In his well-covered teleconference statement, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said that the primary factor when considering expansion candidates would be finding schools that fit into the conference culturally and academically.
Conventional wisdom says that the more liberal and state-run Utah and Colorado are perfect fits, while the church-owned and more conservative BYU is such a poor fit that it is negates all of BYU’s positive qualities.
Without considering the culture of the three candidates, BYU brings the largest stadium, a fan base with a million people inside Utah and a few more million outside it, most of whom are within driving distance of Pac-10 schools; it also brings a deep and solid athletic department and both historic and recent football success, where Utah and Colorado only have either historic or recent success, but not both.
Without considering culture, BYU is probably the most financially viable candidate.
The desire to have like-minded institutions is understandable, but considering the Pac-10’s business model is based on selling tickets and getting ratings, it seems like a curious top priority.
Hopefully, someone on their search committee points out to them that teams that are perfect fits culturally often make really boring rivals. The reason why the Duke and North Carolina game sells all its tickets and gets good ratings every year isn’t because they’re perfect cultural fits; it sells out because they’re terrible cultural fits.
There may be some factions within the famous North Carolina schools that sometimes wish the other did not exist, but those wishes don’t ever come from the people in charge of selling the tickets.
More than any other conference, the Pac-10 should understand the value of a rivalry as a product. A really good rivalry is about more than just one big school vs. another down the street.
Duke and North Carolina is about elitism vs. populism, Republicans vs. Democrats, and good vs. evil (depending on your point of view, of course). The Pac-10 should know this.
They should know that the five current rivalry games played every year did not become the marquee events they are by featuring schools that are perfect cultural fits for each other.
Granted, the gulf between Stanford and Cal is different than the gulf between Cal and BYU, but the principle is the same: If you build a bigger tent, you can fit more people in it.
If two teams have invested 100 years playing 250 basketball games and nearly 100 football games against each other, it's worth something to them and their fans.
Hopefully, it is also worth something to a committee that’s looking for two new Pac-10 teams and is identified as something that can’t simply be manufactured by inviting a team from the 16th-biggest media market and the 31st-biggest media market and pretending they’re going to be the same kind of rivals.
In the end, the Pac-10 will have a pretty simple choice. What do they think will be worth more to television executives: The three million or so Western Mormons outside of Utah or the three million or so people in the city of Denver?
Because Boulder fits in culturally, and media buyers and TV networks are built on selling ad space to measured media markets, and not to random Mormons spread throughout the country, the Denver market is probably going to be the easier choice.
It is a known and easily measured quantity, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily would be better. If they choose Denver, they will add a school who’s only recent football headlines have been made for scandals or firing their coach.
They will spend the next year pitching executives about the new media markets they’ve acquired, and my guess is while people won’t be angry about it, they might not care that much, either.
Their other option is to embrace the differences BYU offers and choose the Mormons. Some people might not like it. They might feel like by adding BYU they’re justifying their political or social views. Some will want nothing to do with BYU’s undergraduate-based focus and religion-based values.
In fact, it will probably be more than just a few people that aren’t happy about including BYU. But the Pac-10 should also realize that it’s just fine if some people don’t like it, as long as they talk about it.
Just like many at North Carolina don’t want to help Duke (and vice versa), they understand that in the end, the benefit they provide to each other is worth more than the joy of denying that benefit to their rival.
If the Pac-10 does choose BYU, the next step should be to hire a really good PR firm to help cover the students at Berkeley when they start protesting.
If the PR firm is smart, they’ll be sure every article mentions the newly-formed conference and all the protesters get a copy of next season’s schedule.