PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It is not your imagination. The "Conference of Champions" has been lackluster for the past few seasons, with regard to football and men's basketball, at least.
The last time a team from the Pac-12 won the football national championship, it was 2004. Then, the Pac-12 was the Pac-10, and the team was USC. In basketball, you have to look back in time even further, to 1997 when Arizona cut down the nets. Since then, there have been some near-misses, but lately, even those have become hard to find.
"Everybody knew something was wrong, right? We’re all looking at it saying, 'Something's wrong with this picture,'" said John Canzano, who is a columnist for The Oregonian and a radio show host. Canzano has been critical of the Pac-12 leadership, notably commissioner Larry Scott.
"Absolutely this is on the Larry Scott. This is a conference problem, not an individual school problem," said Canzano.
He and other critics say Scott and the conference have failed to keep up with the competition when it comes to delivering funds to the member schools.
"It’s a money game, right? You’re getting about $11 million a year less than the average SEC school. Over five or six years, you will fall behind and you will not be able to pay your coaches as well. You will not be able to have the bells and whistles to help you recruit. You won’t be able to pay your assistant coaches," said Canzano.
There may also be an issue with where the funds are going, that the Pac-12 does generate.
An examination of IRS Form 990s from the Pac-12 and SEC show large disparities in salaries and other expenses.
For example, Scott's base salary in 2016 (the latest year the tax returns are available) was just under $4.7 million. The SEC commissioner's base salary was $1.8 million. Meantime, the SEC generated $650 million in total revenue, while the Pac-12 generated $509 million in total revenue.
The SEC also gets a better deal on its headquarters, which according to the 990 form, cost $318,000 per year. The Pac-12 San Francisco headquarters cost $6.9 million per year.
Other problem points from the perspective of fans and critics include late start times for football games. Pac-12 officials say they had to make some concessions in order to maximize revenues from ESPN and FOX Sports. Part of the trade-off involved more night games. But fans complain that some of the games are so late, that it doesn't make sense for them to go to the stadium, which reduces game attendance.
Ultimately, any major decisions about Scott or the conference will come from the Pac-12 university presidents and chancellors. Canzano believes they are already taking a more active role.
Here is a statement from ASU President Michael Crowe:
“Larry Scott has been a leader focused on the long-term strength of the Pac-12 and enhancing the competitive position of the conference on a number of fronts including athletics, academics and resources. College athletics is about more than just football and men’s basketball and for the last 13 years, the Pac-12 has had the most, or tied for the most, NCAA titles of any conference in the country and has produced more U.S. Olympians than any other conference in the history of the Olympics. I’m confident in the trajectory of the conference.”
The office of University of Arizona president Robert Robbins said he was not going to comment.
CBS 5 Investigates also reached out to the Pac-12, and received the following responses:
"The last couple years in football and men’s basketball performance have been below par by our standards. But performance is cyclical and our fundamentals are strong, so we are optimistic about our future. We have great coaches, strong recruiting classes and great facilities, and our athletic programs are committed to investing – these are the building blocks of success."
"We are generating 4x revenues, significantly more exposure for football, men’s basketball and all sports nationally (including because of our night game windows), which supports the national profile of our schools and conference and allows our schools to be more competitive. While significant changes will not be possible until our current media agreements expire in 2024, we are sympathetic to those fans that prefer day games to night games, and have engaged our media partners to do our best to marginally reduce the number of night games without impacting revenues or exposure."
"Our overall Conference expenses are right in the middle when compared to our Autonomy Five conference peers."