Commentary: Already fighting perception issues, Pac-12 is becoming more irrelevant in pandemic

The Pac-12 has a serious PR problem - a serious perception problem right now. It’s a combination of indignation from many fans of schools in the conference - and complete indifference from the rest of the country.

Let me preface all of this by saying that this is not a discussion about whether the Pac-12 is doing the right thing with their current plans to postpone Fall Sports through the end of this year. This isn’t a discussion about whether the conference will be praised in the long run if it turns out that they were actually right about initial medical concerns and the longterm heart health of their players. 

This is all about right now. And from a football perspective, the Pac-12 has become completely irrelevant. And it’s painful to see.

In the next few days, the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors are expected to approve a plan to play football, with a target date of October 17. It will reverse last month’s decision to shut down all fall sports because of concerns over the pandemic. The ACC and Big 12 played this weekend. The SEC starts play in a couple weeks. Football is happening. People are watching.

And for most of this country, the Pac-12 is out of sight, out of mind.

Now, there was great news last week when commissioner Larry Scott announced a partnership with Quidel, to provide rapid daily COVID-19 testing for their athletes. The tests are expected to arrive at all 12 schools by the end of the month, which means the conference could consider resuming sports before the end of the year. But with a minimum six weeks to prepare for a football season, mid-November would be the earliest the Pac-12 could start.

It means that lining up the Big Ten and Pac-12 for an end of season bowl game schedule might not be possible.

Let me remind you that the College Football Playoff has been held for six years. Of the 24 teams that have reached the national semifinals, just two have come from the Pac-12. This is a conference that has already been the forgotten child when it comes to the Power 5 Conferences in football. And now it’s in the position of being the only major conference that’s sitting out for at least the next two months.

This is a conference whose network already can’t be accessed on a number of cable and streaming services across the country.  From a football perspective at least, imagine how much more damage is being done to their overall reputation now too.

And how about the message it’s sending to the players right now – those who worked just as hard this offseason – who are sitting idly by, watching others all over the country getting the chance to compete? What are coaches supposed to tell their players? And what message does it send to big-name recruits when, to them at least, football seems more important in other areas of this country because they’re playing and the Pac-12 is not?

You can argue that this conference cares about the health of their players more than others all day long, and you might be right. But it simply won’t resonate with most 18-to-22 year olds who are missing out on their chance to compete. And it won’t resonate with all the people in athletic departments across the conference who lost their jobs or a number of staffers at the Pac-12 Network who were fired because of budget cuts.

History might ultimately shine on the Pac-12 for doing the right thing. But in the process, this conference has really become a non-factor. Instead of leaders, they look like followers.

And the damage it’s done – in terms of competitiveness and perception – could have long-lasting effects.