State of the Pac-10

On the heels of a relatively unknown, wet-weather-school's hardball national championship last month, it would be easy to get a warm feeling about the quality of the Pacific-10 Conference in terms of athletic success. But let's look at the conference through a little better eye and see how it looks, not only from a westerner's perspective, but to a much higher breed of sports fan as well.

By the way, that "higher breed" is allegedly anyone east of the Rocky Mountains…at least that's what I've been told.

First and foremost, I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate Oregon State on a phenomenal baseball season and spectacular run in the College World Series. In spite of being a second-tier sport by collegiate standards (Football and Basketball being first-tier), National Championships are difficult to come by and any title, regardless of notoriety, is a feat unto itself. Pat Casey spent the last twelve seasons building a winner in Corvallis, compiling a 61 percent winning percentage, winning two consecutive Conference Coach of the Year awards and culminating with the 2006 National Championship.

The reward for his success, a nearly 300 percent raise and an indisputable amount of respect from the "higher breed."

In addition to Oregon State's success, we're all familiar with USC's run in recent years and most recently their heartbreaking loss to Texas in the BCS Championship game. The Trojans continued where they'd left off in '04 and '05, ranked number one for the entire season, producing their third Heisman Trophy winner (Reggie Bush) in four years, and maintaining a level of dominance established and sustained since the arrival of Head Coach Pete Carroll.

The reward for their success, unrivaled love from the national media, endless passengers on the Trojan bandwagon, and ticket requests from every entertainer in Southern California looking to be seen in day-of-game-purchased USC garb.

Not to be outdone by their cross-town rival, the Bruins of UCLA resurrected their storied hoops program with a return visit to the championship game. In spite of their defeat at the hands of the Florida Gators, Ben Howland's collection of young talent used defense and phenomenal guard play to catapult them to the Final Four, doing the alumni, Pac-10 conference, and the city of Los Angeles proud.

Their reward, star guards Arron Afflalo and Jordan Farmar's declaration for the NBA draft. While Afflalo later rescinded his entry, Farmar will be suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers next season, feeding the bottomless pit which is Kobe Bryant. Not exactly what Howland was looking for, but success always comes at a price.

Are you beginning to see my point?

It's fairly obvious to Pac-10 fans and alumni that the "Conference of Champions" is living up to its name and it's undeniable for even the greatest of detractors.

In addition to the aforementioned, the Pac-10 led the NCAA in national championships for the 2005/2006 academic year, finishing with nine titles in all. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference shared runner-up honors with six.

For those non-math majors, that's a third less than the "Pac."

Furthermore, the conference had six runner-up finishes in the past year and again captured the U.S. Sports Academy's Directors Cup, presented annually to the best overall collegiate athletics program in the country, when Stanford was awarded the most recent of its twelve consecutive cups at the end of the 2005/2006 academic year. Along with Stanford, six other Pac-10 programs were amongst the top 20 finishers in the cup standings, leading the nation in that category and clear of its closest pursuer (The ACC) by three.

Oh, yeah, and let us not forget the ACC has twelve schools to the "Pac's" ten.

Again, non-math majors, that's 70 percent of the Pac-10's institutions finishing in the top 20, while its nearest competitor boasts a whopping 33 percent!

Please.

Is the Pac-10, top to bottom, one of most competitive conferences in the nation?

I think we all know the answer to that.

More realistically, is the Pac-10 the most competitive conference in the nation?

It certainly can make a case.

It's easy to discard the unknown. It's even easier to ignore the unknown, for fear of discovery.

The "higher breed" is so comfortable with it's self and it's institutions that it fails to acknowledge the chance there may be something better.

I can appreciate that the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC are quality conferences on par with the Pac-10, and on a given year even better. But I am not and never will be prepared to concede that the Pac-10 isn't at least the equal of every other BCS Conference.

Is the "higher breed" ready to say the same?

Once, I'd like to hear someone from the Southeast acknowledge a down year. Once I'd like to hear a Texan admit the level of depth in the Pac-10 Conference. And once I'd like to hear a Pac-10 rivalry mentioned in the same breath as a Michigan/Ohio State, Oklahoma/Texas or Duke/North Carolina.

We have history here too.

It would be easy for me to say an East Coast Bias doesn't exist and if it did, it wouldn't really matter anyway. But it does and…it does. It matters because Heismans, National Championships and whole lot of money are dependent on votes, ballots, and opinions cast by a large number of people living in the east coast bubble. A bubble which seemingly has no windows.

We play football, basketball and baseball on the west coast too. We row, play water polo and even swing golf clubs. And we do it all pretty well. One only has to look at the scoreboard for the proof.

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