At 9:36 p.m. on Dec. 10, No. 2 seed San Diego went on a 6-0 run to finish an electric five-setter, advancing to the Final Four for the first time in program history and bouncing No. 1 seed Stanford.
Earlier that evening, No. 1 seed Louisville defeated No. 3 seed Oregon in a five-set thriller, meaning the Cardinal loss ended the Pac-12′s chances of making a Final Four appearance.
How do neither of the two best teams in the Pac-12 — both of which won over 22 games in the regular season — make the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament?
Simply put? The Pac-12 is a doomed conference.
Looking purely at the tournament, the Pac-12 is struggling to make appearances in the Final Four. In the last three years, only one Pac-12 school has made the Final Four — a Washington team in the 2020 tournament that lost 3-1 to Kentucky.
On the other hand, outside of San Diego, all three of Louisville, Pitt and Texas are looking at their second national semifinal appearance in that same time span. And while they didn’t make the Final Four this year, Wisconsin fans saw two Final Fours in three years — not to mention a national championship.
It doesn’t matter if the same ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 teams are returning to the Final Four, because the Pac-12 isn’t putting any teams in.
And there’s trouble on the horizon for the Conference of Champions.
In 2024, USC and UCLA will no longer be members of the Pac-12 as the two will make their move to the Big Ten — arguably the best conference in college volleyball right now.
The Pac-12 loses two historically good programs in USC and UCLA. If you take the L.A. schools’ combined seven NCAA championships and give them to the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is left with 10 while the Big Ten’s count goes up to a whopping 20. That’s not to mention the pair’s seven runner-ups, 21 Final Fours and 66 tournament appearances.
The loss of the two teams could end poorly for the leftover Pac-12 teams. There’s Arizona and Oregon State, who won a combined eight games in-conference this season; Arizona State, who hasn’t won more than half of their matches since 2019; and a Cal team that hasn’t won a conference game since the early half of the COVID season.
The conference’s woes even leak into the professional sphere. Of the 12 women who played for the United States’ 2021 Olympic team in Tokyo, only one played Pac-12 volleyball — middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo Gunderson who graduated from Stanford in 2009.
Two-thirds of the athletes on that same Olympic team played for Big Ten schools — the likes of Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue and Penn State.
Good volleyball players, those at the highest level, go or went to Big Ten schools.
Since 2012, seven of the 36 US women’s volleyball roster spots were filled by Pac-12 alumni, and the lone Pac-12 player from the Tokyo team finished her college career over 10 years ago. The new generation of Pac-12 players — over the course of the last decade — don’t live up to the professional US volleyball standards like Big Ten players do.
Something has to change in the Pac-12. Stanford and an Oregon program that hasn’t gotten past the Elite Eight since 2012 aren’t enough to make what’s left of the Pac-12 a competitive volleyball conference.
Unless one of the remaining teams emerges as a contender next season, the Pac-12 can kiss its Final Four hopes and national championship dreams goodbye.