Opinion: The Pac-12 is struggling mightily in football and men's basketball

In the NCAA's two most profitable events, ASU and the rest of the Pac-12 are well behind

Last year, the Pac-12 became the first conference in NCAA history to win 500 national championships.

The success of the conference has rightfully earned itself the nickname the Conference of Champions for its unparalleled success in a wide variety of sports.

ASU is responsible 24 of the conference's national championships, including eight national titles in women's golf and five from baseball.

But in the NCAA's two most popular sports, basketball and football, the Conference of Champions is well behind the competition.

While the Pac-12 has a few competitive teams for basketball and football each season, it only has two national championships in both of these sports combined since 1997.

On the basketball court, the Pac-12 has traditional March Madness contenders like the UCLA and UA. But this season, the Pac-12 has only one team ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll, and there were only four teams in the conference that even made the tournament last season.

While Oregon made the Final Four last year, before the Ducks' success, the Pac-12 missed the Final Four every year since 2008.

From 1964 to 1975, UCLA won eight national championships in 10 seasons but have only made one national championship game since 1995.

UA is known to be a consistent threat to win the national championship every year, but the Wildcats have not won it all since 1997.

Even this season, ASU started off 12-0 in non-conference play and at one point held a No. 3 national rank, but the Sun Devils have floundered in conference play so far, sitting at a game under .500.

"The Pac-12 has solid teams, but they don't typically compete the way some of the other Power Five conferences do," Anthony Totri, men's basketball beat writer for The State Press, said. "They don't have any of those types of teams other than maybe UA."

As for football, the Conference of Champions has football powerhouses such as the University of Southern California and the University of Oregon.

In football this past season, the Pac-12 not only missed out on the college football playoff, but also failed to have a team finish in the top 10 of the final NCAA rankings. 

The conference's struggles were also on full display during bowl season, going a combined 1-8, with its only win coming from the University of Utah, which defeated West Virginia University 30-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Of the eight losses, two came in major New Year’s Six Bowls, and five of those losses were by double digits.

Even when it seemed like there was a Pac-12 team that could make its mark on the national stage, the Conference of Champions ended up finishing just short.

"One of the things that hurts the (Pac-12) is that you only have one historic national power in that conference (which) is USC," said Adam Rittenberg, an ESPN national college football writer. "So when USC was down, there wasn't a program that could compete nationally on a regular basis."

In 2016, the University of Washington became the second Pac-12 team to ever make the College Football Playoff, but their accomplishment was short-lived, as the University of Alabama squashed the Huskies 24-7 in the semi-finals.

USC was the last Pac-12 school to win a national championship, but the Trojans have finished the season in the top five of the AP poll only once since 2009.

Oregon made the national championship game in 2014, but failed to finish the season ranked in two of the last three seasons.

"In the Big-12, you have two historic powers in Texas and Oklahoma, (and) in the ACC you have Florida State and Clemson," Rittenberg said. "You look at the SEC, Alabama has certainly been that, and there's other programs that are very capable of rising up and competing nationally (in the SEC)."

In the NCAA’s two most popular sports, the Pac-12 has struggled heavily as of late, and with increasing television ratings and more money getting pushed into both events, the conference will need to improve its national standing now if it wants to remain relevant in these two major college sports.


Reach the columnist at kbriley@asu.edu and on twitter @KokiRiley.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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