Conference expansion and realignment talk is usually a topic for the offseason.
Normally, I would strongly hesitate to bring up the issue during the middle of another great college football season.
However, recently, hints and rumors are spreading out of the Pac-10 that indicate something is afoot.
The idea of Pac-10 expansion has been around since the Pac-8 became the Pac-10 in 1978 with the addition of Arizona and Arizona State. Schools such as BYU and Utah have been practically begging for admission to the conference for three decades.
Yet, the Pac-10 has the gone the longest of any FBS conference in America without any changes.
Now, Pac-10 supporters have long argued that they do need to expand, that the conference is at its best today with no room for improvement.
In many ways they are right, but national perception of the conference has hindered the Pac-10.
Looking at the Pac-10's Problems
As other conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC have entered into massive television deals, the Pac-10 has increasingly been left behind. Instead, most of the country rarely sees a Pac-10 game, unless it is USC taking on a Notre Dame or Ohio State.
As other conferences have gained respect for BCS national titles, the Pac-10 sits with only one BCS title and with only two at large bids to BCS games.
USC, having finished in the top four for the last seven years, has been repeatedly denied a berth in the BCS title game, largely due to a perceived weakness in the Pac-10 conference.
So, simply put the Pac-10 has four major problems:
1. Inferior television deals;
2. Weak bowl tie-ins;
3. Low revenue relative to other top conferences; and
4. Poor conference national perception.
Enter Larry Scott
The recent hire of former Women's Tennis Association president Larry Scott has strongly demonstrated that the Pac-10 is finally looking to improve its status.
Since joining the conference, Larry Scott has worked aggressively to promote the Pac-10.
He finalized a new bowl deal with the Alamo Bowl, giving the Pac-10 a significant upgrade in both payout and visibility.
Scott has been busy defending its reputation.
Scott was out in front of the Blount issue and put the Pac-10 on the moral high ground with the strong discipline set forth.
So what more does Scott need to do?
Another thing Scott has done is talk with the media. In a recent interview with a Phoenix sports-talk station, Scott discussed his ideas for improving the conference.
In looking at home to improve the conference, including getting better television deals, Scott mentioned that expanding the conference and adding a conference championship game is a on-going part of the internal discussions.
ESPN.com Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller discussed in a post from August that a "informed guy" with a say on expansion had recently informed him that conference expansion was something under discussion for the next two years, with Colorado and Utah as being the two ideal targets.
All well and good, but I gave little consideration of this issue until another piece of news came out recently.
Washington State University cancelled a planned 2011 trip play at Hawaii and will pay $300,000, citing "uncertain changes in the Pac-10 scheduling."
Now, that is very odd and most likely too much truth.
Given the current state of the Wazzu program, a end-of-season trip to Hawaii is the closest thing that this team will have to a bowl game for many, many years. Fans would likely travel with the team in decent numbers.
The team will save no money from canceling the trip so we must take the reason at face value.
Wazzu has some reason to believe that the Pac-10 scheduling is going to radically change in two seasons.
This can mean only one of two things:
1. The Pac-10 is dropping the infamous round-robin nine-game conference schedule, which has resulted in five extra losses among conference teams as well as uneven schedules.
2. The conference is seriously looking at expansion by the 2011 season, which is when the Pac-10 will be negotiating new television deals.
Now, a central part of any new television deal could be a conference championship game. If so, a Pac-12 would need to be in place.
While this is nothing that putting together some hints and rumors, there appears to be enough evidence to show a strong possibility of real change taking place in the Pac-10.
Utah and Colorado are both logical targets. Each is a flagship state university with a strong research component, in line with the academic ideals of the Pac-10. Taking the two schools together, they provide additional television markets roughly similar in size to any of the Pac-10 pairs (except of course USC and UCLA).
Both schools would be competitive in a number of sports and both have had national status in football at various times.
Now, Utah would jump to the Pac-12 without a moments hesitation, in spite of loud statements in the past that Utah will only move with BYU.
Colorado is a more interesting case. In its heyday, the Buffs successfully recruited in Southern California, something that appears to have dropped off in recent years.
The Buffs rose to national prominence during the final years of the Big Eight, but have only finished in the top twenty-five three times since the formation of the Big Twelve.
A change of conference may be what the doctor ordered for the Buffs.
So, it is unlikely that we will see much develop prior to the end of the 2010 season, but hints and rumors will become more prominent.