It’s generally frowned upon to give yourself your own nickname. Just ask newly-minted Warrior, Swaggy P.
Remember when Michael Jackson insisted the media refer to him as “The King of Pop”? Well for years, the Pac-12 has done something similar. To watch a Bill Walton (UCLA 1971-74) broadcast any Pac-12 game is to hear “Conference of Champions” uttered ad nauseam.
The title is even a registered trademark for Pete’s sake.
So when the final tally of last school year’s NCAA championships was released recently, the crowing could be heard up and down the West Coast.
“Living up to its well-deserved billing at the ‘Conference of Champions,’ the conference’s NCAA championships came in the form of a record 10 in women’s sports, two in men’s and one combined championship,” the press release reads.
Let’s pause there. Ten women’s championships? The whole of the SEC only won five.
The women of the Conference of Champions won the national title in soccer (USC), volleyball (Stanford), swimming (Stanford), water polo (Stanford), cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field (Oregon sweep), golf (Arizona State), rowing (Washington) and beach volleyball (USC).
But aside from the utter dominance of women’s sports in the Pac-12 (which really should have been the lead of the breathless press release, but I digress) I’m going to say it: Is anyone beside the PR team tracking conference titles? Aren’t we all more interested in our schools rather than the league?
Don’t we spend an entire season, school year, lifetime, wanting to tear the hearts out of our conference rivals? True, at some point the script is flipped and we root for our rivals because they represent the larger family out in the wider world, so to speak.
But turning that on and off isn’t easy.
In 1995, I was gifted Final Four tickets from a friend who happened to be a UCLA Bruin. The only caveat: I had to ditch the navy blue and gold of my beloved Golden Bears and take up the baby blue hue of the Bruins. Pac-10 (then) pride, baby.
It was harder than you’d think. When the UCLA fans would break into “The Mighty Bruins” cheer — which climaxes with a rousing “U-C-L-A! Fight! Fight! Fight!” — it took all I could muster to suppress the primal need to yell “Eat my shorts!”
But under no circumstance, free tickets or conference allegiance be damned, do I root for Stanford. No matter what. That would just be weird.
Does the average fan or athlete care deeply about conference tallies? Probably not. But for the higher-ups, it’s an arms race and it’s about money.
A quick look: There were 35 bowl games last football season. When a school sends a team with a barely break even record to a lowly bowl game they don’t have stars in their eyes, they dream of dollar signs.
But most of those lower tier bowl games pay out between $400,000 and $1 million, according to Forbes. And of that, the participating school gets only a slice — the payout goes to the conference.
And the Pac-12 has largely been out of the big money hunt for a while. Oregon football won the Rose Bowl in 2014 before losing in the national title game to Ohio State. The last football title was in 2004 by USC but considering that was in the heart of the Reggie Bush scandal-plagued years, maybe we should roll it back to Washington’s title in 1991.