How Parity Has Resulted in Instability in the Pac-12


Let’s just take a curosy look at the Pac-12 season the last three seasons:

Arizona State66
Washington State48
Oregon State39
Arizona State66
Oregon State57
Washington State210
Oregon State85
Arizona State48
Washington State111

Notice any trends? Lots of mediocrity…

Other than Oregon always at the top and Washington State always at the bottom, the Pac-10/12 has been a conference of a bunch of teams fighting somewhere in the middle. USC and Stanford have been good, but there seems to always be the same crowd of California (20-17), Washington (19-18), Arizona State (16-18), Arizona (17-19), UCLA (17-20), and Oregon State (16-21) fighting to remain in the middle of the conference and somehow get eligible for a 2nd tier bowl. Now we’ve added Utah (7-5) to the party of parity.

The conference has found itself in a vicious cycle of

parity that results in impatient fan bases, frustrated athletic directors, lots of money being thrown around to coaches to get the program “over the hump”, and an instability in the coaching ranks that does not allow these programs to recruit with certainty and really have a chance at sustained growth and teaching of the fundamentals for the players.

Granted, this is a phenonmena across the college football landscape. But, the impatience with 6-6 records and 2nd tier bowl games has resulted in a short-hook unseen in previous eras of college football. When a coach like Dennis Erickson or Rick Neuheisel (love ’em or hate ’em) has their program at bowl eligibility in their 4th season, it is a thing that is rediculed (even by me), rather than celebrated. The thing is, it is all about perception and context.

If a coach takes over a very weakened program, say Steve Sarkisian coming in after an 0-12 season, and leads his team to 5-6, 7-6, and 7-5 records, we celebrate his team on the rise. But, those same three years in a different context may result in the coach getting fired. Say Steve Sarkisian took over a Husky team who went 5-7 in 2008…would we be as patient?

People want to see “progress”. Well, was Paul Wulff making progress at 4-8 following a 2-10 and 1-11 season? Was Rick Neuheisel making progress at 6-6 following a 4-8 season? And what makes Jeff Tedford bullet-proof (A $5 million buy-out that’s what) at 7-5 following a 5-7 season? Much of it is perception across the year.

While California lost badly to UCLA, they did finish the season winning 3 of their last 4 games. On the otherhand, Arizona State was 6-2 on the year and cruising to the Pac-12 South title before losing 4 straight. For Rick Neuheisel, his dismissal is as much about losing 4 straight to USC as it is about his overall wins and losses. Then you have Mike Riley at Oregon State. While they are just 16-21 in the last three years, no one is talking about canning him!

Could it be that there are people in Corvallis who recognize how difficult it is to recruit there and that the likelihood of finding a better coach to improve the program in that location is unlikely? On the other hand, UCLA has the allure of the beaches and sunshine of Los Angeles. Arizona and Arizona State have the winter warmth. All of those programs have inflated views of themselves and their attractiveness to college coaches and they are willing to flaunt millions of dollars to fanbases (In Arizona at least) who really don’t care that much.

But, football is a zero sum game. Not every team can be 11-1. Someone needs to lose games. So, what is better for the conference? To have six 10-2 teams and six 2-10 teams or to have the parity of everyone bunched around 6-6? I do think, however, that the league would be in better shape if coaches were allowed more time to shape their program.

While 4 years may be enough to get all of their recruits on board, it isn’t enough time to really establish a winning system. How many times have you heard about a brand new coach coming into a program and winning immediately? It seems to happen all the time.

Rick Neuheisel took Washington to a Rose Bowl in his 2nd year. Guess what? Those were Jim Lambright’s recruits. Then the team spiraled downward toward 1-10 in Keith Gilbertson’s 2nd year as Gilby had to play Rick Neuheisel’s recruits. That same story has played out all across college football in recent years. Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, and Gene Chizik all won a national championships in their 2nd years with the previous coaches’ recruits.

The question that will never be answerable is whether the previous coach who actually recruited those players could have had the same success if they were given the chance. Some (especially Auburn, Ohio State, Florida, and Oklahoma fans) would argue it was worth the change. But, I still think college football is better off with a bit more stability (perhaps with a bit less drama and less money being thrown around as coaches dangle job offers to get better deals at the school they already have a contract with).

Am I sad any of those four coaches are/will be fired this season? Not at all…I don’t really like any of their personalities, except Paul Wulff who always seemed more like a bumbling little teddy bear than a college football coach. But, all of the other coaches in the league better watch their backs. Lane Kiffin, David Shaw, and Chip Kelly better watch their backs if they ever fall off their perch and have a couple of mediocre seasons. They have set the bar too high…

Does anyone really believe that Stanford will be able to sustain its current level of success after this outstanding group of players graduates? They are Stanford after all, with little fan following and rediculous entrance requirements. They will be back to 7-5 soon enough. No one knows when or if the NCAA sanctions hammer will drop in Eugene. But, given the bad taste in everyone’s mouth after the USC thing, it might not happen even if it should. But, Jeff Tedford? As soon as that buyout expires, he’s gone without an outstanding year soon!

As for Mike Riley…I think the conference is better off having him in it, even if he goes 3-9 every year.