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A Pacific 12 future both bright and cloudy

With a $3-billion broadcast contract, the conference has cleared up monetary problems as football season looms. But then there are those housekeeping issues.

July 26, 2011|Chris Dufresne

Toss your Pacific 10 mouse pad into Walnut Creek. It's a new day. Tell the maitre d' it's now a reservation for 12, not 10. And bring us a bottle of your best champagne.

In terms of where college football stands, and where it's headed, Tuesday's first Pacific 12 Conference media day offered all you needed to know.

Everything is brighter, louder, expanded, complicated, divided, but not necessarily rosier.

What's not to like, and loathe?

The league is thriving under the leadership of Commissioner Larry Scott, who has pushed the conference into everybody's business. In two years, Scott added two teams, Colorado and Utah, and secured a $3-billion broadcast deal.

For the former tennis player from Harvard, that's almost game, set and match.

Gone are the sleepy Pac-10 media days near LAX, where coaches could hear the turbines of their return flights warming up.

The Pac-12 staged its first media day at Fox Studios. Hiding beneath the glitz, however, were glitches.

The Pac-12 is a microcosm for all that's right and wrong in the sport.

"There is a paradox in college athletics," Scott said during a break between TV interviews. "We're at a crossroads."

The league has addressed its monetary problems but not its housekeeping issues.

The school picked to win the South Division this year can't win it. USC, in the second year of major NCAA sanctions, is banned from participating in the Pac-12's first conference title game.

The lucky default winner could be Arizona State, picked to finish second.

"I don't care!" Sun Devils Coach Dennis Erickson said. "A lot of things in life you take any way you can get it, you know."

The media picked Oregon to win the North and then win the championship game. It makes sense, given that the Ducks return several stars from last year's Pac-10 title team.

It's never a good sign, though, when the first news release you place on a media table refers you to the "well-respected" law firm of "Bond Schoeneck & King."

Forget about outside linebacker … Oregon has outside counsel.

The Pac-12, as it pushes lucratively forward, needs to work toward the day when the teams picked to play in its title game can play in it.

It was suggested to Scott that he might use some of the broadcast windfall to shore up his conference's compliance office.

It is embarrassing USC can't play in the title game and Oregon might win a title game under a taint.

Oregon is Duck-deep in an NCAA investigation involving Willie Lyles, a Houston-based scouting director who was paid $25,000 for services rendered. The question is whether the services were a bogus cover in exchange for Lache Seastrunk, a prized Texas recruit.

"I'd love to talk about it," Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said. "There are a lot of answers I'd love to make sure we get out there."

Except, Kelly said he couldn't talk. He referred everyone to the law firm mentioned in the news release.

"The firm has been charged with making an independent assessment of the football program's use of outside recruiting services," the statement read in part.

It got contentious when a Pac-12 official cut short a reporter who pressed Kelly on the Lyles matter.

All this … and party balloons!

Oregon isn't the only Pac-12 member in a possible pickle. California, picked to finish fifth in the North, also paid Lyles for recruiting information.

However, Cal didn't put out a news release and its coach, Jeff Tedford, all but whistled his way through the day.

"I'm not concerned one bit," he said.

He added, "I wouldn't know Lyles if he was in this room right now."

Of course, Oregon, not Cal, ended up with Seastrunk. Which may be on the up and up … or maybe somebody's going down.

None of these issues were on the list of Pac-12 celebration talking points.

Beneath the confetti, people boiled.

USC Coach Lane Kiffin said the right things. "We're glad it's over. We're disappointed in the decision, but it is what it is," he said of the NCAA investigation and penalties. "We worry about what we can control."

He also said: "Our guys come here to get a degree from a private university and to go to the NFL."

Many in the USC community, though, are appalled that Ohio State, mired in a scandal that has already cost Jim Tressel his job, may get off the hook.

The NCAA informed Ohio State last week it will not face the punitive "failure to monitor" charge.

Scott cautioned that you can't draw conclusions until the NCAA actually rules in the Ohio State case.

"I think everyone should hold their powder," Scott said. "But you can be sure I'm tracking it."

Scott said he recently called NCAA President Mark Emmert to get some clarification on the Ohio State situation.

Emmert, for what it's worth, is former president at the University of Washington.

Meanwhile, above the current, coaches mingled and munched as they anticipated the Pac-12's first season.

The cloud isn't going away … and games can't get here soon enough.

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