Pac-12, Cal and Stanford are latecomers to college sports’ raging party

At Pac-12 men’s basketball media day Wednesday, the sweetness abounded, beginning with the can of candy at the check-in counter.

After all, this is preseason, a time for optimism. But given the national and regional situation, it is also a time of reality. The reality is that the Pac-12 walks a fine line between falling into oblivion and beginning a healthy rebuild.

The Pac-12, Commissioner George Kliavkoff told us Wednesday, is on a positive path. A new, richer TV deal is in the works (sorry, no details). While USC and UCLA plan to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in two years, Kliavkoff said his conference maintains a long line of applicants, schools eager to take the places of the breakaway Bruins and Trojans.

“I’ll tell you, I’m still amazed by all the schools that are reaching out to us and wanting to be part of this thinking,” Kliavkoff said.

Let’s pause here and bring in our reality panel, two people who shared their unbiased thoughts on the state of the Pac-12 and its two Bay Area teams, Stanford and Cal. One is a veteran national college scout and the other is a former Division I men’s coach.

“Of the six major conferences of power, the Pac-12 is sixth,” said the scout, who believes next year’s NBA draft will not have a first-rounder from a Western U.S. school, although the Pac-12 currently has over seven of this year’s top 50 national recruits, according to ESPN.

“The Pac-12 is in a bad place,” added the scout. “It was in a bad place before it was botched (the last TV deal); They dropped the ball (under former commissioner Larry Scott) and fell far behind. Bill Walton can’t call it a Conference of Champions much longer.”

Ouch. I did not mention this comment to Walton, who attended the media day.

While Kliavkoff spoke of expansion, the opposite is also possible. The Scout raised the possibility that Oregon could be lured away from the insatiably expanding Big Ten, in which case “Washington would be right behind.”

It’s still possible that UCLA leaders will change their minds and keep the Bruins in the Pac-12. Kliavkoff recently sent a letter to the UC Regents detailing why he believes the extra money UCLA (and USC) will get from jumping into the Big Ten will come from higher travel expenses and higher Coach salaries that will be required to more than compensate will keep pace with Big Ten schools.

Part of the problem for the Pac-12, and for Cal and Stanford, is that they haven’t fully embraced the raging college sports party.

“Bay Area teams are not adapting well (to the new rules),” the former coach said unhappily.

The trainer found that many schools and conferences benefit from the somewhat vague NIL rules and the looser transfer rules. A street fight has broken out over the best players, almost anything goes (or so it seems) but Cal and Stanford are still fighting under the rules of the Marquess of Queensbury.

The scout believes both Stanford coach Jerod Haase and Cal coach Mark Fox are in the hot seat. Haase enters his seventh season as head coach with a 98-88 record (16-16 last season, 8-12 in conference). Fox is in his fourth season with Cal with a 34-58 record (12-20 last season, 5-15 in conference).

“And I hate that because they’re both good coaches,” said the scout. “Cal (Fox) inherited a mess, then COVID made it worse.”

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