The SEC has been the best conference in America for much of the last decade – and Florida State ruled the college football world last season – but watch out: the Pac-12 is coming.
In fact, it’s already here.
The conference boasts a plethora of great coaches, great young athletes and great quarterbacks. It’s really all you could want out of a conference in terms of anticipation heading into the season.
“It really is,” Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott said on The MoJo Show. “It’s gratifying to see the stock of the conference so high in football coming off such a strong year where we had nine bowl teams, six teams in the AP Top 25 at the end of the season (and a) winning record against the SEC, Big Ten (and) Big 12. But it’s been part of a transformation of the conference that is starting to be recognized, I think, nationally. We’ve got, as a result of the TV contracts that we’ve done, more exposure now and more revenue in the conference, which has helped us recruit and retain a real high-caliber coaching core. Between that and the exposure, the facilities that have been developed and the recruiting that’s led to – there’s a depth in the conference now, which is very exciting.”
There are six Pac-12 teams in the AP Top 25 in preseason poll: No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington.
“That hasn’t always been the case that the Pac-12 has gotten that recognition as amongst – if not the – strongest conference in the country,” Scott said.
One thing – if not the biggest thing – that makes the Pac-12 so special is the number of different styles you’ll find there. Oregon, of course, has gotten a lot of attention for their fast-paced, high-octane offense developed by Chip Kelly and carried on by Mark Helfrich. Stanford has a great ground-and-pound offense with tough running backs and giant offensive linemen under David Shaw. Jim Mora also runs more of a pro-style offense at UCLA. And then you’ve got the exiting styles of Mike Leach at Washington State and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, among others.
“You’ve got a real variety of styles, but there’s no denying you’ve got some of the most creative offensive minds in the country out here in the conference,” Scott said. “It’s very exciting to see. There’s a lot of diversity in terms of style of play, but the conference is known for the talent and the offensive-mindedness. There’s no question about that.”
Having a few Heisman candidates in Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley doesn’t hurt, either.
“(They’re) going to be in the Heisman contender dialogue a lot of the season,” Scott said.
Scott then addressed some hot-button topics, including compensation of players.
“Well, we are absolutely and squarely supportive of doing more for student-athletes and giving them more support – financial and otherwise – within the bounds of the rules and what we can do,” Scott said. “It’s hard to know where this is all going to settle because there’s lawsuits. There’s the Ed O’Bannon ruling, which recently came down, and there’s several more lawsuits pending that haven’t been processed yet. I think it’ll be several years until we know what the end result is.”
“What I hope,” Scott continued, “is that we don’t wind up in a situation where some of these lawsuits are successful and they effectively professionalize college sports and have collective bargaining and negotiations and they’re paying salaries to a small handful of student-athletes – because I’m certain that would lead to more resources being focused on many fewer student-athletes in sports, and many sports would get cut and a lot of access would be taken from male and female student athletes in all the other sports.”
In the Pac-12, for example, there are 7,000 student-athletes competing in 35 sports.
“(There’s) a lot of money given out to many different kids, supporting their education through scholarship and otherwise,” Scott said. “That doesn’t get a lot of headlines. People are focused on a very small handful – football and basketball players. But I think there’s less than two percent of Pac-12 football student-athletes that will ever have any career in the NFL and the same is true for the NBA. So we’re talking about a tiny, tiny sliver of student-athletes that are looking to participate in intercollegiate athletics as a profession eventually.”
“That’s what dominates the headlines, and that’s what’s underpinning some of these lawsuits. So I hope the intercollegiate model survives all these threats. By the same token, there’s room to do more and we want to do more.”