BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 11/30/2018

Thiel: Admit it — Pac-12 title game has little juice

Coming after the Apple Cup and before the big bowl games, the Pac-12 championship game — no offense to Washington or Utah — is kinda bleah.

Then-freshman Taylor Rapp holds up his Most Valuable Player award at the 2016 Pac-12 Championship won by Washington 41-10 over Colorado. Commissioner Larry Scott appears to be happy. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Um . . . I’m not feeling it.

You know, the big regional sports championship Friday night. In Santa Clara. Washington Huskies vs. Utah Utes. Winner of the Pac-12 title game goes to the Rose Bowl.

Are you feeling it? Didn’t think so.

The weirdness of college football is hitting home. What if they gave a championship, and few cared?

Somehow the dithering divas of NCAA football, with the cooperation of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, have managed to marginalize the supposed biggest game of the year on the West Coast.

For Huskies fans, the game falls between the Apple Cup the previous weekend and the potential for a New Year’s Day in Pasadena for the first time in 18 years.

For college football fans in the Bay Area, I’m guessing not more than three will bother to grind through Friday night rush hour around San Jose by the 5 p.m. kickoff to watch two teams in which they have no rooting interest play a game that lacks an other-worldly talent or two who have made national splashes.

It’s the 404 Error Code Bowl.

This has nothing to do with the worthiness of the teams and coaches, nor the importance of a win to the victors.

But in this year’s case, the matchup was already played once, Sept. 15 in Salt Lake City, a fairly dreary affair won by Washington, 21-7. I doubt the average Huskies fan can remember anything about it except that UW QB Jake Browning threw the worst-looking interception in his fairly chubby history of bad balls.

The problem is that the NCAA and member conferences, in their awkward effort to blend tradition with modernity, have developed a hodge-podge of a seasonal conclusion. The rivalry games have more heft than the title game of a mediocre big-time conference.

At least in the Seattle market, the season’s apex moment was the previous Friday in Pullman, when the Huskies and Cougars played a much-anticipated Apple Cup, which had the unintended bonus of a nearly game-long snowfall to ratchet up the theater.

As with most big-school rivalry games, it already had a little something-something that creates anticipation and appreciation.

There were stakes too, the championship of the North Division — another layer of confection now in its eighth season in the Pac-12. So far no one has come up with a catchy nickname for the triumph — “Titans of the North” sounds like another bad Netflix series.

After the emotional peak of rivalry games, the conference title game seems an after-thought, and fans treat it accordingly. Partly because the participants in the league championship typically aren’t known more than a week ahead, and partly because college football in the Bay Area is a second- or third-tier sport, fans don’t show up to Levi’s Stadium.

Of course, it could be that the residual toxicity of 49ers games has reached the “very unhealthful stage” and public officials yellow-taped the stadium entrances.

When I flew down two years ago for the Huskies’ first title-game appearance, the airline was giving away game tickets as part of a promotion. Fliers took the bag of pretzels.

Then there’s the title games themselves. Until USC beat Stanford 31-28 last year, the previous four games, including Washington’s 41-10 win over Colorado, were decided by an average of 28 points.

Hanging over all is the national image of the Pac-12 football programs. Last season’s 1-8 record in the bowls was the worst in history for a Power 5 conference (outscored by a cumulative 87 points), and the league is being left out of the College Football Playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Since the other Power 5 conferences play Saturday, Friday night seems a backwater for the Pac-12. But as John Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News reports, the past four title games on Friday averaged 5.1 million homes on Fox, and two Saturday games on ESPN average 2.0 million.

So an exclusive national window on Friday has its benefits. But not for creating a championship atmosphere for its final game. If the cameras dare to pan the stands Friday, look carefully for the inflatables.

Part of the increased ennui around the Pac-12 stems from the CFP, which sucks up a lot of attention on a final field of four, while everything else is relegated. But the CFP is actually good for college football because a champion is finally determined on the field after more than 100 years of the sport being operated by the Marx Brothers.

There just isn’t enough of the CFP. The field needs to be 16, games distributed among existing bowls. An example here from College Football News from week eight  of last year demonstrates how it could work.

The news this week that 10-2 Washington State, ranked 13th in the CFP behind three three-loss teams, may end up out of the New Year’s Six bowls, is yet another example of misdeed that can be erased with an expanded field, which will include just 14 percent of the 130 schools playing big-boy football.

The expansion doesn’t directly solve the all the Pac-12 title-game problems. But instead of a conference title game, what if the division winners of all Power 5 conferences were given the first 10 seeds, then the remaining berths are selected at-large, selected by committee? Yes, team No. 17 will be aggrieved, just as team No. 69 in the college basketball tourney is wounded.

But guess what? I don’t care, and neither do you.

A 16-team field would eliminate the need for a conference title game. If that outcome causes you to weep, you have self-identified as an eater of tofu and sprouts and must seek emergency transport to a good Mexican restaurant.


  • Effzee

    Chubby history of bad balls. Sounds like something I definitely do not want to google.

    • art thiel

      Life always is enhanced by mystery.

      • Husky73

        Life is more interesting with cats.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    I agree the CFP should be expanded ; 16 teams is fine . Problem is , 14 of them would never beat Clemson or ‘Bama . I’ll go out on a limb and say one of the 2 of them will win it all again this year . Yawn …

    • art thiel

      College football has always had teams who had runs of eminence: Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, etc. They eventually fall back, usually for reasons of scandal, corruption, misdeed, malfeasance. The usual suspects.

  • Parts

    The mythical “College Football Championship” has always been a hucksters lie. I’ll watch a couple of the bowl games, but the season is over.

    • art thiel

      The CFP is better than all its predecessor solutions for a champion. As I wrote, it just isn’t enough.

  • jafabian

    The PAC 12 simply does not carry the excitement factor of the other power conferences. Doesn’t help when they have bad TV broadcast schedules and commentators who diss the schools football coach. (You know who they are.) Is there any way Jim Harbaugh can be coaxed to go to USC?

    • art thiel

      I’d donate to the Trojans if it would help.

    • RadioGuy

      The Pac 12 is a developing trainwreck under Larry Scott, as detailed in a terrific four-part series this week by John Canzano on the OregonLive site (as fascinating as it is saddening to read). Harbaugh is no more likely to leave Michigan to coach in the Pac 12 than Chris Petersen is to leave the UW to return to the Mountain West for the same reason: It’d be a BIG step down.

  • coug73

    Add more teams to the PAC 12. BS, BYU, SDSU, some Nevada team. Move the title game to Las Vegas. Build the West is Best brand.

    • Mat Hill

      No. Academic integrity means something. We’re not going to add gloried community colleges and a university that doesn’t play mens basketball games on Sundays.

      • Alan Harrison

        US News and World Report Best US Colleges of 2018 – Rankings

        Washington State #140 (tie)
        Oregon State #140 (tie)
        Utah #119 (tie)
        Arizona State #115
        Arizona #106 (tie)
        Oregon #102 (tie)
        Colorado #96 (tie)
        Washington #59
        USC #22 (tie)
        California #22 (tie)
        UCLA #19
        Stanford #7

        Qualified others of interest:

        BYU #66 (only one game per week in NCAAM basketball is on Sunday)
        Air Force #30

        Texas (comes with its own set of issues) #49
        SMU (ditto) #59)

        Not really qualfied (after researching, by my own opinion):
        UNLV #230
        Boise State #230
        New Mexico State #221
        Utah State #205
        Nevada #201
        New Mexico #187
        Idaho #165
        Colorado State #140 (tie with Wazzu and OSU)
        San Diego State #127 (why bring in lower-academic California state universities when we don’t have to)

      • coug73

        Gosh, I wasn’t thinking of academics. I was thinking football, basketball, and more success or money, donors, ticket sales, and TV money.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      Mr. Coug 73
      I often agree with your posts but not here. They need to eject the Arizona schools, plus Utah and Colorado. Back to the Pac-8. Keep the revenue within said 8.
      Make everybody remaining schedule real intersectional games–opposite from the SEC where, for example, Alabama, Inc. actually plays The Citadel and pretends like it’s a real game.

  • WestCoastBias79

    It’s a great idea. Another idea would be to continue what they did in the first three Pac 12 championships–play them in the home stadium of the team with the better record. People actually showed up to those.

    Another idea is to return Larry Scott to Women’s Tennis.

    • art thiel

      I think a home field would be better, and a move to the new stadium in Vegas better yet. Neutral field, and a guaranteed throng of tourists that would buy some tickets to see how their wager plays out in real time.

      And I think Scott has run a) the P12 down, and b) his course.

    • rosetta_stoned

      What do you have against women’s tennis?

  • Alan Harrison

    Yup. The CFP is not nearly enough. The Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl (yes, that’s a real thing) and its ilk need to go away. Make it a Pac-16, adding BYU, Air Force (more cache than Colorado State), Nevada, and UNLV. Home games in a 16 team CFP until the final. Also, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that reduces calories, ponies for everyone, rainbows of Skittles, and next year in the promised land.

  • Husky73

    As a native Seattleite (saw my first Husky game in 1959), a UW alum, and a Husky season ticket holder for 36 years, this game (10-3 Huskies) was like enduring a root canal on a continuous loop. It’s been 18 years since a trip to the Rose Bowl. I’ll take it.

  • 1coolguy

    “It’s the 404 Error Code Bowl”
    OUCH! Just tellin it like it is Art.
    This might take you of his cocktail list tho, haha.
    As California is a sanctuary state, I know how they can fill the stands to capacity quite easily…

  • Larry StoneB

    “Attendance” 35,134

  • 3 Lions

    They need to move the Apple cup or rivalry games back earlier when the students are on campus. The day after Thanksgiving when the students are gone makes as much sense as last nights scheduling.
    The PAC 12 championship game should be played at the home of the team with better record where there would be a real atmosphere. Larry Scott needs to be fired. The PAC 12 is mismanaged, losing money and alienating fans, players and coaches.