Opinion: The Pac-12 is no longer worthy of its nickname

'Conference of Champions' is a bit of a stretch based on recent performance

Conference of Champions” is a bold moniker, but the Pac-12’s major programs haven’t lived up to it.

Since 1997, the Pac-12 has only won two championships in football and men’s basketball combined. The USC Trojans took home the football title in 2004, and the Arizona Wildcats were the champions of March Madness in 1997

Other than that, the trophy case for the top programs is barren. 

The casual fan may only pay attention to football and/or basketball, so the conference’s recent, mediocre performance throughout the playoffs isn’t a great look for the Pac-12.

“Overall, when you look at the (football) competitors, not just at ASU, they simply don’t compete with places like Alabama, Clemson or Georgia,”  Anthony Totri, ASU men’s basketball and football beat writer for The State Press, said.

While the Pac-12’s football and basketball efforts have been relatively futile over the past two decades, the conference is arguably the most dominant in Olympic sports.

For example, ASU’s Zahid Valencia won the NCAA Wrestling National Championships with an undefeated 2017-18 season. The top-25 rankings for both men’s and women’s water polo and swimming teams are full of Pac-12 teams. Multiple Pac-12 schools are ranked in the softball top-25 with ASU currently sitting at No. 7 with three other Pac-12 schools ahead of the Sun Devils.

The list goes on for smaller, incredibly successful Pac-12 programs, but they tend to get overlooked because they don't bring in revenue like football and basketball do.

“As long as those programs are performing at a competitive level on a national scale, this conference isn’t in danger of losing its reputation,” Totri said. “The Pac-12 is strongest in Olympic sports. For that, the Pac-12 is sitting just fine with their ‘Conference of Champions’ nickname.”

Regardless of how successful the lower-level athletic programs are, the notion that they’ll get enough recognition to outshine underachieving football and basketball programs doesn’t seem possible.

In the NCAA men's basketball tournament this past month, zero Pac-12 teams advanced to the second round of the men’s basketball tournament. ASU and UCLA couldn’t make it out of their first round matchups, and Arizona got crushed by the 13-seeded Buffalo

That statistic is both surprising and embarrassing for the conference.

In addition, while the University of Washington represented the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff in 2016, no football team has represented the Pac-12 in a championship football game since Oregon lost to Auburn in 2010. 

To put it simply, the Pac-12 doesn’t have the talent to keep up with other elite athletic schools. 

The “Conference of Champions” nickname is fine if used in reference to smaller programs, but people typically don’t associate the term with top swimming teams or the best wrestler. Most athletic schools are judged based on their football and basketball success, and the Pac-12 hasn't had much lately.   

Basketball fans are going to be free for the next few months from hearing Bill Walton relentlessly praise the Pac-12 on TV, which might be a good thing for the conference considering the three teams in the tournament were all bounced swiftly. 

The Pac-12, as a whole, might want to pump the brakes on the “Conference of Champions” nickname until it has more than two major championship over 20 years. 

Reach the columnist at Steven.Slobodzian@asu.edu or follow @PSlobodzianASU on Twitter.

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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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