The Pac-12 Championship game isn't going to be the big debut spectacle that commissioner Larry Scott was hoping for. The Oregon Ducks are coming into this game overwhelming favorites against the UCLA Bruins, and if the game isn't a rout by halftime things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. FOX won't be too happy by the exit numbers, and we'll just have to dream about year two of this experiment and hope that this year's real Pac-12 South champions can populate this game in 2012. And ticket prices will sink below almost every other title game, although that should be paltry compared to the monstrous TV revenue the league is set to earn.
Still, there's one thing to like about this for the conference. The game is in Eugene.
Rewarding the team with the best performance in-conference was the logical decision for a legion of fans that travels well to their home grounds but isn't likely to travel well at all, particularly on a Friday night. Even if Autzen doesn't sell out (and it's likely not to, given the Friday 5 PM start time and the quality of the opponent), it should provide a pretty raucous environment, and will at least provide the team that played the best during the Pac-12 regular season the distinctive advantage. (Imagine if Scott had tried to put this game on a neutral site in Glendale, Arizona. Would there have been ten thousand tickets sold?)
Look around the rest of the country and you'll see a lot of ugly spectacles. The ACC title game will luckily be in Charlotte this year smack dab in the middle between the two schools, so there might be at least 10,000 fans in the stands. The MAC title continues to be contested in Detroit for reasons that no one understands, and will probably be emptier than a Marlins game. Even the Big 10 Championship, a conference with some of the best fans in the country, isn't certain to be a huge hit.
Scott was smart to recognize that a neutral site isn't wise right now for a conference only beginning to build up its national (and even its West Coast) profile. Maybe in a few years when his coaches are setting the standard for offensive innovation, but right now all anyone knows of this conference is Andrew Luck, the Mighty Ducks, and the Men of Troy. Build the conference up from the grassroots, provide an image of a vibrant fanbase, get people invested, and slowly get moving toward the big money move of playing a football game in a big-time NFL stadium.
Scott has been bold in bringing the conference to the next level. But he's been practical too, and that should help the Pac-12 just as much on Friday night.