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Assessing The Pac-12 Bowl Season, And Its Effects

Who would ever have thought there could be ANY disappointment in the Pac-12 with a bowl season that included a Rose Bowl win?
Who would ever have thought there could be ANY disappointment in the Pac-12 with a bowl season that included a Rose Bowl win?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Pac-12 Bowl Season has come and gone, and by any reasonable measure, it was a solid success, with 8 teams, fully 2/3 of the conference advancing and winning 6 bowls, including the Rose Bowl. The 2 bowl losses were both by single score margins, and 2 other teams were only eliminated by losses on the last day of the season. It was the best post-season performance of any of the conferences.

Half the conference finished ranked in the top 21, led by Oregon at #2,  and UCLA also made the top 10. Stanford was effectively 27th in the final AP top 25.

Even if Beaver fans were left out, with a silly argument about the pros and cons of various attire at a viewing party the only excitement of the season, there was still lots of good football watching to be done.

But many football fans are not reasonable, and so it was also a bowl season of no small disappointment. And I'm not talking about UCLA fans and media complaining about their coach after winning a bowl game, AND more games in the last 3 years under JIm Mora's direction than the Bruins ever have in ANY other 3 year stretch in history.

Or Washington fans and some of their media issuing harsh grades after their Huskies achieved the reasonable expectations of everyone else, who knew they were about an 8 win team, talent wise.

The problems were the other 2 losses, not Washington's, because they came with the biggest audiences nationally, and tended to reinforce stereotypes about the conference, even though the teams that suffered them, Arizona and then Oregon, are the ones that least resemble the rest of the members of the conference.

They are the teams that won the 2 divisions, though.

The direct cost of the losses is nil, as the important thing was to get 2 teams into the New Year's Eve/Day Bowls, and 1 into the College Football Championship playoffs. The payout, shared equally amongst all members of the Pac-12 after filtering it through the Pac-12 offices, is the same whether you win or lose any bowl game, and there was no financial bonus paid to the schools or the conferences whose' teams won the Rose and Sugar Bowls, and advanced to Monday night's Championship Game.

Don't let anyone delude you into believing that Oregon didn't cash in big on merchandising, and will continue to in the off-season, as well as seeing more substantial investment and higher advertising revenue. And Ohio State, having won, will be hauling in incremental cash by the dump truck load, and you will never read a detailed breakdown.

But that would have happened somewhere in any event, and largely doesn't affect the secondary revenue of the other 11 members of the conference.

The Rose Bowl win was quite helpful, relative to what Florida St. accomplished for the ACC, but the 'Cats' Fiesta Bowl and especially the Ducks' 22 point blowout loss in the National Championship Game, most certainly will not help.

And if there's any doubt about whether everyone saw what happened, the Rose Bowl was briefly the most watched cable/satellite only show ever. Until they played the Sugar Bowl later that evening, which drew an even bigger audience. A record that stood until the National Championship Game. So this CFB playoff deal was a runaway success, audience wise.

If you were tired of off-prime start times, not just for the Beavers, but also a lot of other conference games you might want to catch, and hearing from your relatives that don't get the Pac-12 channel that they missed all of those down to the wire wild and entertaining games the Pac produces, get used to it.

Cracking the 12:30 window, and the ridiculous window of exclusivity that was negotiated into the network package, and the even more valuable 3:30/4 PM start time, will continue to be difficult.

These losses did nothing to help with the Directv coverage problem either, as it won't bring forward new demand in 3/4 of the country to see those games on the Pac-12 channel when the B1G Channel and the SEC Channel are readily available.

Arizona losing to a Boise St. team that won 12 games, and finished ranked #16, and one loss was on the road to a team that at least briefly ascended to #3 in the nation, was nothing to be ashamed of. But the fringe fan east of the Rockies (and remember, those ill-informed clicker clickers are the swing audience that the networks are attempting to lure with their program offerings) had already dismissed the Broncos because of that loss.

The big one was Oregon's loss to Ohio St. though, and though the rest of the B1G 10 isn't keeping up that well with Urban Meyer, that win combined with the homecoming of Jim Harbaugh will doubtless get more Big 10 games into the 12:30 and early Saturday evening time slots than the Rose Bowl win will get Pac-12 teams into the same slots.

The average Pac-12 school will see the impact in softened attendance, and by extension, game day sales, of more night games, and softened advertising revenue because of the smaller, divided audiences that will see the games, even if they are mostly as nail-biting as the annual overtime games the Beavers and the Utes seem to play.

After all, the Ducks, and by extension the Pac-12, can't win big games, and except for Stanford, are all soft. Just listen to talk radio via the internet from Chicago, the east coast, or anywhere in the south if you need to be reminded.

Maybe it would be a good thing when both the Beavers and Ducks go into Michigan on the same Saturday next September if they both bring out wins. It might  not be so good if either one doesn't, and that's a distinct possibility, with Oregon very early in the post-Marcus Mariota (and post-Ifo, for that matter) era, and Oregon St. with a starting quarterback that will be making at most his second start (Gary Andersen is a very good coach, but don't expect a Meyer-esqu quarterbacking masterpiece the equal of what he accomplished with Cardale Jones), and a defense in its second game after 10 key contributors from the defense graduated. Frankly, while it should be a fabulous trip in the glory of early autumn in lower Michigan, I'd rather try this in early October.

The solution as the season goes along of course is to win games. The country got to know Ole Miss and Mississippi St. far better than ever before because the Rebels and Bulldogs won a lot. The problem is the Pac-12 is even more likely to beat each other up next year than was the case this season, as nearly half the conference will have new quarterbacks, at a minimum, though Arizona St. and Washington St. will have a new starter with some starting experience; that won't be the case at Oregon or Oregon St., or UCLA either.

The out of sight, out of mind affect of playing half your games last Saturday night or on the Pac-12 channel (or both) could also have a delayed affect, in case the conference champion isn't Oregon or USC, and is on the bubble to make next year's featured 4 in the Championship playoffs, thanks to some random upset in Tucson or Berkeley or Corvallis, and the alternative is Baylor or LSU.

The good news is the Las Vegas, Sun, Alamo, Holiday, and Cactus Bowl committees couldn't be happier with what they got from the Pac-12, and the contract is signed with the 49ers for the use of their stadium in Santa Clara. It would also help if the Foster Farms Bowl isn't played in a downpour next year, and if the Big-10 representative had a pulse (anyone interested in a reunion with Mike Riley, and an Oregon St.-Nebraska matchup?).

Overall, it was one of the best seasons in the history of the conference, both regular and bowl. And next year the Rose Bowl will be a destination bowl, not a stepping stone. The depth of the Pac-12 could eclipse this year with an even better one, even if not everyone gets to see all of it.

And spring ball begins in 2 months!

I'm all ready making plans for opening weekend!