In Pac-12 Football: Empty Seats, TV Woes and Recruiting Gaps

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The chasm is growing between the Pacific-12 Conference and its Power Five counterparts. And its rescue hopes are pinned on a new TV deal in 2024.ImageOklahoma on the field before it played U.C.L.A. at the Rose Bowl last week. Attendance for the game was sparse.CreditCreditKeith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty ImagesSept. 20, 2019Updated 5:54 p.m. ETWhen Larry Scott, the Pacific-12 Conference commissioner, began jumping through hoops for television money, he envisioned nights like Friday, a prime-time audience on national television for a compelling game: No. 10 Utah, the conference’s highest-ranked team, against U.S.C., its most storied program.And yet that story line may be overtaken by a subplot — the presence of the excommunicated Reggie Bush and the eternally angling Urban Meyer, who in their roles as Fox Sports commentators will loom over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum like plaintive ghosts of U.S.C. football past and (perhaps) future.Bush’s return highlights the dance U.S.C. has had to perform in permanently disassociating from him, as N.C.A.A. penalties mandated in 2010 after Bush was found to have violated the organization’s amateurism rules. So the running back’s name has been scrubbed from the record books, his Heisman Trophy has disappeared from Heritage Hall, and his number is not displayed at the Coliseum with those of the school’s six other Heisman winners, including O.J. Simpson.There will be similar tap dancing around Meyer as U.S.C., which forced out its athletic director, Lynn Swann, last week, conducts a search for a replacement whose first order of business will be to determine the future of Coach Clay Helton.Oh, and somewhere after that, there’s Utah, too.This is just how it goes for the Pac-12 as it fights to regain college football relevancy, swimming against a current of declining attendance and TV ratings, a bleeding of recruits, the decline of U.S.C., and — most distressingly — a growing TV revenue gap from the SEC and Big Ten.While no conference this week has more teams in The Associated Press Top 25 (six), none of the Power Five conferences is farther from reaching the College Football Playoff than the Pac-12, which hasn’t had a team qualify since 2016.“I’m not a blind man — I’ve seen Clemson play, and Alabama and Ohio State,” said Petros Papadakis, a Fox Sports college football analyst who played for U.S.C. “The gap exists. When those teams are on the field, they look differently and play differently.”There are few signs of that changing anytime soon.Though the Pac-12 has an enviable TV footprint, with five of the top 17 marke

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