It felt a bit like a coronation. The Pac-10 is dead. Long live the Pac-12.
That seemed to be the underlying theme of the updated conference’s inaugural media day, held Tuesday in the historic Fox studios’ commissary.
“Today is the dawn of a new day for this storied conference,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, the guy who, more than anyone, holds the scepter.
And it’s pretty bedazzled thanks, in part, to the newest members.
“The addition of Colorado and Utah very much helped us secure a landmark media agreement that’s going to provide for unprecedented exposure nationally for the conference,” Scott said, mentioning only later in passing the millions of dollars that agreement will bring in.
Maybe that’s why so many coaches went out of their way to welcome the Buffs and the Utes to the Pac-12.
“I’m thrilled for Colorado,” said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who was the head man in Boulder from 1995 to 1998. “ I think it’s the right move. … Having coached there, I know that California recruiting is vital to their success. And now being part of the Pac-12 and having games in the state of California on an annual basis is going to be a huge boon to their recruiting. So it will be a great thing for them.”
“They’re going to play hard, they’re going to play physical football,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Both of them have pretty rich football traditions, so it’s not like we’re bringing somebody that is just stepping in.
“You’re talking about a national champion in Colorado. You’re talking about Utah and what they’ve done.”
Colorado’s first Pac-12 game comes Oct. 1, when the Buffaloes host Washington State. The Buffs host California Sept. 10, but that is a nonconference game based on a preexisting contract.
Utah’s first conference game comes on the road, when the Utes travel to USC on Sept. 10.
Kelly dodges questions
Despite Oregon’s best efforts, coach Chip Kelly faced numerous questions about the ongoing NCAA inquiry into the school’s relationship with and payment to Willie Lyles, ostensibly for recruiting information.
The athletic department sent out a press release just prior to Kelly’s appearance at the podium, saying it was cooperating fully with the NCAA, that the school had retained outside counsel to help with the investigation and that it would have nothing to say until the inquiry was complete.
But that didn’t stop the Oregon coach, whose Ducks were picked to win the conference title, from being repeatedly asked about the problem.
Of the 18 questions posed to Kelly, 11 of them were related in some way to the investigation.
Two had to do with safety Cliff Harris and linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had off-field problems since the season ended.
Kelly dodged the questions about the NCAA, saying up front, “When those reports are public we’d love to talk about the situation, but we’re kind of bound by that right now.”
Whenever he was asked about the investigation later, he would use a variation of the same answer.
When Oregonian columnist John Canzano asked Kelly if it concerned him that no one seems to know Lyles – Cal coach Jeff Tedford said earlier, though the Bears paid Lyles for a recruiting package, he didn’t know the man – the Pac-12 vice president for communications, Dave Hirsch, moderating the event, tried to cut the question short.
Kelly, however, answered it.
“I can’t speak to what any other school has done with him,” Kelly said. “I know he deals with 80 some schools who employ the services he’s been involved with, but I know how we dealt with them.
“And again, I have to defer to – I would love to talk about it and when we have a chance after the report comes out, I’ll be able to clear up any questions anybody has about the whole situation.”
Life without Locker
Nine of the Pac-12 teams have returning starting quarterbacks. Washington is one of the other three. And Sarkisian knows this year will not be the same without Jake Locker, headed for the NFL.
“Replacing Jake Locker is a big challenge for us,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got a great young quarterback in Keith Price, who plays a brand of football that is fun, it’s exciting. He’s a kid that comes to work with a smile on his face every day, loves what he does. But the reality of it is we’re not going to be able to rely on that quarterback position like we were able to with Jake for two years.”
The guy who may have to carry the load was sitting next to Sarkisian, and running back Chris Polk is ready for the challenge.
“I can’t be the guy in the back anymore,” the junior said. “I can’t be quiet. I’m going to have to step up and accept my leadership role, especially with these young guys coming in.”
I have to really show them the reigns and show them the right thing and what to do in order to become successful.”
Rule change unpopular
There are four major rule changes for the upcoming season, but only one is really causing angst among the players and coaches.
No, it’s not a new limit to blocking below the waist or the 10-second subtraction from the clock that can now happen at the end of a game if either team is trying to stall through penalties. And, no, it’s not the fact the clock can be reviewed by the video booth at the end of the first half and the game, if need be.
It’s the change in the unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting rule.
In the past the penalty was a post-possession foul, meaning the result of the play – say a touchdown – stood, even if the penalty occurred during the play. No more.
If a flag is thrown for taunting at the 2-yard line, the 15-yard penalty is marked off from the 2-yard line, even if the runner scored.
“Well, if they want to stop the excessive celebration, this is the rule that will do it, I guarantee you that,” veteran Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said.
“It takes some of the emotion out of the game of football,” Erickson continued, echoing the sentiments expressed by many of the coaches. “Football has to be fun. You’ve got to have some emotion in it.
“With this rule, they’ve pretty much taken it all out. I’m not against it, but I just want to see how they call it, I think, is the biggest thing that we’re all going to deal with. How are they going to make the call?”
That’s what players want to know.
“It’s so discretionary,” said WSU receiver Jared Karstetter, “is why I think it’s a bad deal. There has to be some sort of line you have to cross.”
“There’s got to be discipline,” UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin said. “I just want to celebrate with my team after I score that touchdown. If I do it, I’ll just run over with my fellas and celebrate.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.