I am not a Utah Utes hater. Really, I'm not.
My parents live in Utah, and in my travels to Utah I have found the people to be immensely friendly and decent people. I wish all residents of Utah the very best in life. Truly.
I also think Utah should be in a BCS conference yesterday, along with BYU.
So why am I against Utah getting an invitation to the Pac-10?
Well lets start by turning that argument around. What does Utah bring to the table?
I will concede right off the top that Utah has a well run athletic program featuring strong teams in both money sports and can recruit well enough in the region to probably be top-25 competitive in the Pac-10.
The rest of the picture is pretty ugly though.
I do not see Utah as a program likely to get an influx of top California talent by joining the Pac-10. I think ideally a 12th Pac-10 team should be competitive today with the rank and file of the Pac-10 (Utah succeeds here). I think that team should be able to ramp up their quality and depth of talent through tapping California recruits allowing them to have a shot at running the table tomorrow against the greater depth of talent in the Pac-10. I don't see this happening with Utah. In fact, I can see their talent level falling off considerably if they leave BYU behind to a non-BCS fate.
(To be fair, this is my impression. Utah does have a number of Californians on their roster today, but my take is that splitting the state's talent with BYU as they do, they have to try to get talent where they can. California is a nearby state with tons of untapped 2 star talent who would love a scholarship somewhere. Certainly any school will land a 3 start talent or better from time to time, but I question whether the Utes are pulling top talents from California or whether they are just mostly filling out the back end of their roster with guys. Even if they are doing better in that regard toady than I credit them, will they in the Pac-12? Can they land Pac-10 quality from California vs. a Washington, Oregon, or Colorado? I question that. I think you will see a lot of the higher end Californian talent that enjoy the mountains and mountain sports going to the culturally more compatible University of Colorado.)
The Pac-10 currently has (with Colorado) 11 state flagships, second schools, and elite private schools from states with a combined 59 million people. Utah offers the Salt Lake City market...which is actually all of Utah. Only 2.8 Million people in Utah, and the Utes are the No. 2 school in the state.
Financially it appears to be a questionable move.
Let's say the Pac-10's new target is attempting to match the SEC's $17 million payout per school by starting a network, or more likely as the number of members is smaller now, trying to match the ACC's $13 million per school per year payout as a content provider for a network.
First, why is there any reason to believe a network is going to give $13 million per year for Utes games? Secondly, why is there any reason to believe adding another mountain time zone team is going to help the Pac-10's time zone problem, allowing their other teams to earn $13 million TV payouts?
Utah does nothing to fix the Pac-10's time zone issues.
(Some of you may be unfamiliar with the Pac-10's time zone problem. If the Pac-10 starts games in the evening to draw the best crowds, the games start at 9 or 10 in the Eastern Time zone—where two thirds of Americans live. If they start them early to have a shot at that TV audience, they lose gate attendance to outdoor activities, family outings, and the like.
Additionally, they are located as far away from the Each Coast as they could possibly be, so the number of Pac-10 fans in the eastern time zone is probably less than any other BCS conference. They are at a unique disadvantage among BCS conferences in revenue generation in the two main revenue sports).
The measurables imply that the payout for a Pac-10 championship game would likely get consumed by giving Utah a TV share. If that's the case, then in no uncertain terms the Pac-10 should not invite Utah.
Consider the potential downside.
The Mountain West Conference might lose out on a BCS bid if they lose Utah. That's a very real possibility. This could be a hotly contested move as there doesn't appear to be an inclination from the Big 12 to add BYU.
Does the Pac-10 really want to go through the same kind of squabbling they just endured in Texas to add a school that may not add the kind of value a Pac-10 member should?
Plus, how does adding Utah work in terms of the conference? A plan reportedly being considered is to put the Northern schools in the same division with Utah and Colorado.
This is an insane squandering of resources.
All of those schools (with the previously mentioned exception of Utah) are at least partially reliant on California recruiting to play at a somewhat high Pac-10 level. The two schools staying with the California schools in this scenario (Arizona State and Arizona) haven't shown any consistent ability to recruit California at a level that allows them to compete for titles with any consistency.
This would likely lead to a total collapse of the northern division—Utah excepted—and a partial collapse of the southern division, hurting future TV negotiations. Another division scenario that was allegedly promised to Colorado is to put Colorado in a mountain division with both LA schools . While this is a little better, it still cuts the recruiting potential of all Pac-10 schools.
For the Pac-10 to really work, out of state fallen powers Washington and Colorado as well as current semi-powers Oregon and Oregon State have to have good regular access to Northern and Southern California recruits.
This suggests two courses of action.
1) Stay at 11 and play as many conference games as possible.
If you think about it, this is an attractive option and may be the Pac-10's best solution.
In football terms, it would maximize conference value to play 10 conference games, if the rules allow. (I am unclear on this. They clearly allow nine, so at least nine in-conference games should be scheduled each year).
After all, replacing an OOC game versus, say, Wyoming or Nevada, with a Pac-10 opponent—even Washington State—is revenue positive and a saleable TV gain.
In basketball, where 11 teams would create difficult scheduling, a team could always be added as a single sport associate member—perhaps Utah Valley University, Weber State, or the University of Denver—to offer a travel partner for Colorado.
(While none of these schools may be appealing adds to Pac-10 fans, remember these are associate members and wouldn't enjoy full membership privileges. The Pac-10 has a number of single sport associate members, most with sub-caliber academics today. This would only be different in that it would be in a revenue sport).
2) Invite a peer school that offers some added money-making potential as team 12.
Adding Utah is a surrender to small time thinking; The upside is minuscule.
I have three teams that I would submit as alternate 12th members over Utah. None of them are US News Tier One schools (a ranking system that focuses on undergraduate education, peer reviews, and high school GPAs and test scores), but then again Utah barely hits that criteria themselves.
(Utah tied for 126th on their list of doctorate granting national universities with a score of 34 out of 100. The cut off point for tier one were schools tied for 128th with a score of 33).
Every doctorate granting national university that scored 32 or less was lumped in as "Tier Three" or "Tier Four" (US News doesn't believe in a "Tier Two" ranking, so all schools in the second quarter of their "national university" rankings—like Utah—receive "Tier One" classifications).
Two of the three schools hold their own with Utah as a research university. Utah did $248 million in research in 2006 (which puts them ahead of Pac-10 research butt draggers Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State).
I think Hawaii is the smartest play for a 12th Pac-10 school.
For a number of reasons.
Geography. Hawaii is a perfect western counterbalance to Colorado in the east. Why is this important? Because it allows for a very fan-digestible alternating biannual membership shift strategy to manage division play in the revenue sports.
What? An unforced "zipper approach" to conference division.
Let me explain. Lets say you start off 2012 with Hawaii and Colorado as conference poles. All the other teams are split up logically to allow the best chance of a dominant team to emerge (Washington and Colorado in opposite divisions than USC for example), a balancing of the state flagships in each division, and to allow all teams at least one annual California game (a biannual away game in the Bay Area and a biannual away game in Los Angeles) to protect their California recruiting.
In two years you swap the other five schools, so Colorado plays the USC group in division. This protects the rivalries that exist that make the Pac-10 valuable and the hub system highlights the strength of your legacy conference pairings.
(The league could always play non-revenue sports with straight geographic divisions to save a few more pennies).
In addition, I would recommend playing four (or more, if allowed) out of division games as well. Echoing pro football, these would act as tie-breakers in case team's finish with the same in division record.
This allows teams to play most of the Pac-10 every year and everyone plays their in-state rival.
Standard 12-team, two division conferences arranged by geography hurt conferences by killing money-making rivalries. This strategy would address that problem until a later, larger expansion takes place.
By having a western team and and eastern team this makes total sense to Pac-10 (and national) fans. It won't be a ridiculous mess that fans sneer upon as contrived and "Mickey Mouse", like the ACC's "zippered" divisions.
Recruiting. Being able to guarantee a recruit a trip to Hawaii at least once in his career would give the Pac-10 a little edge versus schools in other BCS conferences. Colorado would travel to Hawaii biannually in rivalry week, creating even more of a hook for recruiting and helping to restore Colorado as a national power. Hawaii would draw a lot of California talent. No doubt about it. The place is paradise with surfing, diving, hiking, as well as a potent high flying offense. Hawaii in the Pac-10 would pull Pac-10 level talent. Just like Colorado, it's very easy to imagine Hawaii showing dramatic improvement in their talent level in the Pac-10.
Hawaii's on-the-field potential. Hawaii pulls talent from California already, just like Colorado and Utah, but even more so. Hawaii has 29 Californians on their current roster. Hawaii is already competitive with low end Pac-10 teams. They have a recent BCS Bowl trip on their resume. (Sadly a very bad matchup against a Georgia team that had ridiculous depth of quality defensive talent for a even a top SEC team. The run and shoot is all about tiring out a secondary and forcing less comptent defensive backs on the field for easy scores as the games progress. That was not happening against Georgia.) The Hawaii home field advantage is one of the best in the country and could easily make Hawaii a regular near the top of the Pac-10 standings.
Attendance. Hawaiians worship the Pac-10, they really do. They drew 42,000 to watch Washington State two years ago, and they drew 50,000 for Washington the year before. Those were not great Pac-10 teams and Hawaiian fans ate them up. I grew up in Hawaii and I can assure you everyone in the Islands would walk on broken glass if it meant the Warriors could join the Pac-10. Hawaiians love USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Washington, Oregon, and all the rest.
That would be a far cry from conservative Utah where the next sentence would be "Where's BYU's invite?" followed by accusations of religious discrimination or possibly lawsuits for hurting the MWC's BCS argument due to...wait for it... long standing religious discrimination against BYU and the LDS Church. Heck, Utah's attendance could actually substantially decrease in the Pac-10 over a Mormon Utes fan pushback. That wouldn't happen with Hawaii.
Time Zones. While Utah is a time zone neutral, Hawaii is actually a time zone positive. It is immensely counter-intuitive, but that crappy midnight starting Hawaii evening game has no competition on TV. ESPN kinda likes Hawaii for this reason - live football content in the middle of the night, with no competition. Adding Hawaii gives the Pac-10 a chance to play an early afternoon game in Colorado or Arizona—admittedly not ideal—a prime time game in the pacific time zone and then a night game in Hawaii. It offers a triple header at the cost of one conference slot.
Travel. While travel is expensive, what fan doesn't want to take a trip to Hawaii every four years to see his team play? Additionally, Hawaii is used to covering all or part of visiting teams' travel. If that was a condition of their inclusion and they were still getting a $13 million TV check, I'm sure they would agree it's a fair price for inclusion.
Market. While the Hawaii market is even less media relevant than Salt Lake, remember there is a very high number of Asians, Samoans, and Pacific Islanders who live there. It's very easy to imagine the Pac-10 being broadcast across the Pacific, in Asia, New Zealand, and Australia in the future if they add Hawaii. (Hawaii actually has an Australian football player on their roster today).
Hawaii is Asia's gateway to the US and the hub of the Pacific. The Pac-10 could evolve into the world's american football conference. It would be a very small investment for a very, very large potential return in terms of merchandise sales. Utah does not offer anything like this potential.
Public relations. The Pac-10 has taken a PR beating over the attempted raid of UT, OU, and A&M. Reports that the move was eventually taken down by conglomeration of people, many of whom reportedly had no vested interest in any of the schools involved or sports in general suggests those people didn't understand the limited options to address the financial issues facing the Pac-10. These well-meaning meddlers see the Pac-10 as a predatory conference. Adding Utah after a battle with the state and the LDS Church won't help that perception and in fact could get those people involved again, creating the potential for another blockage of Pac-10 efforts.
Adding a school like Hawaii sends an entirely different message. The perception from many is that Hawaii doesn't merit the slot due to poor academics, market size, and that the state and university are both too poor. The addition of a poor school from a primarily non-white state where all of the populace welcomes the offer is a much better PR move for the Pac-10 than ripping the Utes away from BYU.
Research. Hawaii did $249 million in research in 2006, just a little better than Utah. While geology departments and paleontologists at Pac-10 schools would find research dollars in Utah's inclusion, I suspect far more research dollars could be generated by Hawaii's inclusion.
They have the potential of being a research revenue magnet for the Pac-10. Most fans don't know this, but research dollars dwarf athletic dollars. (UCLA finished third in the nation in total research dollars in 2006 with $823 million; UT lead the nation in athletic dollars with a mere $138 million last year.)
Hawaii offers lots of natural reasons to do cooperative research with Pac-10 schools. Hawaii has species of animals and plants that only exist on the islands. The conditions on the islands have long made it an idea location for astronomers. Weather and oceanographic studies are natural avenues. Solar technology development research would be sensible as could studies of harnassing volcanic activity. There is plenty of Japanese business investment suggesting the potential for large amounts of private research dollars. Plus...The President is from Hawaii. That never hurts.
Hawaii may not be the grand slam adding UT would have been, but adding Hawaii has the chance to be a financially ridiculous home run for the Pac-10.
Utah is more of a bunt for a single.
2) New Mexico
While more of a 13th school really, they are a pretty decent candidate in their own right.
Geography. If the ultimate goal is to eventually add Texas' 24.7 million residents and their TVs, UNM makes a ton more sense than Utah. You could add the Lobos now and in five to 10 years when the Big 12 implodes over jealousy over UT's $45-50 million combined TV revenue, the Pac-10 will seem a lot less frightening and alien to Texans. The geography is poor in the short term. A zippered divisional setup would appear just as awkward and forced to the fans as with Utah.
Recruiting and on-the- field competitiveness. UNM may be able to pull some extra recruits out of Texas by being in a higher profile conference, but really their value won't be tapped until the Pac-10 has some Texas schools in the conference with the Lobos.
Attendance. Nothing to write home about, but they do have a large city with no pro competition. The conditions are there where they COULD draw a lot better in a better conference, but I think that would be tied to better talent and stadium upgrades. They have a very strongly supported basketball program and would make a contribution there.
Time zone. Peer to Utah; time zone neutral.
Travel. Distant but not horrid for the West Coast.
Markets. There are two million people in New Mexico, but there's also El Paso/Jaurez (2.3 million people) just south of the New Mexico border. A Pac-10 UNM might draw strong viewership in that area and could be a key to opening the door to Pac-10 broadcasts in Mexico.
Research. At $181 million in 2006, UNM trails Utah but does a decent amount of research. Although they are a rival of Arizona, a UNM addition would be all about setting the Pac-10 up for another shot at the Texas Market.
3) Texas Tech
In order for the Pac-10 to be able to match SEC-type payments as a content provider, they likely have to have good central division sites to broadcast games to the eastern time zone. In order to land Big 10-type payments as a network owner, they likely have to secure a very large number of viewers. The surest way to do these things is to add UT.
As the article linked above stated, there appears to be a near illuminati massed against the Pac-10 adding UT at this time as it would trigger a number of conference shifts.
The Pac-10 could offer Missouri in an attempt to totally destabilize the Big 12 and skunk that TV deal, but that probably wouldn't work out for the Pac-10 in the environment that exists today.
The next best step to achieve that ultimate central time zone goal, believe it or not, may be adding Texas Tech.
I would never have recommended offering Tech prior to UT signing with the Pac-10, but now that the deal has collapsed it might be time to do just that.
Of all the Texas schools, Tech had the most to gain in the short term by joining the Pac-10. They are trying to become the state's third public "Tier One Research University" (different from the US News "Tier One") and they need to get up to $100 million in annual research to reach that goal. They are $49 million short in annual research dollars.
Considering how hard Tech is pushing on that front, being part of a conference that really pushes to secure research dollars could give Tech a shortcut to that goal. Being the third public in Texas behind A&M and UT to secure that designation would give Tech something of real substance academically to build on.
That is something Tech fans understand.
Of all the schools in the failed move, Tech and Oklahoma State fans are the most disappointed because they know it would have been a great move for their universities ...and they also know they may get left behind next time.
OSU likely can't move to the Pac-10 without OU and OU doesn't want to move without UT. (OSU also provides a little less that is sellable to Pac-10 membership).
Tech on the other hand could be allowed to move by UT and A&M because of Texas politics regarding the state's dearth of "Tier One Research Universities," because neither one wants to be shackled to Tech as they feel they are in the Big 12, and because, frankly, the Red Raiders are replaceable.
Tech offers West Texas DMAs (an area UT and A&M combine to already offer) and has their largest alumni base in DFW (an area OU, UT, and A&M fan bases combine to already offer).
The loss of Tech is not going to cut any of the remaining Big 12 schools' TV payouts.
If handled deftly, adding Tech could set up the Pac-10 perfectly for landing UT & A&M in the future.
I would see if there is interest by Tech officials (off the record) in going it alone in the Pac-10 for a few years. Perhaps a call to Texas Tech System Chancellor Kent Hance would be in order.
If there is, I would call UT's President and have a very frank but friendly discussion with him. If the Pac-10 were to take Tech, that would potentially open a slot that Arkansas (arguably UT's second biggest rival behind OU) could fill. With Arkansas bringing a new market in, the TV value of the Big 12 contract could be amended to pay Arkansas at a level equal to their SEC share or more and potentially pay the big 3 slightly more.
(Remember when Arkansas joined the SEC, they felt UT would be right behind them. Deloss Dodds had pushed for SEC inclusion and then A&M had tried to force their way in via the state legislature. At that point UT's president and the academics at the school reached the conclusion that the SEC was academically insufficient for UT and since that leaked to the fans, that has pretty much been the stance of UT administrators and fans ever since. It is a hard condemnation to step back from.)
Arkansas will draw in a ton more money and travelling fans playing UT, A&M, OU, OSU, Missouri, Kansas State, and Kansas than they do in the SEC.
Arkansas has not been a consistent national power and title contender since they lost their in-conference exposure to top Texas recruits. Arkansas is just not making up the talent difference trying to recruit from SEC territory. They are still an outsider.
It is telling that their ex-coach is more successful at Mississippi - a longtime SEC doormat than he was at Arkansas.
Stealing Arkansas would send a very clear message to football watching grunts that in football terms the SEC may be a notch below the Big 12-2 as the football king -kicking the legs out from under A&M's SEC argument and reaffirming that UT drives the UT/A&M car.
In exchange for this PR gift to UT and the membership of the Big 12-2, The Pac-10 should ask UT to loudly publicly support the move, UT to commit to continue to play Tech OOC, and for UT to privately and publicly push Big 12 members A&M, OU, Arkansas, and Oklahoma State to continue to schedule tech regularly out of conference, protecting Tech from a possible attendance collapse.
Why does that help the Pac-10? Well for a number of reasons.
If presented by a skilled PR man, it can be sold in Texas as the Pac-10 very benevolently coming to the rescue of poor Tech in their Tier One hunt as Tech was promised membership and then the Texas big wigs ripped it away.
Tech has the potential to show improvement quickly. They have been very diligently pumping money in to improve their academics for over 2 decades. As driven as they are about research today, they can likely quickly achieve that "Tier 1/Research University" status (and perhaps even squeak into the US News " Tier One" status if Tech also raised their entrance scores) in the Pac-10.
Texans would very clearly see the value Pac-10 membership brings.
Additionally that would make the expansion where the conference consumes a chunk of the Big 12-2 - including a few lesser academic schools in order to land UT - far less of an academic black eye for the Pac-10.
It would allow a Tech vs. USC or UCLA showcase game each year in Dallas. Tech drew 70K+ in Dallas to play Baylor. One would have to think they could sell at least that many tickets to see either LA school on an annual basis.
Tech becoming the state's third public "research university" could create a perception that Tech would be "narrowing the academic gap" on A&M by being in the Pac-10, which would break down a lot of Aggie resistance to the idea of the Pac-10.
It can break down the idea of the Pac-10 as some harmful distant element that lead A&M to take the actions that played so much of a role in eventually skunking this deal.
It would give the Pac-10 a large Texas public school in conference who could have representatives pushing for UT and A&M to join them, rather than no advocate and the much smaller private Baylor attempting to pull UT and A&M away.
When the Big 12-2 does implode, the Pac-10 would be perfectly situated to pick up the pieces. Moreover, they would have maximized the value of the schools to be added, turned those schools away from the SEC, weeded off a little of Baylor's leverage in state, and built Texan support for the idea.
Now lets get into the brass tacks.
Geography. Travel would be hard using the hub alignment. It would confirm all of the scary scenarios that have been thrown out recently and as such I don't think it would be wise to use it with Tech in the conference. On the positive side Tech does give you a platform to start Pac-10 evening games that are timed right for East Coast audiences. That is a big value gain as it gives the Pac-10 a good platform from which to sell the national name brands of the Pac-10 - Stanford, USC, UCLA, and Washington to the east coast in a near capacity prime time game.
Recruiting. Tech is not likely to do any better recruiting in the Pac-10.
On-the-field competitiveness. Tech is almost always a little above .500 and a bowl team. They may drop off a bit, but that general level of competitiveness probably doesn't change in the Pac-10.
Attendance. Tech has averaged about 50,000 fans per game for the last decade in spite of being an outlier in the Big 12. If Tech is able to play schools like UT, A&M, OU, and OSU out of conference, it is very possible their attendance will actually go up. If they can't, it will likely drop a good deal.
Time Zones. As mentioned above, Tech provides a positive time zone gain.
Travel. Travel would be rough as a distant outlier in a conference with too few members to be split sensibly.
Market. Tech's native DMA is not significant, but their largest alumni base is in Dallas/ Fort Worth, a DMA with over 6 Million residents. As Tech students follow football in great proportions, that alumni base, combined with Pac-10 fans would provide the Pac-10 media relevance in DFW.
Public Relations. This could be a public relations grand slam, greasing the way for a future UT & A&M add; This could also be a PR nightmare. It all depends on the skill of the people in charge.
Research. Tech is the worst research candidate of the lot. Tech's research total rivals Oregon's - the worst in the Pac-10 by far in that regard - but the Red Raiders might very well be the most driven school to increase their research of all of the Pac-10's options. In the Pac-10 that could be a very positive influence on the conference's research ass draggers.
Expansion or not, the Pac 10 should be OK.
Considering the way the Big 12 got a home run TV deal, due to what may have been something along the lines of collusion with the networks—if not intimidation of the networks—I think the Pac-10 will find negotiating their next TV deal a lot easier than it looked 6 months ago—after all, I am sure none of the networks that foamed at the mouth over the implosion of the Big 12 want the Pac-10 inviting Missouri...
It likely won't be a Big 12 or SEC level, but given their time zone issues, I think the Pac-10 would be OK with a deal that pays teams in the ACC level at this point. That should be achievable.