Do you realize Arizona will not play another Saturday game at McKale Center this season?
The Sunday Night Series, driven by Pac-12 media rights deals with ESPN and Fox Sports, begins tonight at USC, one of an unprecedented five conference games today. The impact will be felt in Tucson when the Wildcats return from Los Angeles. Here’s the schedule:
- Sunday, Jan. 26: Utah at Arizona, 6 p.m.
- Sunday, Feb. 9, Oregon State at Arizona, 5 p.m.
- Sunday, March 2, Stanford at Arizona, 6 p.m.
It’s the new reality of Pac-12 sports, a TV-mandated and fan-unfriendly package that, among other things, pays multimillion dollar coaching salaries, funds charter flights to road games and makes it possible for a school like Arizona to pay a $3.3 million-a-year debt service on the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility.
Pac-12 fans unhappy at a proliferation of late-night football kickoffs can now grind their teeth at Sunday night basketball. Worse, tonight’s USC game is on the Pac-12 Networks and may conflict with the end of an NFL playoff game.
Asked about this during the football season, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said: “The marching orders I was given when I came in (2009) was how do we shift the balance toward the national audience and TV viewers. We were hearing a lot of complaints two and three years ago that people couldn’t see the games on TV and that the conference was being punished in national (polls) and by the media because they can’t see our games.’’
Scott’s work has paid off; money and exposure have multiplied greatly. The Pac-12 is no longer off the grid.
It has made it possible for every league member to cash in. Even dirt-poor Washington State is building a $70 million football plant and making plans for a $25 million indoor practice facility.
Pac-12 presidents last year quietly dispersed about $2 million in unexpected revenue to each school from a savings fund. In the future, there will be much more.
But it comes at a cost of convenience and habit. Sunday night college basketball, here and elsewhere, will be strongly unpopular. The UA won’t have difficulty selling its inventory of basketball tickets, on any night, at any time.
But check out the empty seats at Pauley Pavilion tonight when UCLA plays Arizona State. It will be more like a church service than a basketball game between two good teams.