The Pac-12’s Demise Will Be Rich With Metaphors
10:20 AM EDT on September 1, 2023
The Pacific 12 Conference began its 10-month Strangled Metaphor Tour Thursday night in spectacularly weird fashion, a day before the meeting that will actually date its extinction. It gave us splendid work from its best football export, then a game delayed by haboob and thunderstorm that ended just before 1:00 a.m. Mountain Standard Get Your Ass To Bed Time, and if that isn't the Pac-12 in all its glory and ignominy, then you won't enjoy its final season.
The meeting was the one held by the Atlantic Coast Conference's 15 university presidents, who voted to eat California, Stanford, and Southern Methodist as member schools to buttress its walls and TV contracts against the possibility that Clemson, Florida State, and Miami might contrive to leave at some point in the future. Thus done, the Pac-12 died so that the ACC, Big 12 and (probably though not surely) Mountain West would live, the logical end-game of this round of College Cannibalism, the game only football people can play and in which the only sure thing is the next meal. Sixty-eight teams in this year's Power 5 conferences becomes 67 in next year's Power 4, and eventually (as in sooner than anyone wants to admit) 40-odd in the Power 2 that will rule college sports until the whole top-heavy edifice will collapse due to foundational neglect.
Or so we can all hope.
It began a week ago when USC, one of the two major characters in the conference's eventual dissolution, proved that is still banking heavily on a great offense and not-nearly-so defense by letting San Jose State hang around for a half before routing the Spartans, 56-28.
That was just football, though, played at night on the wrong coast for most college football fans. The metaphors began in earnest last night in Salt Lake City, where two-time defending conference champion Utah showed its longterm value to the Big 12 by cuffing former SEC power Florida, 27-11, in the first and probably last Urban Meyer Was Here Bowl. The Gators were playing their first road non-conference game in 32 years and showed why they chose that insane level of insularity on Utah's first play, when Bryson Barnes (a very Utah name) hit Money Parks (a very college football name) with a 70-yard home run ball to give the bloodclot-red Utes a lead they never relinquished.
Then came the nightcap, Southern Utah at Arizona State. Southern Utah is a member of the brand new United Athletic Conference, a merger of the Atlantic Sun and Western Athletic Conferences (see, this shit doesn't just happen at big-kids' school level). Arizona State is jumping to the 18-team Big 12 and has already done its new league proud by announcing a self-imposed bowl ban after the deadline for its players to transfer to other more rules-compliant schools. By opening the season against a travel-friendly team like the Thunderbirds, the Sun Devils were hoping for a smooth entry to its final season in the Pac-12.
Instead, it got a haboob, a peculiarly virulent dust storm memorialized in this famous tweet from 2018 ....
... which then became a thunderstorm that led to a delay that took the game out of viewing range of all but a few hundred remaining fans let alone East Coast insomniacs. In short, almost nobody saw ASU barely surviving, 24-21, or the reason for this breathless quote from new ASU coach Kenny Dillingham: “We got a lot of crap to fix, but we got it done."
A Pac-12 game ending after midnight local time is a metaphor for why the Pac-12 couldn't get a TV contract it liked—because most of their games ended close to midnight local time and got no audience. ASU-Southern Utah IS the reason the Pac-12 died, but it won't be the only one. The entire year will be full of these pseudo-apocalyptic theatre pieces, all played out against a backdrop of all the athletes in all the other sports who benefit from none of it. When Dillingham said, “We got a lot of crap to fix," that was a metaphor, too, only that one won't be heeded because getting this Elks lodge of greedy malignants to acknowledge their collective failure is to miss the entire point of why college football administrators exist—to ruin a good thing by trying to make more of it for fewer people.
As for the other metaphors still on the schedule, the death rattles of the Pac-12 will be strewn with them, and when the tale is finally aggregated and told, all those metaphors, tortured and otherwise, will congeal into a turgid bit of literary bric-a-brac in which the opening sentence will surely be, "A baboon went through town and overloaded the grid."