Sports

Scott: 4 Sweet 16 teams boosts Pac-12’s future

There are many who are basking in the Pac-12 conference’s historic run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Commissioner Larry Scott is hoping that getting four teams in the Sweet 16 will bode well for the conference’s future.

Even if he won’t be there to oversee it.

Scott is in Indianapolis this weekend to watch Oregon State, Oregon, USC and UCLA attempt to advance. It will be Scott’s final tournament as Pac-12 commissioner after he announced earlier this year he would be leaving at the end of June.

“It will help for sure. I think there is subtle bias for West Coast teams because of the time zone and given the concentration of media on the East Coast,” Scott said. “But the performance this year will have a multiplier effect in future years. I think our teams will get the benefit of the doubt and more people will have a deeper respect for the depth and competitiveness in the conference.”

It is the first time in 20 years and fourth time overall that the conference has had four teams reach the Sweet 16. But the Pac-12 is the first to have four teams seeded fourth or worse reach this stage.

Scott attributes the low seedings to the conference not performing well in recent tournaments, which he thinks hurt some of the teams in the eyes of the selection committee.

All three teams were eliminated in the first round in 2018. Only three teams made the field a year later, with only Oregon making it to the Sweet 16.

The Pac-12 was on track for four teams this year but got a fifth when Oregon State won the conference tournament and gained the automatic bid. The 12th-seeded Beavers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 39 years and face Loyola Chicago in Saturday’s Midwest Region semifinal.

The conference’s other teams play on Sunday night. UCLA, the East’s 11th seed, takes on Alabama, and Oregon meets USC for the right to advance to the West Region final. The Trojans are the conference’s highest seed at six, while the Ducks are seventh. Colorado also made the tournament but was eliminated in the second round by Florida State.

Many around the conference aren’t happy that a USC-Oregon matchup is happening this early, especially with those schools being the conference’s top two teams in the regular season.

UCLA legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton was particularly nonplussed, when he said: “I stand on the side of common sense, this is just not right, because to have two excellent teams playing each other in the early rounds — Oregon and USC — somebody has not done their jobs.”

Scott gave a more nuanced response, saying the matchup is a double-edged sword.

“It’s disappointing that one is not going to have a chance to go on. By the same token, Sunday night is going to be an incredible showcase for the conference,” he said.

Scott still has plenty on his plate before his 11-year tenure as commissioner ends, including making sure the conference can continue to navigate through the many disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

With California allowing limited crowds for outdoor sporting events starting April 1, Scott remains hopeful of fans in the stands when football begins in late August.

“Signs are very positive things are heading in the right direction, but I think our campuses are really thinking step by step,” Scott said. “All the signals I’m getting from our campuses are very positive about being open and having students back in the classroom. I think we’re cautiously optimistic that for fall football there is a semblance of normalcy.”

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