Canzano: Pac-12 gets caught fixing a problem
Will the conference do this with other matters?
Scientists will tell you that our brains are hardwired to focus on negativity. Primitive man may have admired a great sunset, but he first needed to register threats around him to avoid death. Because of that, we’re told those more tuned into negative stimuli stayed alive.
Maybe it helps explain why a lot of us focus on things that are wrong vs. right. I’ve wondered if the critics in sports media are less inclined to note positive vs. negative because of how the gene pool was passed down. We all know bad news and fear mongering gets the clicks.
Whatever the case, today’s column is going to focus on something the Pac-12 Conference got right — the baseball tournament.
Last year the Pac-12 asked its baseball teams to run an ultramarathon in the middle of the desert a week before the regionals for the NCAA Tournament began. It took more than nine and a half hours and two baseball games for Oregon State to shake UCLA on the fourth day of that inaugural event.
“It was a long day for a lot of the guys,” OSU coach Mitch Canham told me.
In the first Bruins-Beavers game that day, the teams used 16 combined pitchers who threw a total of 527 pitches. The teams waited 45 minutes, hydrated, and played nine more innings.
Oregon State got the final out of the day vs. UCLA at 11:31 p.m. It was 88 degrees as the teams left the stadium. The Beavers then dragged themselves into the first-ever tournament title game less than 24 hours later where they lost to top-seed Stanford.
A weekend later, UCLA and Oregon were eliminated from the postseason in the opening round. Oregon State got knocked out in the Super Regionals. Stanford — which had a less-taxing conference tournament — made it to Omaha, but gave up 17 runs in the opening game vs. Arkansas and went home 0-2.
The conference baseball tournament was a great idea. It showcased the teams for the NCAA selection committee and created a festive atmosphere. But the Pac-12 coaches met several times in the offseason and agreed they didn’t want to do it again. At least not in the same format.
“We got together and broke it down,” Canham said. “What went well? What did we like? What do we want to change? Anytime you do something for the first time there’s going to be adjustments. I liked sitting down and finding ways to make it better.”
The second-annual Pac-12 Conference Baseball Tournament is happening this week in Arizona. It features nine teams vs. eight in last year’s event. This 2.0 version of the tournament features pool-play. There are only three games scheduled per day vs. four. The semifinals are on Friday. And the championship game is slated for Saturday, not Sunday like one year ago.
Oregon coach Mark Wasikowski told me: “Pitching got chewed up last year. The tournament is a great idea, but the format of it needed tweaks so we didn’t get beat up going to the regionals.”
I spend a lot of time focusing on the things the Pac-12 gets wrong. My attention tends to drift to topics such as poor football officiating, lousy public-relations strategy, and the chronic weakness of the men’s basketball programs. I hated the format of that inaugural baseball tournament. It left the conference pitchers with rubber arms. But the Pac-12 immediately got about making the thing better.
Do the same with football officiating, please. Address the woes of basketball with a badly needed wide-scale study. And get some blasted help with the overall messaging, branding and public-relations strategy.
The so-called “Conference of Champions” has been battered like a piñata over the last nine months. USC and UCLA are leaving for the Big Ten in the summer of 2024. That move is revenue based — 100 percent. But I wonder if the conference presidents and chancellors had been more focused on addressing problems instead of staring at the sunset if the Trojans and Bruins would have been so unhappy.
The Pac-12 showed some real promise in addressing the shortcomings of the baseball event. The conference’s baseball coaches saw a problem, got together and fixed it. The Pac-12 Network is broadcasting the baseball games all week and will carry Friday’s semifinals. ESPN2 will carry the Pac-12 baseball title game on Saturday.
There’s revenue buried in the event, be sure.
Every penny should go to the baseball programs of the coaches who salvaged it.
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