Gold: An ode to the Pac-12 as we near the bitter end of the Conference of Champions
LOS ANGELES — So, it’s really happening.
I don’t know why I expected something like a stay of execution, or a reversal of fortune, or simply minds to be changed. This was happening and it has been happening and it is happening: The Pac-12 is dying, in its current form, done in by greed and stupidity and panic and impatience.
No one actually wants it to happen, but no one wanted telephones and steam locomotives and laptop computers, either. They just happened. It’s called progress, and it’s not always linear and it’s not always good.
This is the natural order of things — there was once an ABA, too, and I’m sure fans of the old Kentucky Colonels miss professional basketball in their neck of the woods, too. Only we’re not actually losing any teams. The bands will play on. We’ll still see some great rivalries: UCLA vs. USC, and Arizona vs. Arizona State and Washington vs. Washington State.
What we’ll miss is the Bruins traveling to the Zona Zoo and getting hissed at. Rutgers probably won’t have the same vitriol.
We’ll miss the Huskies traveling to Tempe and somehow consistently getting blinded in the sun. Is Illinois going to be the new spoiler?
We’ll miss Cal and UCLA and their sibling rivalry, and the Trojans getting the best from Washington State, for some reason.
There will be new rivalries that pop up, and yeah, some of it will be fun. I’m weirdly excited for Oregon vs. Maryland.
But it won’t be the same, that’s for sure.
For a kid who grew up 45 minutes from Pauley Pavilion (in no traffic; 7 hours with), I wonder if I’ll ever look at college athletics the same. I was reared on Toby Bailey and Tyus Edney and Keyshawn Johnson and Carson Palmer. I was regaled with tales of John Wooden and Rod Dedeaux and Jackie Joyner Kersee and Cheryl Miller.
And of all those legends and the conference they dominated.
The conference that no longer exists as we know it.
It has felt like a fever dream these past 16 months. I started this job the week after UCLA and USC announced they were leaving for the Big Ten. I thought things were salvageable then. Maybe the Bruins and Trojans would grow sick of the travel, I thought, and they’d come crawling back at some point. The other programs were loyal to each other, I naively believed.
George Kliavkoff could save things, I, a fool, imagined. Of course, it didn’t happen. Colorado announced it was leaving for the Big 12 in the dead of summer. Oregon and Washington followed them out the door, joining UCLA and USC in the B1G, soon followed by Utah, Arizona and Arizona State cavorting with Colorado. Stanford and Cal somehow found a landing spot in the ACC, just 3,000 miles away.
And that leaves 2: Oregon State and Washington State.
Remember to turn out the lights, guys.
And so it ends, not with a bang, but an even bigger bang.
If the Pac-12 melted into the sands of time without one last fleeting shot at glory, it would truly be a tragedy.
If we were looking at a 2-loss Arizona team vs. a 2-loss Oregon team in Friday’s final Pac-12 title game, the stakes as low as they have been in — well, the previous 6 years in the Pac-12 — that would be a shame.
The Ducks and Huskies putting on a fireworks show and battling it out for a College Football Playoff berth, middle fingers raised, in a blaze of glory? Rock on.
We deserve this one last hurrah. A mini victory, at least.
We’re all the ones who’ve lost, after all.
I’ll leave my parting words to Washington State head coach Jake Dickert, who spoke for us all.
“It’s amazing to me … the old question – how long would it take TV money to destroy college football? Maybe we’re here. Maybe we’re here. To think even remotely, 5 years ago, the Pac-12 would be in this position, it’s unthinkable to think that we’re here today.
“And to think that local rivalries are at risk and fans driving 4 hours to watch their team play in a road game, and rivalries (are) at risk, to me is unbelievable. And I know our place at the table. At the end of the day, Pac-12 football, Pac-12 brand, if we stay together, is really strong, and we’ll have a strong future. I firmly believe in that.
“… But at the end of the day, we’ll look back at college football in 20 years and be like, ‘What are we doing? What are we doing?’ Let’s let our guys stay regional. Let’s play. Let’s preserve the Pac-12 and what it is.”