Pac-10 Expansion Solutions: Division Dilemma

Scott WilsonCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2010

Let's begin this exercise with the basic premise that the Pac-10 will expand.  Whether or not the "Conference of Champions" should expand, or who the candidates should be has been covered, broken down, recycled, and covered again already.

The reason that we can begin to discuss how the conference divisions should be shaped is that the feasible candidates all lie in the same geographic relation to the conference footprint...to the east.  Unless of course, Larry Scott pulls a shocker and targets the University of Hawai'i to begin his assault on the East Asian media markets with a toehold in the region.

To begin this exercise, first let us clear up any speculation that the conference does in fact, have to separate into divisions.  Many a message board poster has floated the concept of a twelve team conference without divisions, and a championship game chosen from the top two teams.

Dick Yoder, the athletic director at West Chester University (Division II) helped create and pass the 1987 NCAA Convention's Proposal No. 125 that allowed for any conference with at least twelve members and two divisions to hold a championship game that would pit the division winners against each other. 

The rule was initially designed so that the game would not be counted toward the maximum allowable games during the season (an exempt game), but when Roy Kramer implemented it in the SEC it changed college football as we know it.  For more on this story read: A Simple Idea Gives Birth To A Frenzy , by David Teel

That proposal became NCAA Division I bylaw (c): A conference championship game between division champions of a member conference of 12 or more institutions that is divided into two divisions (of six or more institutions each), each of which conducts round-robin, regular-season competition among the members of that division.

This means that other proposals, such as a three division format with four members each is not possible; nor is any scheduling alignment that prevents division members from not playing all other division members.

Now that that is cleared up, what options are left for the Pac-10 expansion plan?

Looking at expansion as an "all-or-nothing" type proposal for each member institution, means that the best interests of Washington State must be considered or else President Elson Floyd will not vote his approval.  Likewise for all other current members.

The motivation for Washington State, Oregon State, and all other members to expand is primarily financial.  With that being said, however, they will still try to protect their long-standing traditions and culture.  Athletic Directors and coaches will ensure that each member maintains connections to their recruiting pipelines and main rivalries.

However, as with the SEC expansion and the Big 12 merger (Big Eight and Southwest Conference), some compromises have to be made in regards to tradition and rivalry games.  The question will be if those compromises will be worth X number of dollars?

Our assumption, for this exercise, is that the X number of dollars will be large enough to vote yes on expansion for all members.

The "oldest" members of the Pac-10 legacy are California, Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State.  Washington State, Stanford, Southern Cal, and UCLA then followed in that order.  After the original precursor was broken, the Pac reformed and came back to those same eight schools, and remained that way until 1978 when Arizona and Arizona State were added.

The conference currently has "blocks" of rivalries, with the northwest schools (Washington, Oregon, Washington State, and Oregon State) all considering each other rivals.  Obviously each in-state rivalry is a bitter affair with the Huskies-Cougars game being played 102 times and dubbed the Apple Cup.

The Ducks-Beavers game is famously named the Civil War, and has been played 113 times.  An inter-state battle between Washington and Oregon is also a very highly contested and popular matchup for border bragging rights.

Another "block" of rivalries is within the State of California. Northern California schools Stanford and California have the "Big Game," and the Southern California schools Southern Cal and UCLA have the Victory Bell.  North-South matchups between University of California system rivals Cal-Berkeley and UCLA and between private schools Stanford and Southern Cal are also major rivals.

The two newest members to the conference: Arizona and Arizona State have a fierce in-state matchup as well, being named the Territorial Cup.

Keeping those rivalries in-tact as annual games, and as fierce divisional games if possible, has to be one of the primary objectives during the planning stages of expansion.

Complicating those desires, however, is the fact that the prime recruiting grounds and national exposure for nearly all of the conference members comes from playing annual games in both Northern and Southern California.

These two factors cannot be reconciled within a two-division format.

Something has to give.

The solution to this dilemma depends partly upon which institutions are going to accept a Pac-10 membership invitation; and how many teams the conference will expand with.

To keep this simple, we will go forward with a two-team expansion that includes the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes.

To bring all the factors together while minimizing the negatives, here is our proposal:

Retain the "northwestern block" of rival schools within one division.  Place one Northern California school and one Southern California school in this division, with the two California teams being strong rivals.  For this division, retaining the long-standing Washington-Cal connection, as well as placing very competitive football teams to represent this division in the conference championship game take precedence.

Pacific Division

Washington Huskies

Washington State Cougars

Oregon Ducks

Oregon State Beavers

Cal Bears

UCLA Bruins

That leaves the remaining rivalry pairs, USC-Stanford and Arizona-Arizona State, to pair up with the newcomers.  This division becomes full of the "later" additions to the conference for the most part, and should help to solidify the new members as geographic rivals with the Arizona schools.  While also diversifying the traditional football powers among the divisions to ensure that the conference will not suffer a Big 12-type imbalance.

Western Division

Stanford Cardinal

USC Trojans

Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona Wildcats

Utah Utes

Colorado Buffaloes

It is possible that Stanford President John Hennessy might not approve such an alignment, or another member.  If that is the case then the USC-Stanford pair could be switched with the UCLA-Cal pair between divisions.  No matter which of the two formats finds unanimous approval, it is the one that results in the least amount of compromise and cost.

Now, there are still important cross-divisional rivalries that need to be protected, but they are minimized.  Making such games as the Stanford-Cal and UCLA-USC game as permanent cross-divisional games would be very easy to manage inside the conference scheduling format, especially if a nine game in-conference schedule is maintained.

This format will also balance the major media markets between divisions as well as allowing annual access for each school to the valuable California recruiting areas.

The Pacific Division would consist of a portion of the large Los Angeles (second largest DMA in the U.S.) and Bay Area (sixth) TV markets, alongside of Seattle (13th), Portland (22nd), and Spokane (75th). 

The Western Division shares the two large California markets and brings Phoenix (12th), Denver (16th), Salt Lake City (31st), and Tucson (60th).  Balancing these markets between divisions will be important as future television exposure and a possible conference network will help distribute the media attention among members.

By also grouping regional rivals together, the increase in travel costs due to the expansion will be minimized.  This is in direct contrast to the absolute "zipper" proposal that many analysts favor.  The reason we are expanding is due to pressure on academic budgets, trying to contain costs via our proposal must further that aim.

The big "IF" in the expansion scenario could be a 16-team Pac-10 conference via expansion.  In this scenario the Pac-10 would essentially invite Colorado and the entire Big 12 South Division, sans Baylor.  This, of course, would be a very aggressive move designed to capture the greatest media markets possible.

In this scenario the original Pac-8 members would be grouped into one division, while newcomers Arizona and Arizona State would be paired up with the six teams invited.

This would be a natural balance between media markets, recruiting grounds, and competitive performance.  The Arizona schools would strongly favor such an alignment, in my opinion, as greater access to the Texas recruiting market combined with their close proximity to the California recruiting grounds would give them a strong competitive advantage.

Most likely, a conference championship game for the Pac-16 would also be placed in Phoenix, as the geographic center of the new conference footprint.

Of course, this is a longshot expansion move. But the possiblity of the Big Ten Conference making an aggressive move to invite schools from the Big 12 North Division could make this scenario the best possible move for all parties involved. Except Baylor and Utah.

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