Now that the Buffs move to the Pac-12 for the 2011 season has been finalized, there remain several important issues to resolve:
1. How to divide up the divisions?
2. Where to conduct the league championship game?
3. How to divide up the revenues?
All three issues will be discussed in the upcoming weeks. The league athletic directors will meet in San Francisco on October 6th, at which time the decision on the league championship may be announced. League officers will meet in San Francisco on October 21st to discuss division alignment and scheduling.
Where to Play the Championship Game
There is buzz now about the league championship game being conducted in Las Vegas. The problem with Sam Boyd Stadium, home to UNLV Rebels, is that the stadium has a capacity of under 40,000. While Las Vegas is centrally located, and would easily sell out, it would seem that the Pac-12 could do better.
The home site of one of the division champions is also a consideration, but there are several issues there. First, if the two division champions are both undefeated in league play, who gets to host the title game?
Second, there is the issue of travel. It would be difficult to get the road team's fans to the host's site on just one week's notice.
Third—and this may be everyone's worst nightmare—what if Washington State hosted? The crown jewel of the Pac-12 Conference, the Pac-12 championship game—coming to America from Pullman?
The Rose Bowl would seem to be a natural choice, but there are disadvantages there as well. Every other year, USC and UCLA play their rivalry game in the Rose Bowl, home to the Bruins. If either of those teams won their division, they would (unless the rivalry games are moved away from the end of the season) have to play back-to-back games in the Rose Bowl.
There is also the added consideration that the Pac-12 champion, if not playing for the BCS title, would earn a trip to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day (or thereabouts). There would be the potential then, for either USC or UCLA to play three straight games in the Rose Bowl to end the season: their rivalry game, the Pac-12 title game, and the Rose Bowl.
Not exactly an attractive concept.
This leaves the Pac-12 to consider NFL venues. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver—all have NFL stadiums near Pac-12 teams. There seems to be a bias at present towards Los Angeles and Phoenix though at this juncture. Warmer climates in early December should certainly be a consideration, but teams from the Northwest and mountain regions might not enjoy the proximity advantage enjoyed by the California and Arizona schools if the title game was always played in the backyard of those schools (See Big 12, Dallas).
Fans should look for a rotation of a handful of NFL sites to be the compromise, with an eye on voting on a permanent location in later years after the championship game is better established.
Division of Revenue
The issue here is whether to divide up the expected bonanza of revenues from the next television contract, which will be negotiated next spring. There are two schools of thought here.
The first would divide revenues equally, with each team receiving a 12th of the revenues received. The other model is more appearance-based—teams generating greater revenues receive a larger share of the pie.
Currently, the Pac-10 has the appearance-based model, with USC commanding a significantly higher share of the revenue than the team with the lowest television appeal, Washington State. For the policy to be overturned, a 75-percent majority is required.
For years, the concept of equal revenue sharing has been proposed at league meetings, with the two Los Angeles schools teaming up with Washington to vote down the proposal. Now, with 12 teams in the league, nine votes will be sufficient to change the system. Even if Washington wants to keep the appearance-based model (and there have been published stories that the Huskies, who haven't had a winning season since 2002, may be willing to compromise on revenue sharing), USC and UCLA would have to find a fourth convert to keep the status quo.
Look for a shift to a more balanced distribution (and, since the negotiations are not being done in a vacuum, the location of the title game in California may be used as a compromise to lure the LA schools into acquiescence).
The "zipper" plan, all the rage for most of the summer, is seemingly giving way to the "pod" system as the favored method of dividing up the Pac-12. While the two types of division alignments sound significantly different, the only real difference will be in how the Pac-12 shows up in the morning papers.
The pod system envisions two divisions, with the North/South division the most commonly discussed. This alignment would have the California schools and the Arizona schools in the South division, with the mountain schools teaming up with the teams from the northwest in the North division.
If these divisions played a schedule in a manner akin to how the Big 12 presently operates (i.e. play all five teams from your own division, rotate amongst the teams in the other division), Colorado, like Utah and the northwest schools, would often have only one game in California each season, and would have seasons when southern California (where everyone feels the need to play every season) was off the schedule altogether.
The "pod" system gets around this problem by—get this—not having every team in each division play each other every year. Instead, the league would be divided into three "pods" of four teams each, with the northwest schools in one pod, the California schools in another, and the Arizona and mountain schools in the third "pod."
Each team would play every other team in their own pod (for Colorado, this would mean annual games against Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State), while playing three teams out of four in the other two pods.
As a result, in 2011, Colorado could play three teams from the northwest pod (say, Washington, Washington State, and Oregon), but miss the fourth team, Oregon State—even though the Beavers and Buffs are in the same "division." Colorado would also play three out of the four California schools (say Cal, Stanford, and UCLA), but miss the fourth team (in this example, USC). Every season, the teams would rotate through the other two pods, playing three teams out of four.
In one sense it's simple. Each team in each pod plays three games in each pod, for a total of nine games. Rivalries would be preserved, as rivals would be in the same pod (regional rivalries, like Washington and Oregon would also be preserved).
It would also be easier on the eyes, as fans could look at the North Division—Washington State, Washington, Oregon State, Oregon, Utah and Colorado, and see the South Division—Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Arizona—and it looks good aesthetically and makes sense geographically.
The pod system would work fine—until the day when Utah and Oregon are tied for the North Division lead, with undefeated 9-0 conference records, and they haven't played each other.
Which team gets to play in the Pac-12 title game?
(Remember the Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech fiasco just recently, when the three teams went 1-1 against the other two? Oklahoma got the Big 12 title game bid, but Texas put up the "Big 12 South champion" banner in their locker room until someone from the media noticed).
The "zipper" plan isn't as clean ("USC and UCLA in different divisions???") but could have the same results. By splitting the rivals into different divisions, and having two "rival" crossover games with the other division, you end up pretty much in the same place as the "pod" plan.
Colorado would play every team in its own division (for the sake of argument, we'll go with Washington, Oregon, Cal, UCLA, and Arizona), with two known crossover games each season (for Colorado, the designated rivals would be Arizona State and Utah). That gives Colorado five division games, two "rival" games, with two left to play.
There are four teams not yet mentioned in this scenario—Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford, and USC. From those four teams, the Buffs would have home-and-home series with two of them (e.g., Washington State and Stanford in 2011 and 2012) with home-and-home series against the other two teams (Oregon State and USC) in 2013 and 2014.
The net result from the "zipper" plan would be that the California schools would all get to play each other every season (a must), regional rivalries (read: Washington/Oregon) would be preserved, and every non-California team would have three games in southern California every four seasons (in the above example, Colorado could play UCLA in Los Angeles in 2011 and 2013, and USC in Los Angeles in 2014).
The zipper plan is much cleaner from a scheduling standpoint. Each team is playing their opponents in a home-and-home series every two years (or every four years with the non-division non-rivals), while with the "pod" plan, the schedules pit your team against three teams out of four in the opposing pods each year. It would actually take eight seasons of play for Colorado (and every other team) to play each other an even number of times in each venue (three home, three away, two season not playing one another).
Clear as mud?
About all we know for certain right now is that Colorado will likely play its first game as a member of the Pac-12, at home, next September against California. The game, scheduled for September 10th, was already on the calendar as a non-conference game.
As for the rest...Well, it won't be long now. By this time next month, Pac-12 fans should not only know what division their team will be in, but also their schedules for 2011.
I, for one, can't wait!
For more on Colorado football, go to www.cuatthegame.com