There are multiple storylines to follow regarding today’s Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara. Here are three that stand out.
The Grass Isn’t Always Greener
Don’t you hate the fact that $1.3 billion doesn’t buy as much as it used to? Like a decent natural playing surface. That’s right, the field at Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers’ state of the art mega-palace, has now been planted, then unceremoniously ripped up four times since August. It’s been raining hard, Biblically hard, for days in the Bay area. The eventual heroes – or goats – of this game may prove to be the equipment managers.
Build It and They Will Come? Not So Much
Pac-12 commish Larry Scott pushed to sign the multi-year deal with the 49ers to move the Pac-12 championship game to neutral site Levi’s Stadium (aka “The Field of Jeans”). The general idea was to take away home field advantage from the regular season champs, and provide the conference with a showcase venue. Oh, and then there’s the television money distributed among members schools. While more than a little austere and soul-less, there’s no questioning Levi’s high tech splendor. It boasts great facilities for the teams (crummy playing field aside, of course). Perfect sight lines. Looks good on TV. The only losers are the fans. Not folks like me who will happily watch this tilt from the comfort of their warm and cozy – and dry, rain’s in the Santa Clara forecast – living rooms. No, I’m talking about he folks who might want to be at a game of this magnitude in person. Tickets are too expensive. Either fan base may be holding out for a bowl game to blow their year-end football fix on, and for one team, there may be two to choose from. Traffic’s stupid (maybe the worst in the country). It’s going to be wet and uncomfortable. Add to all this the fact the Bay area is all about pro sports – just ask the Cal and Stanford athletic directors – and the stage is set for Larry and the conference to look silly when the Fox cameras pan to show the country tens of thousands of empty seats this evening.
Who’s the Wizard Now?
Much is being made of Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez as the wily, grizzled genius behind modern spread-option football, emerging as the Wildcats’ Gandalf to Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich strutting the sideline as Bilbo Baggins. Hmmm. Did the ‘Cats braintrust truly outcoach their opponents the last two times these teams met? And if so, can they do it again? Are Oregon coaches with a combined tenure of approximately seven centuries like Steve Greatwood, John Neal, and Don Pellum flattered to be referred to as “green”? Or might that sort of talk motivate them just a wee bit?
There are plenty of other fun storylines to follow this evening. Such as the national implications of the outcome. Whether Marcus Mariota will cement his Heisman candidacy or drop the ball (pun intended). Whether Scooby Wright will make everyone forget Dick Butkus, or Charles Nelson run back three punts for touchdowns. Rain, venue, and expensive tickets aside, this promises to be the conference championship game in America this week.
Top photo chicitysports.com