Boy, if you ever needed evidence of what TV can do to screw up sports, look no further than the Pac-12 championship game that’s going to air on Fox this Friday.
UCLA — coming off an embarrassing 50-0 shellacking by its crosstown rival USC, and a tepid 6-6 overall record — stumbled into the “championship” against Oregon, a true contender. The early line has the Ducks favored by 32 points, and if I wasn’t allergic to money, I’d fly to Vegas and bet on them right now.
The game is not about football, however, but TV money, and trying to produce a showcase that will generate additional revenue. Based on the likely ratings — especially if it’s another blowout — can I hear a collective “Whoops” from the crowd?
The Pac-12’s commissioner, Larry Scott, has drawn praise for pursuing lucrative TV deals, including a sweetened contract with ESPN and Fox to cash in on the expanded conference. But these various titans outsmarted themselves, dividing the reconfigured league into two unequal halves, with genuine powers Oregon and Stanford on one side, and a collection of misfits (other than USC, which is currently on probation and not eligible) on the other.
On top of that, UCLA just fired Coach Rick Neuheisel, illustrating how lousy its football program — which lost those six games by a combined 170 points — has been this year. So Fox gets saddled with a big primetime dud as a tune-up to the college bowl season, which now starts in mid-December and seemingly runs till early March. (Full disclosure: I’m a part-time contributor to Foxsports.com, and not incidentally, a UCLA graduate and disgruntled season ticketholder.)
Of course, the Pac-12 isn’t alone in this regard, and there are plenty of made-for-TV sporting events that nobody really wants or needs. As evidence, just consider the “76 Classic” basketball tournament played in Anaheim over the Thanksgiving weekend, which couldn’t even draw 3,000 fans to its championship game, in an arena that seats more than five times that many.
Sports are obviously cyclical, and the Pac-12 will likely balance itself out, eventually. Nevertheless, the stars really aligned this season to leave everyone with egg on their faces.
Sounds like another good omen for the Ducks.