Pac-12 Conference

Pac-12 facing uncertain future after losses to Big Ten

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pac-12 can make a case as the most successful conference in collegiate athletics, amassing more than 500 NCAA championships while leading the nation in titles 56 of the past 62 years.

But when it comes to the biggest moneymakers, football and men’s basketball, the “Conference of Champions” has come up short for years.

The lack of success, particularly in football, combined with the conference’s media rights missteps have put the Pac-12 on shaky financial footing, opening the door for two of its marquee schools to jump ship.

Now, with the loss of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten in 2024, the conference and its remaining member schools face an even more uncertain economic future.

“You have exploding costs on one end and your revenue sources are being decimated, which is a tremendous pressure,” Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist said. “On the other hand, what do you do? Well, something pretty radical I think is going to have to happen.”

The Pac-12’s dilemma has been building for years.

Once a powerhouse football conference, the Pac-12 has been a bit player in the national championship conversation of late.

Since Oregon was blown out by Ohio State in the 2015 championship game, the Pac-12 has had one team play in the College Football Playoff: Washington in 2017. Oregon has fallen off since Chip Kelly left for the NFL in 2013 and Southern California, once the conference’s marquee program, never fully got back on track after the NCAA sanctions of the Pete Carroll era.

The Pac-12 has been just as quiet in men’s basketball, getting two teams – Oregon in 2017 and UCLA in 2021 – through to the Final Four.

The lack of success made the Pac-12’s football games maybe-watch TV, which in turn has made it more difficult to lure top coaches and recruits away from rival conferences – particularly the football juggernaut SEC.

“In the old days, USC and UCLA would be right up there at the top of the national football heap every year, and they’ve fallen way down,” Zimbalist said. “And so you need some fill up, some boost to get them to a point where they can really be a strong, strong franchise again – and I just don’t see that.”

The Pac-12 drop-off was compounded by its media rights deals.

As TV packages began to bulge, former Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott pushed for the conference to build its own network instead of partnering with ESPN, Fox or another network. A self-sustained network would allow the Pac-12 to control programming, showcase its highly successful Olympic sports and reap all the financial rewards.

The Pac-12 Networks never soared like Scott envisioned, bogged down, in part, by an inability to reach an agreement with DirecTV, which prevented the conference’s sports from reaching millions of homes.

The Pac-12 did work out a lucrative deal to have some of its games shown on ESPN and Fox, but the networks often wanted those to fill late-night time slots on the East Coast.

The deals left the conference in a “Pac-12 After Dark” hole. The Pac-12 had the lowest distribution number among Power Five schools, paying its member institutions $19.8 million in 2021.

By contrast, the SEC distributed $54.6 million to each of its member schools in 2021 and the Big Ten $46.1 million.

Finances mean stability in the world of college sports, so the lure of more money was a big driver in the departures of USC and UCLA, which said it faced cutting sports if it didn’t leave for the Big Ten.

The moves in turn will hurt the Pac-12’s bottom line; not only did the conference lose two big programs, its foothold in the nation’s second-largest media market is going away.

“When you see the rich get richer, people are going to grab for their share,” said Tom McMillen, president and CEO of Lead1, which represents Football Bowl Subdivision athletic directors and programs.

The loss of UCLA and USC puts the Pac-12 at a crossroads.

The conference announced last week that it is pursuing all expansion avenues and pushed up negotiations for its next media rights deal; the current one is set to end in 2024.

The Pac-12 could form a partnership with another conference in need of a lift, like the ACC, which would possibly cause travel problems for smaller sports. It also could add members from a smaller conference like the Mountain West or convince schools from the Big 12 to defect, like Colorado and Utah did in 2011.

The conference also may have its hand forced if several schools bolt for another conference to find stability, perhaps to the Big 12 to form another superconference with the SEC and Big Ten.

“I think you’ll see more consolidation,” McMillen said. “This is not new. This is economics 101. There’s a lot of efficiencies. Think about all this: we have 32 conferences. There’s probably $1 billion of overhead and when you merge conferences, you’re obviously streamlining some of that.”

More conference realignment is coming. The fate of the Pac-12 is still to be determined.

No. 2 Stanford women top Oregon St. 57-44 in Pac-12 quarters

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Haley Jones scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead No. 2 Stanford to a 57-44 victory over Oregon State on Thursday in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.

Stanford (26-3), which was 16-0 in conference play during the regular season, won its 18th straight game this season and has won 32 consecutive games against Pac-12 opponents, including postseason play.

The Cardinal, 51-6 all-time at the Pac-12 Tournament, improved to 19-1 all-time in the quarterfinals. Stanford, which swept the regular-season series by 23 and 24 points, is 6-0 against Oregon State in the event.

After scoring just two points in the first half, on 1 of 8 (12.5%) shooting, Jones erupted to score 12 of her game-high tally in the third quarter on 5-of-7 shooting to help Tara VanDerveer’s squad pull away.

“Tara said at halftime that the shots I was taking (in) the first half were good shots, so I just kind of had to have confidence in that,” Jones said. “And my teammates instilled a lot of confidence in me that those are shots that are makeable and within the flow of the offense. I think things just started getting going in the third quarter.”

Anna Wilson scored 11 points, and Cameron Brink added 10 points and six rebounds to boost Stanford.

Oregon State (14-13) was led by Ellie Mack and Emily Codding, who each had 13 points. Talia von Oelhoffen added 10.

The Beavers shot just 29.6% from the field. Stanford, which has held 57 of its last 62 opponents to 41.8% shooting or worse, improved to 45-1 when holding its opponent to less than 40% shooting.

The Cardinal finished the game shooting a rather bleak 23 of 61 (37.7%) from the floor, but was 8 for 18 (44.4%) from 3-point range.

Stanford opened the game by dominating the first quarter, taking a 16-2 lead thanks to a hot hand from beyond the arc. Though the Cardinal shot just 37.5% (6 of 16) from the floor, they were 4 of 7 (57.1%) from 3-point range. Oregon State, meanwhile, went 1 of 10 from the field in the opening period.

“The first quarter was awesome,” VanDerveer said. “I thought people were really locked in defensively. And it helps our defense when our offense scores. … I was glad that our team just didn’t really relax and think the game was over because it’s a 40-minute game.”

As the Beavers showed in the second quarter.

After Lexie Hull’s 3-pointer to start the second pushed Stanford’s lead to 17, the Beavers found their rhythm on offense and used a 13-3 spurt to get within seven at 22-15. Wilson ended Stanford’s 0-for-7 drought with five quick points before von Oelhoffen’s half-court drain at the buzzer left the Cardinal with a 27-18 halftime lead.

“For our team, I loved the heart, I loved the fight,” Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. “Obviously it was a tough first quarter scoring the ball. The difference was they made shots, we missed shots. I thought that was the only difference early. Then it was battling back from that point. And I thought our team showed their character today.”

FOR KATIE

The Cardinal players donned Stanford soccer shirts over their jerseys for warmups to honor former goalkeeper Katie Meyer, who was found dead in a campus residence, per school officials. Meyer, 22, was a team captain who made two key saves in a penalty shootout to help Stanford win the national championship in 2019.

KEEP IT LOW

The Cardinal are on a 51-0 run when holding opponents to less than 70 points.

“I thought it was a little bit like a heavyweight fight,” VanDerveer said. “These are two teams that know each other really well. They’re very talented. And I think we just had to step up defensively, which we did.”

BIG BROTHER RUSS

As he has every year during the postseason tournament, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took his seat near the Stanford bench and sprung to his feet when his sister, Anna, drained the game’s first bucket from 3-point range.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon State: The Beavers, who ranked 11th in the Pac 12 with a minus-5.69 turnover margin, committed 10 turnovers before Stanford surrendered its first at the 6:07 mark of the fourth quarter. The Beavers committed 12 turnovers while Stanford set a conference tournament record for fewest turnovers in a game with three.

Stanford: With Colorado scoring an upset of No. 14 Arizona in Thursday’s first game, the Cardinal avoid the revenge-minded Wildcats, whom Stanford beat in the lone meeting during the regular season and in last season’s national championship. The Cardinal swept Colorado this season.

UP NEXT

Oregon State: With a NET ranking of 52, the Beavers hope their postseason continues in the WNIT.

Stanford: Plays in Friday’s semifinal against Colorado.

Arizona State’s Turner Thorne retiring after 25 seasons

Alex Gould - The Republic
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TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State women’s basketball coach Charli Turner Thorne is retiring after 25 years.

Turner Thorne announced her retirement Thursday, a day after the Sun Devils lost to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

Turner Thorne turned Arizona State into a national powerhouse after being hired in 1996. She led the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament 14 times, including five trips to the Sweet Sixteen and two to the Elite Eight.

The 55-year-old Turner Thorne is the winningest coach in Arizona State history and second in the Pac-12 to Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, her former coach, with a record of 500-308.

Turner Thorne played four seasons at Stanford before embarking on a coaching career that started when she was a graduate assistant at Washington, followed by an assistant job at Santa Clara and four seasons as Northern Arizona’s head coach.

Arizona State went 20-60 in the three seasons before Turner Thorne was hired and she built the program back up, leading the Sun Devils to their first league championships in history during the regular season and Pac-10 tournament.

Arizona State had a school-record run of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2014-19 and qualified for the postseason 23 times under Turner Thorne. She took a leave of absence during the 2011-12 season and led the Sun Devils to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.

The Sun Devils struggled with injuries this season, finishing 12-14 overall and 4-9 in Pac-12 play.

Gonzaga is No. 1 in preseason AP Top 25; UCLA, Kansas next

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Gonzaga carried a No. 1 ranking all last season before falling a win short of becoming college basketball’s first unbeaten national champion in 45 years.

Mark Few’s Bulldogs start this season in the same position, hoping to complete that final step this time around.

The Zags were the runaway top choice in The Associated Press Top 25 men’s college basketball preseason poll released Monday. They earned 55 of 63 first-place votes to easily outdistance No. 2 UCLA, which earned the other eight. Kansas, Villanova and Texas rounded out the top five, while reigning national champion Baylor checked in at No. 8.

The Zags have accomplished just about every milestone possible in 23 years under Few other than cutting down the nets on the final Monday night of the season. They came close to completing the first unbeaten run since 1976 last year with a wire-to-wire No. 1 team, only to fall to the Bears in a one-sided final in Indianapolis.

Now they’ll try again.

“It is quite an honor to be selected preseason No. 1 for the second consecutive year,” Few said in a statement to the AP. “Our returning players realize the challenge of playing up to that level all year and look forward to it.”

Gonzaga lost AP All-Americans Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs to the NBA, but second-team selection Drew Timme (19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds) and starting guard Andrew Nembhard return. The Zags also bring in a top recruiting class featuring the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 7-footer Chet Holmgren and a five-star guard in Hunter Sallis.

Going back to the 2019-20 season, the Zags have now been ranked in the top three for 32 straight polls, with 22 of those at No. 1.

THE TOP TIER

Third-year coach Mick Cronin has UCLA on a fast climb.

Leading scorer Johnny Juzang (16.0 ppg) headlines a Bruins roster that returns nearly intact after last year’s run from the First Four to the Final Four, where they lost to Gonzaga on a half-court shot in an overtime classic.

They are starting with their first top-10 preseason ranking since 2009 and their first top-10 ranking in any AP poll since spending 13 weeks there during the 2016-17 season.

“If we taught anybody anything last year,” Cronin said this month, “your seed or your ranking does not matter come tournament time.”

Kansas has the program’s 10th straight preseason top-10 ranking, followed by the Wildcats and Longhorns, who open their first season under Chris Beard with the program’s highest preseason ranking since 2010.

THE CHAMPS

Baylor has a second straight top-10 preseason ranking despite losing four starters from last year’s title winner, including AP All-Americans Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell. The Bears will try to join Duke (1991-92) and Florida (2006-07) as the only schools to win consecutive titles since UCLA’s run of seven straight from 1967-73.

“As we’ve talked with our team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said, “we have a unique opportunity.”

BLUEBLOODS BACK?

Duke and Kentucky are starting with their typically high rankings after seasons unlike many in their tradition-rich histories.

The ninth-ranked Blue Devils are playing the final season under retiring Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. They’re coming off a 13-11 season that included missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

The 10th-ranked Wildcats are right behind them after a 9-16 season, the program’s first losing record since 1988-89.

Then there’s North Carolina, which made the NCAA Tournament but was inconsistent all season and out of the Top 25 before Christmas. The Tar Heels open at No. 19 in their first season under Hubert Davis, promoted after the retirement of Hall of Famer Roy Williams in April.

WELCOME BACK

St. Bonaventure is ranked for the first time in more than five decades. The Bonnies from the Atlantic 10 are No. 23, marking the first time they have been ranked since January 1971. That season was also the last time the program was ranked in the preseason (No. 20).

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big Ten and Southeastern conferences have a national-best five ranked teams each.

The Big Ten has No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Purdue, No. 11 Illinois, No. 17 Ohio State and No. 21 Maryland. The SEC has No. 14 Alabama, No. 16 Arkansas, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 22 Auburn joining Kentucky.

The ACC is next up with four, with No. 20 Florida State and No. 25 Virginia joining Duke and UNC. The Big 12 has its Kansas-Texas-Baylor trio, while the Pac-12 (UCLA and No. 13 Oregon), Big East (Villanova and No. 24 Connecticut) and American Athletic Conference (No. 12 Memphis and No. 15 Houston) are the others with multiple Top 25 teams.

WATCH LIST

The top unranked teams are all from power conferences, headlined by Michigan State as the leading vote-getter. Next up is Indiana under first-year coach Mike Woodson, Southern California and Arizona under new coach Tommy Lloyd.

ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 alliance to ‘protect the collegiate model’

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Facing a rapidly shifting landscape in college sports, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12 have agreed to work together to create stability during volatile times.

Less than a month after the Southeastern Conference made an expansion power play by inviting Texas and Oklahoma to the league, three of the SEC’s Power Five peers countered with an alliance of 41 schools that span from Miami to Seattle.

The commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 on Tuesday pledged broad collaboration on myriad issues and committed to league members playing more football and basketball games against each other.

They also suggested they wouldn’t be poaching each other’s schools.

“The history of college athletics, one expansion of a conference has usually led to another to another and to another,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said during a video conference. “And to the three of us, we felt the stabilization of the current environment, across Division I and FBS – in Power Five in particular – this was a chance for a new direction, a new initiative that I don’t think has ever been done before.”

After weeks of internal discussions, the alliance is still mostly conceptual and collegial.

“There’s no contract. There’s no signed document,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said. “There’s an agreement among three gentlemen and a commitment from 41 presidents and chancellors and 41 athletic directors to do what we say we’re going to do.”

The SEC sent shockwaves through college athletics in July when it was revealed that Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big 12 to join the nation’s most powerful football conference no later than 2025.

“I wouldn’t say this is a reaction to Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC, but to be totally candid you have to evaluate what’s going on in the landscape of college athletics,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said.

In a statement, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said: “We have respect for each of our conference colleagues and look forward to our future collaborations. I believe we remain unified by our shared beliefs around the positive impact college sports has on the lives of student-athletes throughout our communities.”

As for the Big 12, its future is murky at best as the eight remaining members plot their next moves and try to work out a divorce from the Longhorns and Sooners. The realignment of Texas and Oklahoma could lead the Power Five to shrink to four.

“We want and need the Big 12 to do well,” Phillips said. “The Big 12 matters in college athletics.”

But it will not be part of the alliance.

The alliance also is being formed as the NCAA shakes off a Supreme Court loss and considers handing off more responsibility to conferences and schools to run college sports. The NCAA Board of Governors has called a special constitutional convention in November, the first step toward what could be sweeping reform and a decentralized governance model.

“We did the alliance to protect the collegiate model,” said Kliavkoff, who is only in his second month on the job of leading the Pac-12 after serving as president of sports and entertainment for MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas.

There is also a proposal to expand the College Football Playoff from four to 12 teams currently in the pipeline. The proposal was crafted by Sankey, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and unveiled publicly in June.

Kliavkoff and Warren both said their conferences support playoff expansion, while Phillips said the ACC had not landed on a final position.

The commissioners and university presidents are scheduled to meet in late September in Chicago to discuss what comes next for the expansion proposal.

“This is not a voting bloc,” Kliavkoff said of the alliance in a brief interview with AP. “We’ve not committed to voting together on anything. We’ve committed to discuss all of these issues, and to try to come up with solutions that are in the best interest of long-term college athletics.

“I’d be surprised if we come to different conclusions with respect to how we think about CFP expansion, but it’s not a voting bloc.”

The scheduling piece could lead to numerous nonconference football games each season and multiple team events in basketball involving ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, potentially creating new and valuable television inventory.

But that could take time to come together, especially in football.

Nonconference football schedules are typically made years in advance and many schools already have mostly full slates in the coming seasons. The commissioners said they did not expect their schools to break contracts to accommodate new agreements within the alliance nor would they prohibit members from scheduling schools from other leagues.

The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 tried to make a bold statement by unveiling the alliance, but with no concrete plans in place it will start as a merely a promise to act with mutual interests in mind.

“Hopefully, this will bring some much needed stability in college athletics,” Warren said. “I also think what it will do is allow people to understand where everyone else stands. Some of the events over the last couple of months have shaken the foundations of college athletics.”

Stanford guard Anna Wilson is returning for a sixth season

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN FRANCISCO — Stanford guard Anna Wilson is returning to the university for a sixth season to help the Cardinal try to defend their national championship, while Alyssa Jerome is staying for a fifth year.

Wilson, the Pac-12 Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year who moved into the starting lineup last season, and Jerome made their announcements together to The Associated Press on Monday night before attending the Jazz-Warriors game, where Golden State planned to honor Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer and her team for the program’s first NCAA title since 1992.

The Cardinal lost guard Kiana Williams, drafted by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm with the sixth pick of the second round and 18th overall.

“It’s just a really awesome opportunity to have,” said Wilson, the younger sister of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. “We just came off the national championship win and to be able to be with this team again is really special. We lose Ki but we bring back a lot of people and I think the new people are going to be really great.”

The 5-foot-9 Wilson – who like Russell wears uniform No. 3 and had him cheering from the stands during the championship run in San Antonio – emerged as a lock-down defender while moving into the starting lineup with a stellar training camp.

A key reserve forward, the 6-foot-3 Jerome averaged 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 7.2 minutes per game.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic canceling college sports seasons last year, seniors were given the chance to have an extra year of eligibility.

“Obviously I didn’t expect to come back a fifth year at Stanford but when the opportunity kind of came up I was really exited for it,” Jerome said. “I just didn’t want to leave this team yet. It’s such a special group of girls, so really excited.”

VanDerveer was thrilled to be at the game cheering Golden State after she reached out to outgoing COO Rick Welts. She and coach Steve Kerr have visited each other’s practices in recent years.

A video tribute was shown during a first-quarter timeout featuring NCAA highlights and Kerr offering a congratulatory message to friend VanDerveer – but she actually missed it. A week out from receiving her second COVID-19 vaccine and testing daily at Stanford, she finally got into Chase Center at halftime after a false-positive test followed by a negative result.

She said: “I’m just glad it was me and not the kids. The second half is going to be great!”

“It’s been amazing. We are all such Warrior fans,” VanDerveer said earlier. “It’s great to be here. It’s really great that their team is recognizing our team, too.”