BY SPNW Staff 12:20PM 02/27/2012

How Many Pac-12 Teams Should Make Big Dance?

Conventional wisdom holds that the Pac-12 will receive two bids (one automatic, one at-large) to the NCAA Tournament. What’s your view? Vote here.

Tony Wroten and the Washington Huskies play at USC Thursday and at UCLA Saturday./ Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The University of Washington basketball team is entering what promises to be one of the more interesting weeks in the program’s recent history. With California’s loss at Colorado Sunday, the Huskies now control whether they win the Pac-12 title. Wins at USC Thursday and UCLA Saturday would make them league champions.

But what if the Huskies split in Los Angeles and Cal knocks off Stanford in its last regular-season game? That would make UW and Cal co-league champions, but Cal would have the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. What if neither Cal nor Washington wins the Pac-12 tournament?

Some UW fans may assume that winning the Pac-12 regular-season title outright would ensure a bid to the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens in the Pac-12 tournament, which starts March 7. It’s here that we are reminded of a line delivered by the bad guy to one of his screw-up underlings in the Steven Seagal movie “Under Siege2: Dark Territory.”

“An assumption,” the bad guy says, “is the mother of all eff-ups.”

The NCAA is obviously obligated to take the Pac-12 tournament champion into the 68-team tournament field. But it’s not obligated to take the regular-season champion, especially if the champion is Washington, which has been so uneven all season.

For one thing, the NCAA has always maintained that it does not seriously consider regular-season conference records when it evaluates potential tournament teams. Nor do 20+ wins mean much (Huskies have 20+ a school-record four consecutive seasons), considering that the NCAA has spurned 11 20+-win conference teams over the past dozen years.

But the NCAA does look hard at a team’s non-conference performance and its wins against top-50 opponents. This is where all of the Pac-12 falls flat.

The Pac-12 is 5-41 against top-50 foes. It has an 0-18 record against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. No Pac-12 school has been nationally ranked since UCLA, a major disappointment, during the preseason. The conference’s most impressive non-conference wins: Oregon State over Texas and Stanford over Colorado State.

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985, no power conference — a group that includes the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pac-12 — has received just a single bid to the tournament. But it might happen, especially if the wrong team — say Colorado or Arizona — wins the Pac-12 tournament.

That would really muddle matters, especially for the Huskies, who lost head-to-head against California on their home floor, were blitzed by the Buffaloes, a club with a 76 RPI, in Boulder, and laid an egg at No. 53 RPI Oregon as recently as Feb. 9.

Jerry Palm is one of the country’s most respected bracketologists, employed by to predict NCAA Tournament teams. This is his take:

“To me, (the Pac-12) looks like a bunch of NIT teams, every one of them. And to make it worse, they keep beating each other up.”

It would represent a huge embarrassment for the Pac-12, the so-called “Conference of Champions,” if just one team made the NCAA Tournament. But it wouldn’t be a shock. Remember: last year, the then-Pac-10 had just two tourney teams, and this year’s Terrible Twelve is just 11-18 head-to-head against other major conferences.

Fact is, the quality of Pac-12 basketball currently smacks of the mid-major level. While the Pac-12 has been absent from the national rankings most of season, other schools from the West, notably UNLV, San Diego State and Gonzaga, have all been ranked.

Take a look at the following chart (RPI=Ratings Percentage Index; SOS=Strength of Schedule). The last three columns show how Pac-12 schools have performed head-to-head. We welcome your feedback.

Team Rec. Pac-12 RPI SOS Top 25 RPI 1-50 RPI 51-100
Washington 20-8 13-3 52 82 0-2 0-4 4-4
California 23-7 13-4 35 96 0-3 0-3 6-2
Arizona 21-9 12-5 73 102 0-2 1-3 5-5
Oregon 20-8 11-5 53 86 0-1 0-4 2-3
Colorado 19-9 11-5 76 92 0-1 1-3 3-2
UCLA 16-13 9-7 115 88 0-2 0-5 4-5
Stanford 19-10 9-8 106 152 0-1 1-2 3-4
WSU 14-14 6-10 182 145 0-1 1-2 1-7
Oregon St. 15-13 5-11 153 127 0-0 1-2 2-2
Arizona St. 9-20 5-12 252 122 0-1 0-3 0-8
Utah 6-22 3-13 260 61 0-0 0-4 1-9
USC 6-23 1-15 249 71 0-4 0-6 1-8
Total 0-18 5-41 32-59


  • Matt712

    In order for the NFL to assume full liability – that is to say, the affected player(s) wins 100% of claim -  those players would have to somehow prove a willful malfeasance (e.g.: purposeful withholding of information) by the NFL that would have affected them. I don’t think that will be the case. It will prove almost impossible for a player to lay full culpability on the league – too many other factors to consider (such as genetics, lifestyle outside the sport, etc.).

    Football, like any sport, has and will continue to evolve. Part of that evolution is risk awareness and prevention. Every major pro sport I know of has a well documented history of attempts to make their sport safer – through technology, rule changes, or whatever – that cannot be disputed. Sure, there have been many things to subvert this (steroids, bounties, etc.) but nothing anyone can clearly say was perpetrated by the league.

    And should any of these cases win when they finally are heard, the appeals process will likely be considerably lengthy.  I’d like to think there is a more honorable outcome these players are really aiming for than just to alleviate themselves of fault and collect money – Perhaps changing the pension/benefits system to allow for these conditions when they do arise for retired players, perhaps just creating more awareness of this kind of danger.

    • Artthiel

      Matt, you’re generally right that proving the NFL is liable in all these cases is unlikely. But there will be claims presented that some teams and their medical staffs willfully ignored conventional medical advice at the time in order to get the player into action. However naively, the player put his trust in his employer to have his welfare in mind. It will be up to a jury to decide merits, but you know as well as I do who the sympathetic figures will be. The mere fact that the NFL fired its own chief medical officers in the face of the evidence, and then began changing rules in midseason, will be portrayed as an acknowledgment that it previously had been negligent, The league’s lawyers will argue otherwise, but the NFL genuinely fears the outcome.

      I’d like to think there that honor will play a factor. Unfortunately, I know better.

      • RadioGuy

        There is no honor among profits.

  • Joe Fan

    I think I’m going to sue the beer companies!  My short term memory is shot.

    • RadioGuy

      “Short term” what?

      • jafabian

        What are we talking about?

  • Soggyblogger

    I believe a class action settlement will occur, and that will take care of these suits against the NFL. Even a one billion dollar settlement would not destroy the league. One way or another the NFL could afford to pay that, but what might threaten the sport’s future is the elimination of HS football, and college football. Both of those institutions also face potential liability. 

    Right now, parents are legally liable if they smoke around their children. Is it inconceivable that parents will face criminal sanctions for even allowing their children to play football? I think that is what will ultimately threaten the existence of the sport. 

  • cool37

    All of these lawsuits aimed at the NFL, but how will these players be able to prove that their Pop Warner league, High Schools, or colleges aren’t to blame for their current situation? Not to say that they are, but there just seems to be too many factors involved for any real blame to be laid entirely on the NFL.

  • Guest

    Art, I disagree. The time to punish a child is right after he commits the transgression, not later. And football players today will take more seriously what is said in front of TV cameras than what is said in the privacy of the locker room.

    Plus Sark is ending a message to future recruits.

  • Artthiel

     Part of the standard player’s contract severely limits the liability of teams for long-term injuries. Injury settlements are also a fact of NFL life. What is open to litigation is willful negligence on the part of teams and their medical staffs. That will be very hard to prove, but it only takes a few for the NFL to be forced into a mass settlement, which would include changes to the game more significant than we have seen. 

  • Artthiel

     Possible, Roy, but a public trial with a former hero now demented is the last thing the NFL wants to defend. They will go to great lengths to avoid even one such trial. The union knows it, and the players know it.

     Unfortunately for our service people, their anonymity works against justice for them, plus the fact that it’s built into the American psyche to accept the wounds of honorable war as part of the whole cultural belief in armed conflict.

  • Artthiel

     Be careful what you wish for, Brad. One-platoon football, with Prussian spikes atop the helmets, may be in your future. 

  • guest

    I’d like to see the injury stats for speed football — where the size of the players is limited to 200 pounds, or something like that. Are there fewer injuries?  Fewer concussions?

    I’d love to see single platoon football because, as Brad says, it would reduce the size of the players and, hopefully, limit injuries and concussions.

  • jafabian

    I’m wondring if the NFL might start setting limits on careers now.  If you have “X” number of concussions or certain type of injuries they might tell that player that their career is done?  I could see some of those players sueing their way back into the league though.

  • Artthiel

     I don’t think Sark needs to be clobbered for his outburst, because he had a good point to make. But like his players, he has to think a moment before he acts. Why have that as the national TV highlight of the game?

  • Artthiel

    Well, Michael, that’s why you’re the dad and the kids are the kids. You know better, and you also miss being that joyful.

  • Thai-Duong Nguyen

    Proves to the nation (including future recruits) that he is all about improvement, and not coasting to victory.  If you’re a serious football player, you want a coach that will make you work hard no matter what the score is.

  • Michael Kaiser

    At time I do miss it, and at times I would not want to be that age again.  Funny, my forties are turning out to be my best decade so far.  But, yes, I guess, in a perfect world, I would not mind going through that period again.  Oh, and by the way, when I said kids, I meant all the younger people who live in the same shared housing-type cluster of buildings I do on Queen Anne.  Not my own.