Pac 12 basketball slogs toward Selection Sunday

There is a term baseball scribes use when they have to temporarily vacate their score book area for a restroom break, hot-dog reload or stake out of the general manager’s suite.

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Upon return to press row, you say “catch me up.” A colleague says “F-8, BB, K” and then you’re back in the game.

Home now after a month overseas, I was worried about how much I missed in college basketball.

Then I remembered I am mostly identified with the Pac 12. Whew.

I needed more "catch-me-up" on wire taps than tap ins for a sport that picked up right where football swooned off.

This isn’t synchronized swimming--a non-revenue sport the Pac 12 would surely excel at—this is synchronized sinking.

I left a football conference coming off a 1-8 bowl season with no schools ranked in the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll.

I left Arizona in crisis after the disturbing, five-alarm firing of coach Rich Rodriguez. I returned to Arizona still in crisis, only this time in basketball. I returned to a league, less than one week removed from Selection Sunday, with one school (No. 15 Arizona) ranked in Monday’s AP poll. No other Pac schools even cracked "others receiving votes."

It's also never good when your most talked-about player, nationally, is still Bill Walton.

The bracket experts currently have the Pac 12 with four bids but hanging on like Wile E. Coyote off the edge of a cliff.

Andy Katz, the former ESPN whiz kid now working for the NCAA's web site, on Monday had only one Pac 12 team (Arizona) among his top 30 teams in advance of the tournament.

CBS Sports expert Jerry Palm has USC among its “last four in.” while Joe Lunardi has USC and UCLA involved in “play-in” games at Dayton.

This is a far cry from 1967, when John Wooden’s UCLA defeated Dayton to win its third of 11 national titles.

The Pac 12 is in a slump of epic proportions. It hasn’t won a football title since 2004 (USC) and a basketball crown since 1997 (Arizona).

It is only because I am old that I personally covered both of those feats. By the way, both championships were won under former commissioner Tom Hansen, sent off into retirement by the new guard as a nice man stuck in the 1980s and out-of-touch with modern financial models.

I’ll tell you what, the league got more bang-for-buck out of old Tom, who made a fraction of Larry Scott’s $4 million annual draw. And while expectations may have been lower before the league moved to San Francisco from Walnut Creek--so was the rent.

Scott was hired to reinvigorate the league and put the Pac 12 on a competitive financial level with the Big Ten and SEC.

So far, truth be told, it just hasn’t happened. The $3 billion TV deal Scott inked was impressive until those billions started looking more like yen. You could argue the Pac 12 is farther behind, competitively, than it was back in 2008. It certainly doesn’t have any “revenue” titles to show for the hard work. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Scott’s idea to convince league presidents to own 100% of the Pac 12 Network might have worked (and still might) if it got DirecTV on board to distribute it.

But that hasn’t’ happened either.

Scott went on KJR radio in Seattle last week and put his best spin on things.

“Very satisfied with a lot of what’s been achieved…but it hasn’t reached its full potential,” he said of the network. “We haven’t got full distribution—most notably on DirecTV and, related, we haven’t generated as much money as is possible.”

Pac 12 University presidents, who have been with Scott so far, have also started to do some math.

Meanwhile, the Pac 12 basketball tournament starts this week in Las Vegas with most games televised on the network where “we haven’t got full distribution—most notably on DirecTV.”

This lack of distribution undercuts one of Scott's brilliant moves as commissioner: moving the Pac 12 Tournament from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

It is perfectly fair game, this deep into his tenure, to ask Scott why the Pac 12 isn’t performing in the two most important sports.

To ask him why the top Pac 12 football and basketball stories this season have mostly been negative.

Three of the teams poised to make this year’s NCAA field—Arizona, USC and UCLA—have been embroiled in scandal.

Arizona’s hopes, I recently learned, may be improved now as a result of the team rallying behind coach Sean Miller, who has emphatically denied an ESPN report that, if true, would lead to his immediate termination.

God knows what more will come out of USC, one of the first schools implicated in the scathing FBI inquiry.

UCLA deserves credit for holding it together after a roster-depleting scandal in China, but none of this seems to portend a deep tournament run.

One UCLA administrator tweeted “City CHAMPIONS” after the Bruins’ win over cross-town USC on Saturday night.

I’m sure descendants of UCLA’s dynasty got a kick out of that.

The deeper Arizona goes in the tournament, in fact, the worse it might get for the Pac 12.

I still don’t understand what kind of end game Arizona is playing here. The university put itself at great risk in backing Miller against ESPN.

Why?

Neither side is backing down. Meanwhile, Pac 12 basketball limps on.

Thanks mostly to reigning “city champs” UCLA, the conference still owns more NCAA titles than any other conference. But that brag is becoming as dated as the Boston Celtics’ claim on 17 NBA titles.

The best Pac 12 hoop hope this month, it seems, is Arizona winning the NCAA title and not having to vacate it.

The way this year is going, though, any Arizona win might come with a short, confetti-dump shelf life.

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