Now that the dust has settled on the Pac-10 expansion, I have a few thoughts on how this played out and what the Pac-12 will mean for the league and its fans. First of all, and I say this as someone who is a generally a traditionalist, I think expansion was a good thing. Second year comissioner Larry Scott has brought a great deal of energy and fresh thinking to the conference. His move to expand to sixteen teams was a bold one. Some will argue whether settling for twelve teams actually improved the league, or whether he was played by Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, but no one can argue that Scott has his eyes on the horizon trying to raise the Pac-10's national profile.
And in this, he has cleary been successful. It is evident (if not demonstrable), for a number of reasons, that outside of USC, the Pac-10 does not get the kind of national respect, recogniton and ultimately revenue the SEC, Big-10, and Big 12 enjoy. And some of those reasons are perfectly legitimate, whether the result of circumstances, demographics or geography. But by going after the big boys like Texas and Oklahoma, Scott has put the college football landscape on notice that the Pac-10 is a national player, not content with playing second fiddle to anyone.
In Colorado, you get a program with strong history of success that is only a good coach away from a return to national prominence. With Utah you get a team on the rise who has won two BCS bowls in the last five years. Adding the Denver and Salt Lake City markets means more revenue as the conference goes forward to negotiate a better TV contract. This can only help the conference to get a better Bowl contract as well. Combined with the inevitable addition of a conference championship game, the Pac-10 is primed to get more viewership, more coverage and more revenue. And he isn't finished. Scott, along Pac-10 coaches and quarterbacks just concluded an East Coast media tour to promote the conference.
So what will the Pac-12 look like? There are two likely scenarios.
A North-South split:
- North: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford
- South: UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah
The "zipper" plan:
- East: Washington State, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Arizona, Colorado
- West: Washington, Oregon State, Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah
In either scenario, the loss of the round robin schedule means northwest schools will no longer have the annual trip to Los Angeles, which coaches see as essential for recruiting. No one wants to lose that access, which is why the "zipper" plan seems most likely because it guarantees a trip to LA at least every other year, while maintaining the annual in state/regional rivalry games (The Apple Cup, Civil War, The Big Game, etc.). There are sticky issues with either plan, so we may not know what is decided for some time. Regardless of how the new Pac-12 takes shape, there is little doubt that it will have a huge impact on the college football landscape. What better time to be a fan of the best conference in football?!