I love the Pac-12 and I love Pac-12 basketball.
Everything from the unreasonably late game times to the unexpected tournament runs has made it a highlight of my college experience.
I won’t lie to you and say that I’m not down about it all coming to an end shortly with USC and UCLA soon departing for the Big Ten. Hundreds of years of history, rivalries and fandom will all be swept away in favor of chasing the money.
I still haven’t fully accepted it.
But I’ve made it my mission to appreciate the Pac-12 in all its unique glory as the conference moves through its final moments before an uncertain future.
So when Pac-12 Men’s Basketball media day came to town, I needed to take it in.
On an unassuming Wednesday morning, I ditched my classes to make the arduous trek to the mystical Pac-12 headquarters — a 20-minute BART ride across the bay to San Francisco.
Having the conference’s home base right in my backyard has been a serious perk. If I were a Colorado or Oregon fan I’d be out of luck but instead, everything from media days to championship games occur right here in the bay.
The Pac-12 headquarters are a massive complex that feels more like the home to a tech giant than an athletic conference. If not for the series of sports photos, banners and trophies lining the walls, it could easily be mistaken for Google or Facebook.
The gorgeous building occupies prime real estate in downtown San Francisco but also costs a pretty penny. The conference pays almost $7 million a year in rent. One of the consequences of the conference collapsing is a need to downsize.
“This will be the last time in this facility,” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff announced at media day. “Our lease ends here in nine months and we’re not renewing the lease.”
The conference pulled out all the stops for a final media day before fully remote work becomes their future, for those who still have jobs next year.
I was welcomed into an expansive lobby by a decked out registration desk where I checked in to receive a map of the facilities, schedule for the day and a Pac-12 swag bag including a water bottle, snacks, a notebook and a few other Pac-12 goodies.
Then I was escorted up to the third floor and into the madness.
First, I took a wrong turn left off the elevator and found myself in a hub of activity where I wandered past offices, the kitchen and a reception desk as Pac-12 employees and players and coaches from all 12 schools went by.
Making a left brought me to where I was supposed to be — a giant room set up for the media day conferences. Before the day began, attendees enjoyed a loaded breakfast buffet.
I’ve been there for everything for this conference, from hectic Pac-12 tournament games in Vegas with tens of thousands of fans, to Cal’s Wednesday night in December non-conference matchups against schools you’ve never heard of with what feels like more players on the court than fans.
Media day, though, was something new. It felt like an insider look behind the scenes where the focus was off the court.
My hope to use the event as a distraction from the conference’s impending demise was foiled early. Despite commissioner Kliavkoff’s pleas to focus on basketball during his opening press conference, he was flooded with question after question surrounding the conference’s future, pressing him on everything from what a new TV deal and new members could look like, to why he felt USC and UCLA were making a mistake.
My one consolation is that it feels like I’m experiencing a pivotal moment in real time, even if it comes at the expense of my favorite conference. And by the time it happens I’ll have graduated and tell myself I’ve moved on, though I’m not sure that will be the case.
Following the commissioner’s address, the coach and two star players from every team took the stage for a 25-minute Q&A session, scheduled roughly in order of interest and importance.
Naturally, Cal came early in the day. Basketball and the future was on everyone’s mind, but my favorite part of the experience was the off-the-court insights I picked up. Cal’s Joel Brown discussed coming up from Canada and the value of international students, while head coach Mark Fox ribbed Brown’s teammate Lars Thiemann, a nutritional science major, for not cooking him anything yet.
Elsewhere, Washington State coach Kyle Smith emphasized “nerd ball” and new recruits he calls “the twin gingers”, while Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley explained how he beat UConn coach and brother Dan Hurley in a recruiting battle.
“It’s a cutthroat business and family goes out the window,” Hurley joked.
Representatives from national outlets like ESPN and Fox to regional powerhouses like the LA Times and San Francisco Chronicle all fired questions. And when we were all let out for a rooftop lunch, media, players, coaches and Pac-12 leaders all mixed and mingled to a fancy catered lunch complete with a customized donut bar.
It was a special opportunity to dive deeper into the conference I love so much. The experience will make me miss the Pac-12 even more but I’m so happy I took it in.
My fondness only grew and I’ll always remember the happiness it brought.