I'm back in the Pac-12 -- or what's left of it
Compared to its two predecessors, Godfather 3 – the final act of the greatest trilogy in Hollywood history – is a sham, a farce.
Gone is the youthful innocence of Al Pacino, the wholesome naivete of Robert Duvall, the acting chops of a middle-aged Marlon Brando and a baby-faced Robert DeNiro. Instead replaced by the “acting chops” of Sofia Coppola and the bronze-faced George Hamilton. It is an American tragedy if there ever was one. And I’m talking about the script, not the plot.
But the fated finale does offer one of the great lines of dialogue in cinematic lore.
Like Michael Corleone fatefully said:
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
To you Pac-12 fans, I say the same.
I’m back, baby. Unlike Don Corleone the Younger, though, I’m glad to be back in the Pac-12, or whatever is left of it.
In fact, if you want to blame anyone for the stunning defections of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten, blame me. I signed my contract with XL Media – the parent company of Saturday Out West, Saturday Down South (SEC), Saturday Tradition (Big Ten) and Saturday Road (ACC) – on the same morning Jon Wilner broke the news that the league’s two flagship teams were absconding like a thief in the night. I also wrote about some of the impact of this shocking development last week, here, here and here.
In some ways, it’s fitting. My history with these schools is a bit complicated.
As the Bruins beat writer for the Los Angeles Daily News from 2009-2012, I witnessed one of the great falls in college basketball history, arriving a year after the third of three consecutive Final Four runs. Just in time for the Mike Roll era. I watched – and reported – as Ben Howland fell from grace, losing his program as a result. I was there as UCLA went from Farmar and Love and Westbrook to whatever Reeves Nelson was.
There were lows – a 14-18 campaign in 2009, just the program’s third losing season since 1948 – and there were highs, like the following year, when the Bruins rebounded to win 23 games and Howland decided to celebrate by kissing me on the forehead. It was a weird moment.
And there were more lows – covering a UCLA football team that never gained traction under Rick Neuheisel – and more highs, like traveling with the Bruins’ baseball team to Omaha for the 2010 College World Series.
From there, I was off to Tucson to join the Arizona Daily Star as a Pac-12 features writer and columnist, taking a more global view of the league I grew up watching.
It was there that I got to learn what made David Shaw tick, as the Stanford football coach explored what it means to be a Black man in America. I got to see Sean Miller sweat through 19 shirts in one game. I got to listen to Larry Scott talk about the terrific real estate scene in San Francisco.
In the meantime, I gained an appreciation for all that makes the Pac-12 special. Unlike other major conferences that can feel like monoliths – is there really that much difference between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Champaign, Ill.? Between Oxford, Miss., and Athens, Ga.? – I learned that our league is remarkably diverse, from the major hubs of Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Seattle to the outposts of Pullman, Corvallis and Tucson.
I discovered that the best Mexican food is in Tucson (Aqui Con El Nene, look it up) and that the best burger is in Salt Lake City (Hires Big H, look it up). I learned why the people of Eugene consider Nike a double-edged sword and why Cal will never contend for another major football championship.
As I re-enter a league that is about to turn on its head, I can’t wait to see how the future unfolds. They call the Pac-12 the Conference of Champions, but now I come back to the Conference of Question Marks.
Will Oregon and Washington stick around? Will George Kliavkoff be able to cobble together a formidable group of replacements (hello SDSU and Houston and maybe even North Carolina and Duke? Who knows?). Will there even be a Pac-12 in two years?
And what about this year? Let’s not forget there is football and basketball (and more) to be played. Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams at USC. Chip Kelly and Dorian Thompson-Robinson at UCLA. Tommy Lloyd and Co. at Arizona. There’s plenty of star power here Out West, and I’m excited to be covering the Pac-12.
Or, rather, covering it once more.
I’ll say this: Unlike Michael Corleone, I’m glad they pulled me back in.