Evanson: The Pac-12 conference doesn't need their 'big dogs' to be great, they just need everyone else to get better
The University of Arizona fired men's head basketball coach Sean Miller this past week amid an ongoing investigation regarding allegations of recruiting misconduct.
The now-former Wildcat head coach spent 12 years in Tucson, amassed a .735 overall winning percentage, and finished at or tied atop the Pac-12 conference standings five times while collecting three Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors. His teams made it to three "Elite 8s," two "Sweet 16s," and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament's first round just twice in seven appearances.
He was a good coach, for what has been a relatively great program since legendary head coach Lute Olson took the job in 1983.
But he more than earned his walking papers by way of the current investigation into his shady misdoings, and the program is likely better off starting anew with a fresh face and the cleaner reputation that can come with it, opposed to the dark cloud building above Miller since the FBI announced its findings from a 2017 investigation that linked the coach to a pay-for-play scheme involving sneaker behemoth Adidas.
Yet, in the days following the announcement of his dismissal, West Coast scribes who cover the conference have repeatedly made the tired argument that the conference as a whole is better when Arizona is among the country's elite. They've done the same regarding UCLA, and similarly on the gridiron with USC, which — along with Oregon — has been the face of the conference since the turn of the century.
But while the argument is as old as the day is long, who outside of Tucson and/or Los Angeles is rooting for either of those basketball or football programs in the interest of the "greater good?"
No one, and nor should they.
It isn't Oregon State's job to make anyone else good again, nor is that or should that be its concern.
The Beavers recently played in just their second NCAA Tournament in more than 30 years, and won their first tournament game since 1982, advancing to this year's "Elite 8." They earned their ticket to the dance by way of winning the Pac-12 postseason tournament after ending the regular season 14-12, finishing in a tie for sixth place.
It was a monumental season for Oregon State, and an even more monumental moment for fans of a program that's won essentially nothing in the last 30 years.
How would the Beavers' chances have improved if Arizona were a top-five ranked team? They weren't getting an at-large bid, and their run through the Pac-12 tourney would've more likely been thwarted if faced with a squad built with elite-level personnel.
And they're just one example.
Washington State hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
Washington's been there twice in the last 11 years.
Arizona State? Six times in the last 30 years.
And Colorado? Seven times in the past half-century, all of which came in the last 24 years.
So how would those teams benefit from an even better Arizona team in the years to come?
The same could be said for football. How did USC's dominance in the early 2000's help the conference outside of monetarily through bowl bonuses, which are somewhat nominal in the big picture? Do you think the other (at that time) nine teams went to bed at night thanking the Trojans for a half-decade's worth of butt-kickings that in most cases only derailed what had been a pretty darn good season?
Ask the 2005 Ducks about that. Oregon went 10-1 in the regular season with only a loss to No. 1-ranked USC that year, and where did that get them? The Holiday Bowl. So where was this kicker that the almighty USC team and reputation was supposed to provide?
You know how conferences get better? By getting better, and they proved that in this year's NCAA Tournament.
The Pac-12 isn't the SEC in football, nor what the ACC has been in recent decades on the basketball court or what the Big 10 was this past season. It's never going to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to teams or programs bordering on great, or even good, when it comes to public perception as long as it's behind the geographic eight-ball — meaning west of the Mississippi River, where sports publicity goes to die.
The Pac-12 as a whole doesn't need Arizona, or USC, or UCLA, or even Oregon to dominate in order to prop up the remainder of the conference. It needs the remainder of the conference to prop itself up. Win big nonconference games, beat good opponents in bowl games, send more guys to the NBA or NFL, and put your product on major networks, preferably before people go to bed. That will get everyone where they want to go, not just the schools and teams that have already been there.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.