Pac-10: An Exhaustive Examination of Expansion Options

Greg WelchCorrespondent IJune 26, 2008

The Pac-10 is currently looking for a new commissioner.  Outgoing commissioner Tom Hansen has been a famous football traditionalist, resisting the BCS, conference basketball tournaments, and conference expansion.

Should the new commissioner of the Pac-10 take a more serious look at the revenue generated from expansion, what are the conference's options?

Below is a legitimate comparison of the non-BCS Western teams that come up as candidates for expansion: BYU, Utah, UNLV, UNR, Fresno, SDSU, Hawaii, Boise State, and TCU.

I wanted to look at real numbers for the kinds of things a conference should look for when looking to expand: football success, market, academics—not just the ESPN hype or message board hyperbole.

Also, for good measure I compared the Western schools to the non-BCS Eastern schools often reported as next in line for invitations to the Big East, if and when it expands: East Carolina, Central Florida, Memphis, and Southern Miss.

Finally, we’ll compare some numbers from the Big XII schools that are often mentioned as Pac-10 candidates: Texas A&M, Texas, and Colorado.

I realize that the Pac-10 wants the Texas schools, and I would too, but so did the Big VIII in 1995.  Their original plan was reported to be to only take Texas and A&M, much like the Pac-10 would like to do now.

The Texas government (with pressure from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches) wouldn’t allow only those two to leave the SWC alone in 1995, and I doubt they’ll allow them to leave now. 

The numbers show the strongest candidates to be Texas and A&M.  After that a  Colorado/Utah invitation would arguably be a better fit culturally and would bring in both the Denver and Salt Lake markets.  However, I doubt any Big XII team wants to leave, or if the Pac-10 wants to make invitations only to be rejected.

Outside of those Big XII schools, the numbers below will show that among the national (not just Western) options for non-BCS teams:

BYU and Utah rank first and third for top 25 football finishes;

Rank first and second for football attendance;

Are classified by Carnegie as ‘research schools’ with Utah having ‘very high research activity’;

Bring new viewers within and outside the Pac-10 market;

Have solid athletic budgets (ranked second and sixth);

Have well-rounded athletic programs (with the second and fifth-highest men’s basketball attendance);

And maintain the rivalry pairing the conference is built on.  Short of getting a Big XII team to defect, BYU and Utah are the best options. Have a look at the numbers:

I. Number of Football Seasons Ranked in Top 25

It’s pretty hard to compare teams who play in completely different conferences. How does one guess how well Boise’s 2006 team or BYU’s 1996 team would play if they were in the Pac-10?  You can’t.

I have collected the number of times each program has finished the season nationally ranked in the top 25 of the AP or coaches poll.  By using only national numbers, I think it’s a pretty good gauge of a team’s football reputation (i.e. BYU = pretty good. Nevada schools = nonexistent).


USC: 45

UCLA: 32

UW: 24

ASU: 19

Stanford: 15

Cal: 14

WSU: 11

Oregon State: 10

Oregon: 9

Zona: 7


BYU: 15

TCU: 13

Utah: 4

Boise St.: 4


Hawaii: 3

East Carolina: 3

Fresno: 3

Southern Miss: 3

CSU: 3

Memphis: 1

Central Florida:0


UNR: 0


Texas: 45

A&M: 23

Colorado: 21

II. Average Football Attendance, 2006 and 2007 (in thousands)

A second gauge of football power is how many people can you get to your games.  This is important not only in terms of success, but marketability as well.  The more people who watch the games live probably translates to more people who watch the games on TV.

While they do consistently sellout their stadium, the Pac-10 school with the lowest total attendance is in Pullman, WA with 33,000. The next lowest is Stanford with 40,000.


USC: 89.4

UCLA: 70.6

Cal: 63.7

UW: 62.6

ASU: 58.7

Oregon: 58.6

Zona: 53.9

Oregon State: 41.1

Stanford: 40.5

WSU: 33.3


BYU: 62.5

Utah: 42.9

Hawaii: 40.0

East Carolina: 39.3

Fresno: 37.4

Central Florida: 37.1

Memphis: 31.0

TCU: 30.9

Boise St: 30.3

SDSU: 28.5

Southern Miss: 27.8

UNLV: 24.2

CSU: 22.9

UNR: 16.9


Texas: 85.8

A&M: 79.0

Colorado: 48.2

III. Academics

Next is the much-ballyhooed ‘research institution’ problem.  It is widely reported that the Pac-10 will only invite a fellow research school to its ranks.  It looks to me like the way the Carnegie Foundation distinguishes research schools is by the number of doctoral programs the school has.

Twenty or more of these programs (JD, MD, PharmD, DPT, etc.) gets you in the Very High research club.  Less than 20 gets you in the High Research Club.  Some schools on the list have very few or no Doctoral programs.

In the Pac-10, Stanford, USC, Arizona, UCLA, Cal, UW, Oregon State, ASU, Oregon, and WSU are all “Research Universities with Very High Research Activity.”

Among the non-BCS schools, only Utah, Hawaii, and Colorado State are “Research Universities with Very High Research Activity.”

BYU, SDSU, UNLV, UNR, UCF, Memphis, and Southern Miss are “Research Universities with High Research Activity.”

TCU and East Carolina have the Doctoral Research label for some research, while Boise State and Fresno have no Doctoral Research programs and only award Masters Degrees.

All of the Big XII schools are “Research Universities with Very High Research Activity.”

Now, none of this makes any comparison about the undergraduate academic quality of any of these schools.  It’s not a matter of average GPA coming in or the number of transfer students going out; it’s not even a matter of how good the Doctoral programs that exist are.

It’s only a matter of how many Doctoral programs a given school offers.  Pac-10 schools have more than 20.  BYU has less than 20, but it is still considered by Carnegie to be a “Research University.”

IV. Market Ranking

While it’s nice to talk about football and academics, only three things drove the Big VIII to raid the SWC, or the ACC to raid the Big East: market size, ratings, and money.

Obviously, some considerations need to be taken into account. Some colleges are in major metro areas (SDSU) but have less than stellar attendance and probably less than stellar ratings that go with them.

Other schools are in smaller areas (Oregon) but have a good national reputation and deliver good ratings in a nearby market. 

One other caveat often overlooked about BYU is the number of Mormons in existing Pac-10 markets.  In 2006, California had 750,000, Arizona had 361,000, Oregon had 143,000, and Washington had 248,000 Mormons for a total of 1.5 million Mormons within the Pac-10 footprint.  That’s equivalent to the population of Phoenix.

Now, many of them are certainly already fans of their local teams, but looking at the number of students and football players who come to BYU from Pac-10 states, there are many BYU fans out there as well.

Even without considering BYU fans already living in Pac-10 markets, BYU and Utah are near the top of the list and command the market they are in.


USC: 1


Cal: 4

Stanford: 4

UW: 14

ASU: 15

Oregon: 23 (Portland), 148 (Eugene)

Oregon State: 23 (Portland), 148 (Corvallis)

Zona: 61

WSU: 92 (Spokane)


TCU: 4

SDSU: 17

BYU: 31

Utah: 31

UNLV: 33

Central Florida: 34

Memphis: 49

Hawaii: 64

Fresno: 66

East Carolina: 89

Boise St.: 102

CSU: 123

UNR: 124

Southern Miss: 227


Texas: 4 (Dallas), 42 (Austin)

A&M: 4 (Dallas), 243 (College Station)

Colorado: 22 (Denver-Boulder)

V. Athletic Department Budget (in millions)

Finally, here are two gauges of overall athletic commitment.  This is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg problem.

Many of the non-BCS schools would surely have larger budgets if they got a bigger slice of the BCS pie.  Any school invited to the Pac-10 would be able to upgrade (much like Louisville, Cincinnati, and Connecticut have done in the Big East).

However, this list does show what these schools have been able to build without the BCS dollars.


USC: $76

Stanford: $65

UCLA: $61

Cal: $60

UW: $59

ASU: $53

Oregon: $50

Zona: $45

Oregon State: $45

WSU: $31


TCU: $39

BYU: $32

SDSU: $31

Central Florida: $29

Memphis: $29

Utah: $26

Hawaii: $26

East Carolina: $25

UNLV: $25

Fresno: $25

Boise St: $22

CSU: $19

UNR: $19

Southern Miss: $16


Texas: $105

A&M: $69

Colorado: $42

VI. Basketball Attendance, 2007 (in thousands)

Similar to the look at Athletic Budgets, this is a gauge of general athletic power.  Schools like Boise State and TCU have developed solid football programs, but how is the rest of the program?


Zona: 14.2

UCLA: 10.4

UW: 9.9

Cal: 8.4

Oregon: 8.4

WSU: 7.1

Stanford: 7.0

ASU: 6.9

USC: 5.7

Oregon State: 5.1


Memphis: 14.5

BYU: 12.0

Fresno: 11.7

UNLV: 11.3

Utah: 9.5

UNR: 8.9

SDSU: 7.8

Hawaii: 6.4

CSU: 4.6

East Carolina: 4.5

Boise St: 4.3

TCU: 3.7

Southern Miss: 3.4

Central Florida: 2.7


Texas: 12.9

A&M: 9.8

Colorado: 3.3

VII. Rivalries

Finally, any pair of schools invited into the Pac-10 probably should continue the pattern of sets of geographic and reciprocal rivals.  Of the Western schools, only BYU/Utah and UNLV/UNR can do this.

After all the numbers, it should be pretty obvious that BYU and Utah bring significantly more to the table than the Nevada schools.

Among the others, Hawaii has several ‘rivals’: Fresno State, Boise State, and BYU, but only from conference play.

Boise’s geographic rival is University of Idaho, but their jump to I-A football hasn’t gone as smoothly.

Colorado and Colorado State could develop into the kind of rivalry that the Pac-10 is looking for, but Colorado probably considers Nebraska their biggest rival, rather than the Rams.

So, those are the numbers.  To wrap up, if BYU and Utah are invited, the conference could be split in a way that gives all schools access to the Southern California market, as well as accenting the conference’s rivalries.  

University Division

Washington, Oregon, Cal, UCLA, Arizona, Utah

State Division

WSU, OSU, Stanford, USC, ASU, BYU



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