MUSS during almost every Pac-12 game. The fascinating part of this chant was that the entire arena started chanting it. The student section was yelling it, the ASU fans next to the student section were also yelling it at the same time, and most of the rest of the fans in the arena were chanting it as well. I’ve never witnessed that happen at the Huntsman Center, and it felt meaningful that nearly everyone in the arena was fed up with the garbage that was forced upon them and willing to scream it out-loud. A lot of the anger was directed at the officials, for justifiable reasons, but a lot of the anger was directed at the conference responsible for the refs and the many other problems this year. This becomes more apparent based on the second chant, which broke out three minutes later on another horrendous foul call.
Although not to the same level as the “Refs you suck!” chant, this one also received support from a sizeable portion of the arena. This chant also originated in the student section, picked up steam, and again received a boost from the rival ASU fans in attendance. This is the level of animosity the Pac-12 is facing. An entire student section is ready to start chanting to fire the conference commissioner while giving each other knowing looks and high-fiving as it happens. Then you have the “regular fan” who is generally more respectful, knowledgeable, and less loud at basketball games joining in on these jeers.
The Pac-12 fans are revolting, they’re fed up with how everything is going wrong with the conference and nothing is going right. The worst part won’t be fans screaming for Larry Scott to lose his job, that doesn’t hurt the schools themselves and Scott probably doesn’t care that much because he probably makes more in a year than the combined student debt in the student section. The worst-case scenario is when fan interest wanes, fans stop showing up to games, more fans cut ties with Pac-12 Network, and more people stop watching the games on television.
Anyone who loves a school that’s a member of the Pac-12 doesn’t want that to happen. It’s bad for everybody when a school struggles athletically, and having it become a conference-wide problem is only making it worse. The best case is scenario is having a great product on the court/field and receiving great fan support as well. Right now, the Pac-12 is not doing that. They’re putting out below average product on the field/court and those in charge are making well below average decisions about how to fix problems. Meanwhile, they still expect great fan support through it all. It’s not going to happen and it’s not fair to the fans.
At some point, those in charge, specifically the school presidents and those who preside over the Pac-12 are going to have to make a change. With so many problems at hand, it’s hard to pick a good place to start making changes. If at any time they need some help on where to start fixing the Pac-12, 12,000 fans at the Huntsman Center have a suggestion.