Inferior, second-rate or just plain bad are discouraging descriptions for any athlete or sports organization, but none is more demeaning than the ultimate adjective of condemnation: irrelevant.
That's what respected ESPN personality Tony Kornheiser called the Pac-12 during a Pardon the Interruption show last week. Kornheiser even added an intesifying adverb, calling the conference "completely irrelevant."
The comment came when he and Michael Wilbon were discussing the possibility of the Pac-12 playing football this fall.
“I want them to play,” Kornheiser said, according to 247Sports. “I want everyone to play. But under Larry Scott, the Pac-12 has become completely irrelevant in basketball and football. One of the greatest conferences of all time. Nobody knows they exist anymore.”
OK, the show needs to be entertaining, so there may be a facetious element to the comment, but the implication is clear. Nobody takes the Pac-12 seriously anymore. Or at least, people in the East don't take the Pac-12 seriously anymore.
Is that fair?
The conference university presidents are scheduled to vote on a proposed fall football season on Thursday (Sept. 24), and the speculation is that the Pac-12 will be playing football at some this fall.
There a number of unanswered questions. When would that season start? How many games will they play? Will all 12 conference teams start on the same day?
The bigger question, though, is this: Will the Pac-12's decision matter in college football's big picture?
The Pac-12 did not have a representative in the four-team College Football Playoff the past two seasons, and has had only one since 2015. A Pac-12 team has not won the national championship since 2004, when the conference was the Pac-10, and even that title, won by USC, was vacated by the NCAA infractions committee.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 have already begun playing, leaving the Pac-12 out of the college football conversation, and the Big Ten is expected to get started before the Pac-12, making the Pac-12 the final Power Five conference to put some highlights on ESPN. That's an exposure deficit that will be difficult to make up.
It's uncertain whether the Pac-12 will complete a fall season in time to be eligible for the College Football Playoff selections on Dec. 20, and even if the Pac-12 champion is eligible, it would require an unlikely series of events for that champion to be selected for the CFP, given the general perception of the conference.
The Pac-12 is likely to play a seven- or eight-game season, all against Pac-12 foes. With no nonconference games to improve the Pac-12's national image, it will be difficult for the Pac-12 champion to prove it deserves to be in a national championship playoff. Wins over other Pac-12 teams will not count for much nationally considering no Pac-12 team was ranked among the top eight teams and only one was in the top 16 in the preseason Associated Press poll.
Oregon was the highest ranked Pac-12 team at No. 9, so even if it wins every one of its games this fall by a convincing margin, the Ducks might not be considered one of the four best teams by the CFP selection committee.
Given the negative perception of the Pac-12 at the moment, a Big Ten champ, an ACC champion (assuming it is Clemson) as well as an SEC champion and second-place team would likely get the call over an undefeated Pac-12 champ when the committee chooses its four teams.
An interruption of the season in at least one of the other four major conferences or multiple losses by second-place teams elsewhere would be the Pac-12's best bets for a CFP berth -- assuming the Pac-12 champ is unbeaten.
Pac-12 coaches and officials will lobby for the conference champion when selection day nears, but will anyone listen when, as Kornheiser suggests, "Nobody knows they exist anymore"?
The conference-only schedules necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are perpetuating the image of the Pac-12 as an inferior football conference.
Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of Kornheiser's comment is that he includes Pac-12 basketball as well as football as being irrelevant. It leaves women's basketball as the only major sport the Pac-12 can crow about.
Pac-12 coaches continue to use the word "cyclical" in explaining away the conference's current football status as a temporary phenomenon, but until a Pac-12 team breaks through in a big way, the Pac-12 will be considered the weak sister among the Power Five conferences.
Presumably the Pac-12 will rise again some day. As Kornheiser notes, the Pac-12 was once "one of the greatest conferences of all time," and it wouldn't take much to make it that way again.
But when? The problem in 2020 is that it won't get the opporuntity to change anyone's mind.
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
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