The Pac-12 Conference is back on top
April 15, 2021
In the past thirty days, the Pac-12 Conference has had a time to remember. The much-maligned conference, often ridiculed by their friends in the east, have put together a memorable run of success in basketball and the other Olympic sports. As former UCLA basketball great Bill Walton often states, the Pac-12 is the "Conference of Champions" and lately that has never been truer.
The highlight of the past month was the performance of the Pac-12 schools in the NCAA basketball tournament, both the men and women programs. On the men's side, led by the UCLA Bruins, the Pac-12 went 14-5 in the tournament, with four of their five teams getting into the Sweet 16. The Bruins went 5-1 in in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, making it all the way to the Final Four before losing To Gonzaga in overtime.
The Pac-12 women got six teams into the NCAA women's tournament, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona, and Stanford. Both Arizona and Stanford made the Final Four, beat their semi-final opponent and met in an All-Pac-12 Championship game for the national title. Stanford hung on for a close win, 54-53, to claim their first national championship in women's basketball since 1992.
In the month of March, the Pac-12 won national championships in skiing (Utah), in men's indoor track & field (Oregon), and in men's water polo (UCLA). With the Stanford national championship in basketball in early April, the Pac-12 won four national championships in four weeks. Because of the postponement of spring sports in 2020, the Pac-12 will be defending their 2019 national titles in women's softball (UCLA), in women's volleyball (Stanford), women's soccer (Stanford), and women's tennis (Stanford).
The men's basketball performance was the best in conference history, by both total wins and total payout. March Madness is the NCAA's biggest money maker, but it is also lucrative for conferences. The basketball fund is dispensed using a formula that rewards conferences for how their teams played over the previous six tournaments. The key component of this formula is the "financial unit."
Every game a team plays in an NCAA tournament earns one "unit" for its conference. More teams in the tournament mean more units, and more teams winning and advancing to play more games also mean more units. The Pac-12 will be awarded a conference record 19 financial units per year over the next six years, starting in 2022. That was more than any conference in college basketball.
In 2022, the per unit payout will be $338,211, for a record one year payout of $6.4 million dollars for the Pac-12. The conference also collects financial units earned from the five previous tournaments. But beyond the positive financial impact on the conference, the image of the conference in basketball has definitely improved.
The Bruins are already a popular choice for the top team in college basketball next season. UCLA is ranked at No. 1 in the CBS preseason men's basketball poll for 2021-2022. The USC Trojans picked up Memphis guard Boogie Ellis. who announced late Monday night that he would transfer to USC. Ellis is a 6-2, 165-pound four-star point guard from San Diego, who wound up in Memphis after decommitting from Duke University.
As UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond has mentioned in multiple interviews, the success in basketball will hopefully convince homegrown talent to stay at home. 'We talk about keeping California talent in California," Jarmond recently told Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. "What better way to showcase that in all of our sports when basketball gets to a Final Four. It shows the talent in California and the West Coast that you don't have to go somewhere to be on the biggest stage. You can come to UCLA."
It can also be added that you can come to USC or any other Pac-12 school. In Pac-12 football, a sport in which the conference has struggled to keep West Coast talent at home, the Oregon Beavers were ranked 6th in the country in 2021 football recruiting and the Trojans came in the No. 8 in the nation. That gave the Pac-12 two schools in the top eight in recruiting, and along with the SEC one of two conferences with two teams in the top eight.
Even the Pac-12 Network, which has been an albatross around the conference's neck, has recently reported a modest increase in distributions to the schools due to reductions in programming and production expenses. A new Pac-12 Commissioner will be onboard in a few months and hopefully there will be further improvements in the operation of the "Conference of Champions."