As fall sports hit their peak throughout the nation, one fact holds steady across a variety of autumn athletics – the women of the Pac-12 are leading the country. On three different stages, universities from the West coast are being well represented in rankings, with at least two Pac-12 teams in the top five of volleyball, soccer, and cross country. While Oregon is the last Pac-12 man standing in recent AP/BCS football rankings, the presence of the league on the women’s side is prominent and nothing new.
Last year, Pac-12ers nearly swept the three big fall sports during the 2011 season with UCLA taking the championship in volleyball, Stanford winning soccer, and Washington coming in as a runner-up in cross country. This year looks just as promising as Stanford and UCLA sit at number two and three respectively for women’s soccer, Washington (2), Stanford (3) and Oregon (5) represent in volleyball with USC (6) and UCLA (7), and cross country is flooded by Arizona (2), Washington (3), and Oregon (4). In other words the Pac-12 is setting up to chase down three different titles on the national level in a single season.
While the rankings and programs are impressive, the question that comes next is what makes the Pac-12 such a successful breeding ground for women’s sports? It’s not just in the fall that spectators experience West coast dominance. Six of the last seven champions in women’s softball have been from the Pac-12, Oregon alone has dominated indoor track and field for three years. Perhaps basketball is the only sport Pac-12 women haven’t yet found a niche in but a look at history and rankings will all suggest that the Pac-12 attracts and breeds some of the best female athletes from throughout the country.
But what is it about the west coast? A greater emphasis on women’s sports? Warm California weather? Better coaches? While the SEC can boast champion football teams, few can demonstrate the same consistency for its women’s teams. It would be a jump and hasty to call it sexism but not a reach to perhaps suggest the SEC doesn’t provide the same attention or weight that perhaps the Pac-12 does. If it’s a matter of better players, coaches, or facilities – which arguably play a large factor in the production of championship teams – then the Pac-12 must be providing at least some of those things.
I think it’s safe to say the SEC produces championship football teams like Harvard and Yale produces Presidents. The Pac-12 has successfully thrown their hat in the ring but it’s going to take a few more BCS championships for West coasters to earn any respect. Until then, perhaps this [women’s sports] is the Pac-12 brand. A conference that can produce national champion teams in not just one sport but across the board is always worthy of credit. Though women’s athletics lack the punch and sponsorship of football, success will continue to attract high caliber athletes, better coaches, facilities, play, more trophies … I think you see the cycle.
I commend the Pac-12, whether they did it intentionally or not, for investing in a diversified conference successful at more than just football. Down the road, it will prove to be in the best interest of schools in the league and perhaps, if the sports god’s allow, a Pac-12 dynasty in women’s athletics.