The Pac-12 has been the butt of a lot of jokes lately. Their football championship game had attendance numbers commensurate with a middle school JV game in Iowa, their football champion has missed the College Football Playoff two years running, their network appears to be going the way of the Prevue Channel (or the go-round channel as my mother calls it), and they may have been in real danger of sending a single team to the NCAA tournament this year. Fortunately, the Pac-12 was able to coax three bids to the tourney after Oregon won four games in four days to grab the automatic bid. I’m not here to suggest ways the Pac-12 can improve its championship game (move it out of Santa Clara), opine on when the conference will land a playoff bid, or offer advice on how to improve the Pac-12 Network, but I will give Pac-12 hoops fans reasons for optimism heading into 2020.
While college football has five ‘Power Conferences’, college basketball has six (and another two pseudo power conferences). Read my post from two years ago for some more background and justification on this (its really good!). Those six conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) account for the majority of at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. How many bids has each conference produced over the past 19 years? Glad you asked. The total number of NCAA tournament bids (at-large and automatic) for each power conference are listed below along with an average number of bids per season.
conference of champions' has struggled for quite some time. However, I think we need to make one more adjustment. Conference composition has changed a great deal since 2001. In 2001, the ACC had nine basketball playing members. Today, the conference has fifteen. That represents a 67% increase in membership size. To adjust for fluctuating membership size, let’s divide the total number of NCAA tournament bids for each conference by the average size of each conference over this 19 year period. Doing this gives us an average percentage of teams that qualify for the NCAA tournament for each conference.
Bryce Drew was fired at Vanderbilt after three seasons and one NCAA appearance. Maybe scratch him from the moderately successful list since the Commodores did finish 0-18 in SEC play this season. Mike Anderson was fired at Arkansas after three NCAA appearances in the last five seasons. Avery Johnson, a successful former NBA coach (and player) was let go by Alabama one season after making the NCAA tournament. Billy Kennedy was fired by Texas A&M despite two Sweet 16 appearances in the past four seasons. The SEC is serious about basketball now.
The ACC will never be the SEC’s equal in football, but the conference has gotten serious about competing in the sport. Clemson has won two of the last three college football national titles (and the conference as a whole has won three of six). Similarly, the SEC will probably not become the preeminent college basketball conference, but they are in much better shape than they were five years ago. Circling back around to the Pac-12, UCLA (arguably the top job in the conference) will hire a head coach in the coming weeks. A return to relevancy can be as simple as making the right hire in Los Angeles. The harder places to win in the conference (Colorado, Oregon State, and Utah) already have good coaches. Imagine if the school with a great location and history did the same?