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Pac-10 Expansion Analysis, Part One

Mr Pac Ten
Posted Feb 19, 2010


Collegefootballnews’ Matthew Smith Looks at Pac-10 Expansion Possibilities, Part One: The Candidates

There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of the Pac-10 expanding ever since new commissioner Larry Scott announced that the league would seriously consider expansion in the time period leading up to the next TV contract negotiation. Over the span of a couple articles, I’ll be looking at expansion from a few different angles, such as the logistical difficulties inherent in expansion (and how they might be solved).

The first piece will be about the potential candidates, from the serious to the ones that simply aren’t (and shouldn’t be) in the discussion. We’ll start with the latter list, to get them out of the way:

Boise St
Plenty of people look at Boise St’s recent success and think “boy, they ought to be in the Pac-10, their football team is just so good.” On a more practical level, the Broncos as a Pac-10 candidate suffer from a number of flaws:
Location: basically, they’re far away from most Pac-10 schools, they’re a cold-weather school, and they’re not close to a major TV market or recruiting hotbed. They’ve had home and homes with Oregon and Oregon St, but never with a Pac-10 school outside the Pacific Northwest, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The California and Arizona schools already hate going up to Pullman every other year; adding Boise to the list simply isn’t going to happen.
Future Potential: They’ve had a very nice run the past few years, and have been solid over the span of a few coaches now. But one of these years, Peterson will leave, and then the question is whether the next guy succeeds. If he does, he’ll leave and it’ll be the next guy. Eventually, one of the coaches will fail, the program will fall back into mediocrity, and it’s unlikely they’ll bounce back to being a serious top 10 contender, given the lack of tradition, lack of home-grown football talent, the weather, etc. It’s possible this program is still relevant in five to ten years… but it’s unlikely.
Academics: They’re simply not an academic fit in a league which values academics.

TCU
It’s less crazy than Boise, but many of the same issues apply. Texas is a long way away from many of the schools (especially the Pacific Northwest), TCU doesn’t come close to controlling a major TV market (they’re in the Dallas-Ft Worth area, but they’re second fiddle to Texas in Dallas [and maybe even A&M, I’m not really sure one way or the other], they’re likely to fall back into the pack for football to some degree (though not as much as Boise), and they’re not an academic fit.

Colorado St, Fresno St, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah St, UNLV, various 1-AA schools
No one on this list has a football program comparable to the mid-point of the Pac-10, no one has academics comparable to the mid-point of the Pac-10, no one has control of a major TV market (no one other than CSU even has access, and they’re pretty obviously second banana to Colorado). Certainly, Pac-10 membership would be a boon to any of these schools, but it’s very hard to see why the Pac-10 would be interested in any of them. For expansion to work it needs to make sense for both sides, not just the party joining.

That leaves us with a pretty short list of candidates: Texas, Texas A&M, Colorado, Utah, and BYU. Assuming expansion to 12 teams, there are a few possibilities, with various pros and cons:

Texas and Texas A&M
Pros:
Probably the most obvious combination, as well as the only realistic pairing that contains A&M (without Texas, they’re not such a good fit). It gives substantial access to the state of Texas, which is a huge boost to the league’s television footprint, as well as to league recruiting.
Also, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that Texas and Texas A&M are going to be a package deal, which means that if you want Texas, this could be the only pairing on the table. And Texas plus A&M is a far better pairing for the league than anything out there that doesn’t include Texas.
Cons
To start with, Texas is in a strong bargaining position, since the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac-10 are all competing for their membership. This means that they can dictate a lot of terms to the leagues, and potentially select the best offer. Among other things, this means that there would be the same sort of unequal revenue sharing that Texas currently enjoys in the Big 12, possibly even more unequal. This is fine for the USC, UCLA and Washington (and probably Cal and Stanford), since the current revenue sharing arrangements are losers for them, but it would probably hurt Oregon St and Washington St, unless the overall pie got a whole lot bigger.
The second con is that A&M probably isn’t as good of a cultural fit as Colorado. This pairing might not be the league’s first choice.
The third con is that Texas might prefer to go in a different direction. A Big Ten offer will probably be on the table, and there’s a reasonable chance the Big 12 would attempt to convince them to stay by re-negotiating some of the league rules relating to revenue-sharing, academics, etc to better match what Texas wants. There are reasons why Texas might want to join the Pac-10, and there are reasons why they might not. Since no one really knows what they want to do, it’s hard to say for sure that they’d accept an invitation if offered (as opposed to pretty much every non-BCS school west of the Mississippi, who’d say yes in a heartbeat; I’d guess Colorado would prefer to be in the Pac-10 as well, though I’m less sure of that one)
The biggest con, however, is the Texas State Legislature. When the Southwest Conference disbanded, the legislature more or less forced Texas and Texas A&M to bring along Texas Tech and Baylor or risk getting their funding slashed (and the state funding is far more important to the universities than whatever additional television money might be on the table from any conference move). If that is still on the table, then they’ve basically got a veto over anything that Texas could do.
That said, it might not be on the table. The state governor is no longer a Baylor grad, and just as importantly, there’s a lot of resentment around the state not just towards Texas and Texas A&M but also towards Tech and Baylor for the rest of the Southwest Conference schools getting the shaft. I’m only speculating here, but if the Dallas and Houston contingent would prefer to say “screw you” to the Lubbock and Waco guys rather than to the Austin and College Station contingent (or if they think that the Big 12 would call up, say, TCU and Houston as replacements), the Longhorns and Aggies might have a free hand to do whatever they want.
I honestly don’t know what the political situation there is, and I suspect that it wouldn’t be clear until and unless it got put to the test. I just wanted to throw out the possibility that the legislature at least might not be the huge roadblock that they were the last time Texas thought about moving on to greener pastures.

Texas and Colorado
Pros:
Probably the biggest win for the Pac-10 out of any pairing. Both would be good academic and cultural fits, and both have control of major TV markets.
As noted before, figuring out what the Texas Legislature would or wouldn’t do is a huge part of any expansion discussion about Texas (and until they’re solidly off the table, every expansion discussion is about Texas, since they’re the only home-run candidate out there). Perhaps if Texas was the only Big 12 South school to leave, there wouldn’t be as much potential angst about the league’s future. Or perhaps there would be more. I don’t know.
Cons
The same “Texas has huge bargaining power and can basically dictate terms” cons as described above apply; ditto for “we can’t be sure they’d pick the Pac-10 if it was offered”. Also worth noting is that this would break up the local rivalry pairs that are a big part of the nature of the Pac-10, which is a negative.
As in the above scenario, the biggest con is the Texas State Legislature. Whether not inviting A&M would make it easier (less opposition from everyone else) or harder (A&M probably won’t be happy) isn’t something I’m not qualified to weigh in on.

Texas and Utah
Pros:
It’s a pairing with Texas. Not as good of a fit as Colorado or A&M, but still on the table and not a horrible fit.
Cons
The same “Texas has huge bargaining power and can basically dictate terms” cons as described above apply; ditto for “we can’t be sure they’d pick the Pac-10 if it was offered”. Also worth noting is that this would break up the local rivalry pairs that are a big part of the nature of the Pac-10, which is a negative.
As in the above scenario, the biggest con is the Texas State Legislature. Only taking one Big 12 team would leave the league in more stable condition (pending whatever the Big Ten would do), which might make the whole thing easier to make happen.

Colorado and Utah
Pros:
If you really want to expand, it’s the most defensible non-Texas option out there. Neither one is a “must have”, but both could be good fits, especially Colorado.
Cons
If Texas is on the table, there’s no way this happens. Colorado and Utah are schools where if you’re dead-set on expansion, they can work, but neither is the sort of home run where you’d say “of course we definitely want you”.
There are substantial logistical problems that expansion would create. It’ll take a while to go through the list, but it basically boils down to a situation where it’s very difficult to juggle what everyone wants in any kind of functional way. Texas is a big enough win that the added revenue, TV exposure and recruiting paper over these problems, but no one else is. Unless Larry Scott has massive influence with the schools this is a tough sell.

Utah and BYU
Pros:
It keeps the “local rivalries” thing going. Both have solid football programs. If Texas and Colorado both say “no thanks”, this is the most realistic option left on the table.
Cons
If Texas and/or Colorado are on the table, there’s no way this happens. Utah and BYU are schools where if you’re dead-set on expansion, they can work, but neither is the sort of home run where you’d say “of course we definitely want you”.
BYU comes with its own set of issues. They won’t play sports on Sundays, they’re a very religious university (which is NOT a good cultural fit with the Pac-10), and it’s hard to see why you’d want two schools in the Salt Lake City market when it’s not big enough to make even one of the two a top-shelf candidate.
There are substantial logistical problems that expansion would create. It’ll take a while to go through the list, but it basically boils down to a situation where it’s very difficult to juggle what everyone wants in any kind of functional way. Texas is a big enough win that the added revenue, TV exposure and recruiting paper over these problems, but no one else is. Unless Larry Scott has massive influence with the schools this is a tough sell.

That’s basically it for the reasonable pairing options. But there is actually another possibility out there: instead of just raiding part of the Big 12 South, raid the whole thing and make a super-conference (Buster Sports recently proposed a similar idea, link here ) . It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s really weird, it’s probably a bad idea, but it’s at least worth talking about the pros and cons.

Option 1: “Pac-16”
The Pac-10 plus the Big 12 South = 16 teams. The Arizona schools move to the “South” division, and you figure out some way to make the whole thing work.
Pros:
It would probably overtake the SEC as the most prestigious conference (at least until they did something to catch up). It would demand and receive a massive amount of attention. And since all of the Big 12 South teams are coming along, there’s no need to worry about Texas’s funding getting slashed.
Cons
It would be a gigantic mess. Figuring out scheduling, figuring out tiebreakers, and negotiating bowl tie-ins, revenue sharing, etc. would be a true nightmare. I doubt there’s any solution that would please half of the 16 teams, much less all of them.
You’d pretty much be throwing into the trashcan the whole emphasis on academics. Maybe the money makes it worth it, maybe it doesn’t. But it’s a real downside that has to be factored in.
Right now, the BCS caps the number of teams a conference can send at two. Unless that rule changes, there’s a huge disincentive to have especially large conferences.

Option 2: “Pac-14”
The Pac-10 plus the Big 12 South = 16 teams. Slice out two teams (probably Wazzu and Baylor) and you’re left with a more manageable 14 teams. Again, the Arizona schools go to the South division.
Pros:
It would probably overtake the SEC as the most prestigious conference (at least until they did something to catch up). It would demand and receive a massive amount of attention. Since Baylor is a private university (and again, the governor is no longer a Baylor grad), it’s hard to see them having the influence to veto the process.
Cons
Privately, I’m sure that most of the Pac-10 schools would rather not have Washington St as a member, and would be tempted to take advantage of the excuse of “we have to cut somebody to make this whole thing work”. But there’s a huge difference between thinking “we hate having to go to Pullman and we hate having to send them revenue-sharing money” and actually sticking a huge knife in their back. There would be a massive amount of fallout from such a scenario, and it would be a black mark on the league and its members that wouldn’t easily (or quickly) be erased. This is probably also true for axing Baylor, but the Big 12 was always a somewhat awkward partnership (and the “every man for himself” precedent was already created when the SWC blew up), so I’d guess it would be less of a black mark and would leave less fallout.
Even if the Pac-10 members wanted to make it happen, I’m not sure they have the votes. If it came down to it, I’d guess the Arizona and California schools would say aye (though this really is just a guess), but that might be it. Oregon St would vote against it, of course (it would set a bad precedent for a program that could be the next victim if they have a bad decade or so of sports results). Washington would probably like to see their local rival take a fall but actually voting for it would be politically dangerous at best, suicidal at worst (they would basically get a large chunk of their own state legislature to constantly vote “no” on anything they wanted, and probably actively try to cut funding or undermine them in any way possible for at least the next decade or so). And I don’t know what Oregon would do, since tossing the Cougars would strengthen Washington the most (which they don’t want), but would also strengthen their own program by having one less competitor in the local recruiting wars.
You’d pretty much be throwing into the trashcan the whole emphasis on academics. Maybe the money makes it worth it, maybe it doesn’t. But it’s a real downside that has to be factored in.
It wouldn’t be as much of a mess as a 16-team league, but it would still be a mess. Figuring out scheduling would still be difficult, unless teams were OK with six division games and only two against the other division. Figuring out tiebreakers, and negotiating bowl tie-ins, revenue sharing, etc. would still be a nightmare. Too many competing interests to create solutions to make everyone happy.
Right now, the BCS caps the number of teams a conference can send at two. Unless that rule changes, there’s a huge disincentive to have especially large conferences.

As far as I can tell, those are the only expansion scenarios that would be (or should be) on the table. Assuming that nothing really wacky (like a 14 or 16 team league) happens, the options are basically to stand pat or to take some combination of two teams. In my next piece, I’ll talk about the logistical problems inherent in moving to a 12-team league, and examine the pros and cons of various re-alignment scenarios.

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Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at cfn_ms@hotmail.com

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