Hollywood, CA — Pac-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott kicked off Media Day with a few big announcements that will bring plenty of change to the conference.
First, Scott revealed on Wednesday that he plans to approach the FOX network about starting some Pac-12 games at 9 a.m. local time or noon on the east coast. There has been a lot of criticism in the past with the argument that the conference does not get enough respect nationwide due to the lack of central and east coast fans willing to watch a game that starts at 10 p.m.
On paper, the earlier start times should bring viewership up, however, the product on the field has to improve in order to keep football fans interested. The Pac-12 went 3-4 last season in bowl play and were outscored by opponents 145-119. Only two teams from the Pac-12 – Washington and Washington State – finished in the final AP Top 25 poll last season compared to the SEC (6), Big 10 (5), Big 12 (3) and Mountain West Conference (3). In the College Football Playoff’s five-year history, only two Pac-12 teams – Oregon in 2014-15 and Washington in 2016-17 – have reached the semifinals.
The second announcement made by Scott came when he announced that the Pac-12 championship game would be moving from Santa Clara, CA to Las Vegas, NV in 2021. The San Francisco 49ers home stadium has hosted the championship game since 2014 but has struggled as far as attendance goes. In last year’s championship game that featured Washington (North) and Utah (South), an underwhelming 35,134 fans were in attendance, which is about 51% of the stadium’s capacity.
The Las Vegas Stadium will be home to the Oakland Raiders starting in 2021. Scott’s hope is for the move to bring attendance numbers up being that Las Vegas is a more accessible city than the smaller Santa Clara. He also hinted at the possibility of moving the championship game to the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, the soon to be home of the Los Angeles Rams, further down the road.
Scott’s final announcement, and probably the most important, were his plans to fix the conference’s officiating. Last year’s USC-Washington State game featured two no calls on clear targeting penalties that upset much of the conference, including Cougars head coach Mike Leach.
The head of officiating will now report directly to the commissioner rather than football administrator like they had in the past. This is important because the administrator was the one who overturned the targeting penalties last year to no-penalty. In addition, officials will be trained to be more consistent and there will be more transparency when it comes to significant calls or errors, as we see in the NFL.
“I think everyone just wants the same thing,” Leach commented. “They want it as good as we can possibly get it.” Here is one of the targeting penalties the referees missed in last year’s game that would have affected the final outcome.
Arizona State’s head coach Herm Edwards commented, “If there is a call that’s made and it’s catastrophic, that’s when there’s a problem. Because you (the media) aren’t writing about the game, you’re writing about the call.”
Edwards has experience coaching at the NFL level and spent eight years at ESPN working as an analyst. “You never want a (penalty) call to be talked about the whole week because you lose the ability to talk about the game.”
Another popular topic at media day was the lack of uniformity nationwide in regards to conference scheduling. Pac-12 teams play nine conference games while teams from the other power five conferences only play eight. Every year, six Pac-12 teams are required to play five road games which can be daunting for a playoff contender.
One of those teams last year to play five conference road games was Stanford. Head coach Brian Shaw commented, “I am a huge proponent for universally having the same scheduling practices.”
The Cardinal won four out of their five conference road games with their only loss coming against the Washington Huskies and finished with a 9-4 overall record. “If that means the SEC and those other conferences go to nine games, great. If those don’t change and we go back to eight, great. Once we started this playoff system, we need to have some form of uniformity.”
Teams like Alabama have a reputation for scheduling “cupcake” games against FCS teams later in the season. In 2019, they will play the Western Carolina Catamounts in their 11th game of the season and in 2018 they played the Mercer Bears, both FCS schools.
From the Pac-12, teams such as Utah, Oregon and Washington are heavy favorites to win the conference this year. Of the three, only Washington has five conference road games on the schedule making the road to the College Football Playoffs that more challenging.