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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

March 3, 2014 at 8:59 PM

Larry Scott and the (exaggerated) reach of Pac-12 television . . .

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was a guest Monday morning with Elise Woodward on KJR radio, and he said something fairly provocative: That he doesn’t think the snub of Washington by the NCAA basketball committee would have happened if the current exposure of Pac-12 hoops by its TV carriers had been in place two years ago.

He called it a “travesty” that Washington wasn’t selected.

I think he’s stretching credibility with this one.

Let’s review: Washington became the first school from a power conference to be left out of the NCAA tournament despite winning its regular-season conference championship. The Huskies were 24-11 overall, 14-4 in the Pac-12.

Scott’s contention is apparently that the increase of games on ESPN, the chatter that generates in the studio, plus the availability of games elsewhere — on Fox Sports 1, but predominantly on the Pac-12 Networks — would have (a) made the games more accessible to committee members, and/or (b) had a subtle effect on raising the profile of the league merely by volume of the games. And it would thus have been viewed more favorably.

I doubt it.

First, the proliferation of Pac-12 games on TV has been a great thing for home viewers (it’s created another issue for the live gate, which we’ve discussed previously). But talk to any committee member, and they’ll tell you they watch countless games over the course of the season. They know virtually everything there is to be known. And what they don’t know, they ask.

To accept Scott’s reasoning, you almost have to be a big exponent of the “eyeball test” theory, which says at some level, you have to put aside the NCAA stats on “nitty gritty” — home/road records, performance against high-end, middle and lower teams, etc. — and just watch them play. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the eyeball test, simply because results can vary so dramatically game-to-game. For instance, what might you think of Washington if you had seen the Huskies against the Cougars in Pullman earlier this year? And what might you conclude if you watched them trounce Oregon State by 24?

When the committee has basketball people on it — let’s say former coaches who are athletic directors — it becomes valuable to be able to ask them, “Which of these teams would you least like to face?” But for the non-basketball committee person, I think the eyeball test can be dubious, because it’s so subjective. You simply need to rely heavily on the cold numbers.

Notwithstanding the improved visibility of Pac-12 TV these days, the committee wasn’t limited to 13-inch Philco TVs with rabbit ears in 2012. If anything, the league was so bereft of good wins in 2011-12 that it might have benefited from not being heavily analyzed on TV.

Recall: Washington was 0-6 against the RPI top 50 on Selection Sunday. It was 4-8 against the top 100. It’s pretty rare for any team without a top-50 RPI win to get an at-large bid.

Washington lost a close one to UCLA in its regular-season finale, and then followed by getting ousted in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament to Oregon State.

Here’s what Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated surmised on the Tuesday before that finishing trip to LA, when the Huskies were 13-3 in league. Noting that the league went 1-29 against the RPI top 50 at that point in non-league play, he wrote, “Do I think Washington at 15-3 (he was projecting a sweep of USC and UCLA) would slip into the bracket? Probably. Would it be egregious if the committee left them out, especially if the Huskies drop a game this weekend? Not at all.”

That’s exactly happened, and the Huskies quickly added that OSU loss. Then came a candid statement by committee chair Jeff Hathaway on Selection Sunday on truTV: He said Washington wasn’t even in the last six left out of the tournament by the committee. Essentially, they weren’t even on the bubble.

You can argue whether it’s a “travesty” that a power-conference regular-season winner gets left out of the tournament. If not a travesty, it was at least an anomaly. In any case, if Washington was really as far from the bracket as Hathaway indicated, it’s hard to conclude TV would have made up that much ground for the Huskies.



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