Story by Jon Wilner
Commentary on Pac-12 issues on and off the field …
Rising: Pac-12 visibility
It pays to schedule high-profile games and agrees to unusual kickoff times.
Oregon took the risk to play Ohio State in the ‘Big Noon Kickoff’ window and was rewarded on multiple fronts.
The victory over Ohio State registered a massive 4.25 rating and was seen by 7.7 million viewers — the top-rated game of Week Two and the third-highest season.
The Ducks could not have asked for a better outcome. Not only did the high-stakes affair clear a path for the playoff, but it also boosted recruiting exposure and elevated the program’s brand immeasurably.
But that’s not the only rating news of Week Two.
The Washington-Michigan matchup was the second-highest rated game of the week (2.55), followed closely by Colorado-Texas A&M (2.5), according to the website SportsMediaWatch.
Yep, the Pac-12 was involved in the three highest-rated games.
That’s believed to be an unprecedented sweep for the conference in the 12-school era. It might be the first time, but neither the Hotline nor the conference could confirm rating data going back decades.
The visibility was positive for the conference but hardly free of hiccups.
Colorado’s come-from-ahead loss to the Aggies was low-scoring but at least competitive. On the other hand, Washington did its reputation no favors in the Big House with a listless showing on offense and lopsided defeat.
All in all, the conference’s triple-header on broadcast television was seen by 17 million viewers.
So … how do those ratings compare to typical Pac-12 games?
The 7.7 marks for Oregon-Ohio State were matched only once in the three seasons immediately before the pandemic. The USC-Notre Dame game late in 2018, with the Irish, ranked No. 3 and driving for the playoff, also drew 7.7 million viewers.
Next on the list over those three years: The Utah-Oregon duel in the 2019 conference championship game, which scored a 5.86 rating.
The most popular games in any given Pac-12 season typically draw ratings in the 3s and 4s.
In fact, the Hotline rounded up the audience data for every game in the 2017-19 window and found that only 17 topped the two million-viewer mark.
USC was responsible for seven of the 17, Oregon for five.
Falling: UCLA visibility
At the other end of the audience spectrum, we find UCLA.
The Hotline touched on this matter in the stock report last week, but we’re doubling down because the situation, so unfortunate for the Bruins, has been extended.
UCLA was one of the hottest stories in college football after thumping LSU on Labor Day weekend. Then came a week off, followed by a poor time slot for Saturday: The 10:45 p.m. (Eastern) kickoff on the Pac-12 Networks (against Fresno State).
And now we learn the next game, at Stanford on Sept. 25, is also on the Pac-12 Networks.
That’s three consecutive post-LSU weeks in which the 13th-ranked Bruins are off the national radar.
Can you image a top-15 team from the Big Ten or SEC going back-to-back games with a total possible audience of 28 million?
It would never happen.
In fact, it couldn’t happen because of the wide reach of those conference’s network partners. (The Pac-12 Networks have approximately 14 million subscribers. That’s about one-fourth the audience of ESPNU, for example.)
But relief is on the way. The Bruins should return to a high-visibility network on the first Saturday of October when they host No. 19 Arizona State.
If that game also ends up on the Pac-12 Networks … eh, let’s not even go there.
Rising: USC’s hope
The Trojans gave Clay Helton every resource and opportunity imaginable to patch the holes in his program.
Helton’s inability to execute is further evidence that schematic issues can be solved by changing coordinators. Still, culture, accountability, discipline, and toughness can only be fixed with a change at the top.
We cannot help but think back to the decision to retain Helton at the end of the 2018 season and the stagnation that resulted: Three wasted years in which USC’s reputation and recruiting suffered, allowing Oregon and others to fill the void and undermining the Pac-12 football brand.
Dismissing Helton now gives the Trojans the best chance to salvage the season and identify the optimum replacement.
The only surprise was in the timing of the move. We had been lulled to sleep by the inaction of previous administrations.
Falling: Nick Rolovich’s options
The Washington State coach has been roundly criticized for his anti-vaccine stance, most recently by WSU alum, former SportsCenter anchor, and current Pac-12 Networks employee Cindy Brunson.
“The fact that he is the highest-paid employee ($3.2 million per year) in the state of Washington at a university that has bent over backward to become a leader in the medical field is beyond my comprehension,” she told the Seattle Times.
“I just can’t wrap my mind around it, and it’s so incredibly frustrating.”
(We commend Brunson for speaking her mind, even at the risk of internal push-back. The Pac-12 Networks are anything but an independent operation: They’re owned by, and work for, the schools.)
Perhaps Rolovich will apply for a medical or religious waiver.
Perhaps he plans to get the vaccine in time to meet the Oct. 18 mandate deadline.
Either way, his enduring, immoveable silence is exacerbating the problem for his program and university by order of magnitude.
And time is short.
Rolovich missed the windows to receive the first Moderna or Pfizer shots and be fully vaccinated by the deadline. To comply with the mandate using Johnson and Johnson, he must act by Oct. 4.
Then again, maybe Rolovich already is vaccinated and would rather have the issue linger than explain himself publicly.
We have no idea, and the lack of transparency is more problematic than the lack of vaccination.
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