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Pac-10 Expansion Analysis, Part Two

Mr Pac Ten
Posted Feb 19, 2010


Collegefootballnews’ Matthew Smith Looks at Pac-10 Expansion Possibilities, Part Two: Logistics

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. In part one (link here), I discussed various expansion candidates, and looked at a few different potential pairings, as well as a more radical idea for expansion. In this piece, I’ll be examining the logistical problems that adding two teams would create. For the sake of not using “Team X” and “Team Y” in my examples, I’ll assume the two teams are Texas and Texas A&M (this set or Texas-Colorado are the best-case pairings for the league, and this is probably more realistic).

Essentially, there are two problems that adding teams to the league creates: access to the California TV and recruiting markets, and geography. Of the two, geography is the simplest to explain. Right now, there are 4 Pacific Northwest teams, 4 California teams, and 2 Arizona teams. Unless the next two teams join a division with the Oregon and Washington schools, you’re going to have to somehow split up the California schools.

The problem with splitting up the California schools is that they all really like the fact that they each play each other every year, and have done so for far longer than the Pac-10 has been together. If you break them up into separate divisions, they won’t get to play each other every year. I doubt any of the other schools would be bothered by this possibility, but if the four of them band together and say “no way” to breaking up their annual matchups, that’s a veto right there.

On the flip side, the problem with not splitting up the California schools is that the other schools, who are used to having one LA trip and one Bay Area trip each year, would have some years where they don’t go to either location. If NorCal, SoCal and Arizona are one division, and Oregon, Washington, and, say, Utah (Utah/BYU) are the other, then there will be years when, say, Oregon St will have three divisional road games, and the other one would be at one of the Arizona schools. That would severely diminish their TV and recruiting access, which would probably get them to vote down that form of expansion.

In the context of these issues, let’s look at some ideas for expansion, starting with one recently posted by Ted Miller (link here), among others (the proposed teams are different, but the idea is the same):

Idea 1: Split Local Rivalries
Essentially, in this case you’d get two divisions, one with Wazzu, Oregon St, Stanford, USC, Arizona and Texas A&M; the other with Washington, Oregon, Cal, UCLA, ASU and Texas. You’d guarantee that the local rivals play each other every year, and the other games rotate along some pre-arranged format.
Pros:
It would be fairly balanced in terms of team quality. You could easily guarantee that each team got at least one trip to either LA or the Bay Area every year. It’s pretty well-balanced in terms of each team having equal access to every market in the league. It’s easy to understand and explain.
Cons:
Basically everything else. The California schools would be pissed about losing their annual series. It’s about the worst possible setup for ease of travel; Texas would be locked into a perpetual home and home with Wazzu, and A&M would be with Washington, which doesn’t make any sense at all.
It’s based on the ACC divisional format. It’s unclear why it makes sense to make a weird alignment that resembles the weird alignment of a league that has struggled since its own expansion, especially since the main reason they put together that weird alignment was to ensure that Miami and Florida St could potentially play each other in the championship game (to date, there have been multiple championship games without either one, and zero with them both). Unless there’s a compelling interest in keeping alive the possibility of a UCLA-USC championship game, it’s hard to see a major upside.

Idea 2: Split Regional Rivalries
Essentially, in this case you’d get two divisions, one with Washington, Wazzu, Stanford, Cal, Texas, and Texas A&M; the other with Oregon, Oregon St, UCLA, USC, Arizona and ASU. You wouldn’t have to fix any local rivalries in place, because the local rivals are already in the same division.
Pros:
It would be fairly balanced in terms of team quality. You could easily guarantee that each team got at least one trip to either LA or the Bay Area every year (though some teams would then get one game every year in the Bay Area, and some every year in LA). It’s somewhat well-balanced in terms of each team having equal access to every market in the league (except that there’s an imbalance between the Arizona and Texas markets). It’s easy to understand and explain.
Cons:
Basically everything else. The California schools would be pissed about losing their annual series. It’s about the worst possible setup for ease of travel; the Texas schools would be locked into a perpetual home and home with the Washington schools (if you flip Washington and Oregon it’s not much better), which doesn’t make any sense at all. Whoever isn’t in the division with USC and UCLA gets substantially less exposure to the LA market, which is still the most valuable market in the league.
It’s based on the ACC divisional format. It’s unclear why it makes sense to make a weird alignment that resembles the weird alignment of a league that has struggled since its own expansion, especially since the main reason they put together that weird alignment was to ensure that Miami and Florida St could potentially play each other in the championship game (to date, there have been multiple championship games without either one, and zero with them both). Unless there’s a compelling interest in keeping alive the possibility of, say, a Washington-Oregon championship game, it’s hard to see a major upside.

Idea 3: Add 2 teams to North Division
Essentially, in this case you’d get two divisions, one with Washington, Wazzu, Oregon, Oregon St, and the two new teams (would have to be some combination of Colorado, Utah and BYU; no way does Texas go in a North division); the other with Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona and ASU. You wouldn’t have to fix any local rivalries in place, because the local rivals are already in the same division.
Pros:
The California schools would get to keep their annual series. It enhances local and local-ish rivalries. It makes travel pretty easy, since most games wouldn’t be very far. It’s easy to understand and explain.
Cons:
You don’t get Texas, which means you’re splitting league revenues 12 ways instead of 10 without getting a huge new TV market (it’s even worse if Colorado isn’t one of the two). The North division teams get less access to the California markets. It’s not particularly balanced in terms of team quality, as the South division has historically stronger programs than the North. It’s not as big of a gap as the Big 12 North vs South, but there’ll be some years where it gets pretty bad. There’s a reasonable chance of seeing a year where the North wins 20% of the cross-division games, and has a 5-3 division get crushed in the championship game by a 7-1 South champ that had a three-way tie with two other 7-1 South teams. Maybe I’m crazy, but something tells me people might be unhappy with that situation.

Idea 4: Don’t Expand, have a CCG anyway
You go back to the eight-game almost round robin, guaranteeing the California schools all play each other every year (and while you’re at it, do the same for the Pacific Northwest teams). Stage a tiebreaker system the rates all 10 teams, and the top two play each other in a championship game.
Pros:
You’ll never have a 2008 Texas-Oklahoma fiasco; you don’t have to worry about the two best teams in the league all being in the same division, since there aren’t any divisions. The California schools all get to play each other every year. Every team gets at least one game in LA or the Bay Area every year. It’s easy to understand and explain.
Cons:
Having a conference championship game with only 10 teams probably goes against one of the NCAA or BCS regulations (though presumably it wouldn’t be difficult to change the rules with a little lobbying). It doesn’t add to the conference footprint. If you’re married to the idea of expansion, then you won’t like this idea.

Ultimately, if these are the four options on the table, I’d prefer the 4th. Just keep the current ten teams, figure out a way to stage a conference championship game, drop the ninth game, and get on with life. But if 12 teams is going to happen (and as I’ve said before, I really don’t think it makes any sense unless Texas is one of the two additions), then there is one more possibility out there:

Idea 5: Three-Division Format
You create three divisions: Northwest (Washington, Wazzu, Oregon, Oregon St), California (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC), Southwest (Arizona, ASU, Texas, Texas A&M). You create a set of tiebreaker rules that ensures that the two best conference champions play in the championship game. You organize the schedules so that every team plays each inter-divisional opponent two or three times every four years. I’ve set up a sample four-year schedule for each of the 12 teams under this format, link here :
Pros:
It’s substantially less likely that the two best teams would be in the same division, since the divisions are smaller. The California schools all get to play each other every year. Every team gets at least one game in LA or the Bay Area every year. There’s at least a 50% chance of seeing any particular matchup in a given year. The better teams play each other a bit more in cross-division games (as do the worse), but it’s only a bit more (3 in 4 years instead of 2). This should make for slightly more interesting games and slightly fewer dull ones, though the schedule imbalance wouldn’t be huge.
The definitions of “better” and “worse” get re-done every four years, so the system is responsive to medium-term swings in program quality, as opposed to being locked in forever.
Inside of each four-year period, no team hosts another in two consecutive years (though of course it could potentially happen between year 4 of one cycle and year 1 of the next). This is way better than the old sort of round-robin system, where, for instance, ASU visited Washington in 1999 and didn’t go back until 2006 (they skipped each other in 2003 and 2004, and the 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2005 games were ALL in Tempe)
You could easily tweak the bowl assignments so that they emphasized more local matchups, which is good for the partner bowls and therefore good for the league; for instance, the Alamo Bowl would take the Southwest division champ unless they won the league; the Holiday Bowl would take the California division champ unless they won the league; and the Northwest division champ (unless they won the league) could slot into the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl.
Cons:
It’s a complicated, non-standard setup. Any weird or controversial result could create “ditch the system” cries. There’s a level of arbitrariness to who gets defined as “better” or “worse”, which could create legitimate fairness concerns barring a fixed, mutually agreed-upon selection criteria. Certain divisions are stronger than others (though having fewer games inside each division would actually help to balance schedules). Over the long run, there could develop a home-away imbalance to some of the pairings of teams.
You can get years where a team will either host both or visit both of a pair of local rivals, which may not be ideal (it happened fairly often in the old eight-game schedule system), although there are tweaks you can make to the scheduling logic to eliminate or at least reduce those possibilities.

Mr Pac-10's 2009 Blog

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

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