A raucous crowd of 61,195 people turned out to celebrate the life of a once-venerable institution Friday night.
Some mourners dressed in purple and left in good spirits. Others wore green and yellow and solemnly departed the venue.
But make no mistake, Allegiant Stadium hosted a funeral Friday night.
Pac-12 football died at 108 years old. It has been ruled a suicide.
A series of self-inflicted wounds by incompetent leadership, fueled by arrogance, finally took its toll. The final Pac-12 game was played in Las Vegas, with Washington beating Oregon to claim a conference championship the Huskies first won in the inaugural 1916 season by going 3-0-1 and outscoring opponents 62-10 in league play.
It was a bittersweet conclusion for Washington coach Kalen DeBoer.
Series of missteps
“It is sad to see it happen, for that to be the last football game,” DeBoer said after winning the title and likely securing a spot in the College Football Playoff. “I think the other part is understanding how strong the conference was this year. There were eight teams, I believe, that at one point were ranked in the Top 25, and we played the best ones and one of them twice. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the country that’s gone through what we’ve gone through.”
That’s nothing compared to what those who have held the importance of the “Conference of Champions” in high regard have had to endure, sitting back and watching decision after decision take the league closer to extinction.
The incredibly ill-fated Pac-12 Network. An unwillingness to approach expansion aggressively out of some misplaced and antiquated superiority complex. A stubbornness in the latest round of media rights negotiations.
Each step brought a further tightening of the noose that led to the departure of UCLA and Southern California, which essentially kicked the chair out from underneath and left the Pac-12 hanging.
It’s a sad conclusion to a great run that began at the Imperial Hotel, now known as the Hotel Lucia, in downtown Portland more than a century ago. But it was a fun memorial Friday night.
Now the Pac-12 is nothing more than a name. And that could be what eventually resurrects the league, though it would be in a dramatically different form.
The two remaining members, Oregon State and Washington State, will enter a scheduling agreement with the Mountain West next season, and there is an obvious path to those two programs eventually joining the Mountain West teams in some form as part of the conference reshuffling that seems to have no end.
The Mountain West will make a big push to add the Beavers and Cougars, and that makes sense from a logistical standpoint. But to some degree, the Pac-12 name still carries cache.
Any merger between the leagues should probably find a way to keep that nomenclature. If there is any hope for being included when the superconferences inevitably break away from the NCAA — which is a massive long shot anyway — it’s going to take more than a name. But the Pac-12 name does mean something.
So goodbye for now. Yes, the Pac-12 as we know it has passed away. But don’t bury the casket just yet. Some form of reincarnation may be possible.
So long, Vipers
The Pac-12 certainly stands a better chance of reincarnation than the XFL’s Vegas Vipers.
After one season, they appear to be headed for extinction.
A merger was approved this week between the XFL and USFL, and while details have not been finalized, it looks like perhaps five, or more likely four, XFL franchises will survive into the new league.
The Vipers are the biggest long shot on the board to be included in that group. Between the struggles to find a venue and an inability to make a dent in the rapidly expanding sports landscape in the city, the Vipers just couldn’t catch on.
It’s a shame for the players and staff of the franchise. Hopefully, they can find opportunities in the league or somewhere else.
But it’s yet another sign we are a major league market. While Las Vegas was the biggest success story of the first version of the XFL two decades ago, we are not the same place.
For better or worse, we have matured.