Don't Ignore Pac-10 in Expansion Game
The Big Ten has sucked up most of the oxygen in this discussion, but the Pac-10 could be a key contributor in changing the college sports landscape depending on just how aggressive it pursues -- perhaps even hooking Texas under the right conditions. Unfortunately much speculation has been foolish, owing to the inevitable public ignorance of all things Pac-10. East Coast Bias, anyone? We kid, we kid, but seriously -- let's straighten some things out.
For years under the leadership of former commissioner Tom Hansen, the Pac-10 has been the quiet sideshow of major college sports. It has all but dominated the Olympic sport landscape particularly with USC, UCLA, Stanford and California gobbling up championships. But besides USC and UCLA, its football and basketball fortunes have been more modest.
An opportunity to upgrade its national reputation and access to revenue emerged with Hansen's retirement and hiring of Larry Scott. Scott (pictured above) went about hiring an intriguing team of lieutenants, arguably signaling a change in practice. Whether by design or luck, it comes at a time when the college football landscape could be dramatically shaken up as the major conferences engage in some heavy horse trading and perhaps consolidation.
This is speaking with an incredibly broad brush and anecdotal but perhaps not far off -- most Pac-10 fans had lost faith with Hansen. While the SEC and Big 12 and, to a lesser extent, the ACC rose in prestige, the Pac-10 saw several qualified football teams snubbed from BCS and BCS Championship involvement in recent years and were offered little in consolation.
Scott has provided a more aggressive tone in his first year on the job, and there's anticipation that the Pac-10 if nothing else will fight hard to boost revenue in its next round of television negotiations and with the possible addition of an in-house network similar to the Big Ten Network. Beyond that, it's now somewhat credible to consider the conference adding a handful of new members.
I've been one of those holdouts who preferred the 10-team setup in place since the 1970s but it has been a hindrance with football now that several conferences have 11 or 12 teams and conference titles games. Tacky as they are, they bring in major cash and are a huge boost to a team's BCS standing. The game's been rigged and the Pac-10 will be forever left in the dust if it refuses to get in on the action.
For that and other reasons, expansion now seems much more important and perhaps necessary. The conference now has the leadership in place and some good timing to take advantage.
That said, expansion will be difficult for a handful of reasons. Although the conference may surrender its current 10-team form, there are certain non-negotiables to consider with the new math.
In brief, barring any major selling of its soul, the conference will only welcome so-called "major research institutions." These schools will also likely be secular, located in major television markets, and paired with a rival of some sort. This is just how the Pac-10 does things.
That is why any talk of adding Boise State is so silly. Its academic and Olympic sport profile is light. The Pac-10 has built an incredible image as an academic and athletic powerhouse. There's an expectation for members to be on peoples' minds when discussing the greatest academic institutions in the world. Not all members fit that profile, but they're rounded enough and come in with major research credentials.
Enter Texas. The Longhorns are the longshotiest of longshots to join the Pac-10 for many reasons, but they're also the ideal dance partner. They walk and talk just like a UCLA, a USC, a Stanford, both on and off the field.
However, if the rumor is true, they might have to bring a Baylor or Texas Tech along to get state politicians off their backs. Neither would get much of a warm welcome at Pac-10 offices. However, the rival Aggies at Texas A&M are closer to the profile.
Reports are already out this week that the Pac-10 and Big 12 are in talks about cooperating on a television network. This would pour cold water on talk of the Pac-10 grabbing any Big 12 programs, but yet ...
The Big 12 has been an uncomfortable giant for its brief existence. The divisions are unbalanced and seemingly nobody is happy with the revenue-sharing arrangements. It may welcome the loss of an institution or two if it's also out there seeking new partners.
The name most discussed has been Colorado. The Buffaloes make sense in that they have that hippie sensibility found at many Pac-10 campuses. Their Olympic sport profile is a bit light but they'd add the Denver/Boulder television market and Western feel to go with the research institution tag. However, who would be their paired rival?
Amusingly, another common pair of names trotted out are Utah and BYU. Somewhat surprising, Utah is the much more obvious candidate. BYU's open religious affiliation and lack of research credentials are incredibly damaging to its chances.
Bottom line: besides Texas there are no slam dunk obvious candidates that fit the profile of what a Pac-10 school would look like. Even if Texas was interested and capable of making the move, it might be unable to shake having to carry a Baylor or Texas Tech with it, essentially killing the deal. Plus, it brings so much revenue potential to the table it would likely be able to negotiate its own uneven share of revenues and get into some of the same angst wars already present in the Big 12.