Pac-10 Concludes Tour in Rose Bowl; Preseason Predictions Released
The bright, big city lights of Manhattan, and those inside the ESPN studios, gave way to brilliant sunshine at the Rose Bowl Thursday. The Pac-10 kept their show on the road, but the road was much closer to home on the final day of the conference's three-day media blitz.
The coaches told stories of small hotel rooms and seeing the new Pac-10 logo on the big screen in Times Square. They got face time with media types who don't usually pay attention to their teams. They roamed ESPN, becoming the first major conference to bring all of its coaches (and its four star quarterbacks) to the Bristol, Conn., campus at once.
And they declared the whole affair a smashing success.
"If you talk to people from around the country, they would say we don't play 'real football' out here," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. "Going to New York and taking the East Coast bias head on, I thought it was a bold move. I wasn't sure about it at first, but after going through it, I think it was brilliant."
What does the Pac-10 get from its junket?
Exposure. Good publicity. Good will. Because nothing makes reporters happier than when you give them access. And food, but that's a different story.
"I think we gained a whole lot of respect from the East Coast and the media," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said.
Commissioner Larry Scott sold the coaches on this idea when he met with them as a group back in May.
"The reason I really encouraged people to do it was that in my first few months here, when I was spending a lot of time listening, I kept hearing about East Coast bias and time-zone problems and all the reasons why it was difficult," Scott said. "I didn't really buy into that and my reaction was, 'Let's take some steps.' I think this has been a real confidence-builder for everyone in the conference, that there is a lot of interest in what's going on out here."
Scott said the East Coast reception for the Pac-10 exceeded his expectations.
"I was surprised at how enthusiastic people were to meet our coaches," Scott said. "The people from the New York Times said it was the first time they had met (Oregon State coach) Mike Riley and Mike is one of the most preeminent coaches in the game. They just hadn't met him before. Most of our coaches had never been to the ESPN campus before. I think we certainly sent a message that it's going to be a new Pac-10."
Thursday's Rose Bowl affair -- a major departure from previous years when the West Coast event was held in an LAX airport hotel ballroom -- was a full house from the media perspective, on the field, in full sun.
Defending champion Oregon officially became the league's favorite Thursday with the release of the preseason poll, the first time in eight years USC has not been picked to win the conference. USC was picked to finish second, three votes back. Oregon State is third, followed by Stanford, then Arizona, Washington, Cal, UCLA, Arizona State and Washington State. Seven of the 10 teams received at least one first-place vote in the poll, an early indication of the parity that should manifest this year.
The NCAA sanctions against USC, part of which is a two-year bowl ban, has undeniably opened up the field.
"Last year we had five teams with the same record," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "It is very difficult to go through this conference unscathed."
Now there's business to attend to; the coaches go back to their schools and Scott goes into a Los Angeles conference room Friday with the Pac-10 athletic directors to determine how he is going to split his 12-team conference (Utah and Colorado are on the way in) in half for the purposes of setting up a conference championship game in football.
Everybody wants to play the Los Angeles schools every year. Everyone wants to maintain their natural rivalries.
Not everybody will end up happy.
"Not totally happy," Scott corrects. "To the extent that L.A. is an issue, you can't have everyone play the same exact teams the same number of times once you go to divisions. That's not possible. But my goals are to have a good, open dialogue. I want to make sure there's an airing and I understand all the concerns specifically and I give an opportunities for people who have models or ideas to put them forward. And I hope we narrow the options. But I have no expectation that it will be finished tomorrow."
A final decision on the divisions and the conference championship game will be made by the university presidents in October.