Whoever said the only constant in life is change probably was not referring to the Pac-10 conference when guided by commissioner Tom Hansen for the past 26 years. Hansen developed a reputation for maintaining the status quo rather than progressing. It’s no wonder the Pac-10 was the last conference to budge on the basketball conference tournament, and while an expanded TV deal with ESPN seemed logical to expose the Pac-10 to a national audience, Hansen decided to keep the conference in its Fox sports bubble. Of course it would be unfair to put all the blame on Hansen, but the commissioner is a logical place to start.
Today, Hansen is out and Larry Scott is in. Scott is 45 years young and already has a proven track record from his time heading up the Women’s Tennis Association, where he accomplished some impressive growth. He is a marketer, and in just 6 months on the job, changes have been made. The Pac-10 has altered its bowl alignment, adding the Alamo bowl and pushing the others down a slot, which is terrific. And now comes word that Scott and the Pac-10 are considering expansion, and will seriously look at resolution in the next 6-12 months. This is not the first time the conference has entertained the subject, but this time may actually produce change, because instead of Hansen at the helm, it’s hot-shot Scott.
I can identify two main reasons why now is a logical time for expansion. First, college football is a business, and it’s not often that a conference will leave money on the table. The Pac-10 knows the importance of positioning itself well for a major TV deal when the current FOX/ABC/ESPN deal expires in 2012, and by adding a new market in say Salt Lake, Denver, or Las Vegas, the conference could score a big deal. Another money-making incentive to adding two more teams is the ability to have a conference championship game, which would be a major exposure boost. Secondly, the Big Ten/11 has publicly announced its desire to grow, and because the Big Ten is the Pac-10’s brother of the BCS conferences, it makes sense that the Pac-10 looks at expansion also.
So who fits the bill as a possible 11th or 12th member to the conference? To begin, let’s look at the requirements and start to trim the list. The Pac-10 prides itself on academic prestige, and all current conference members are research institutions without religious affiliation. Next, a Pac-10 school must meet geographical and cultural standards and be well rounded in its athletic programs and facilities. Last but not least, any additions must make sense from a marketing stand point; the conference won’t make change for the sake of change, but rather change for the sake of revenue. This means no thank you to all the California state schools, which don’t meet the academic bar, and BYU is a long shot because of the religious linkage. Oregon and Washington don’t have another candidate, and New Mexico, Wyoming and Arizona don’t have much to offer. I think we can cross Boise State and Idaho off the list for the small market factor, Hawaii for geography and poor facilities, and Texas because I don’t see them leaving the Big-12. Finally, San Jose State, San Diego State, and Fresno State don’t have the facilities and academic prestige, and both markets have already been addressed by the conference. So who is left?
If the conference wants to expand to a new market, which I can only assume it does, Nevada could be an option. UNLV and Nevada both present a reasonable argument, but does Las Vegas really scream college football? Above all, I think the conference is eying Utah and Colorado as its expansion destinations. Denver and Salt Lake are two nice markets and both are easy to get to from the west coast. The University of Utah would no doubt jump at the opportunity, but Colorado University may be a tougher sell because of their Big-12 affiliation. Still, I think it could be a fit, and if Colorado State wants to hop on board with the Buffaloes, then maybe that could work and still stay in line with the conference’s “Noah’s ark,” natural rivalry philosophy. BYU may still be in the mix despite the religion factor because of their well rounded athletics, but I see them and CSU as back-up-plans.
Whatever happens, a trickle-down effect is sure to result when the first shoe drops, with big changes to follow as conferences scurry to find replacements. I hope it happens because a conference championship would be entertaining, but only if it helps the current Pac-10 teams, specifically UW. There will be barriers like how to handle the revenue sharing and splitting the conference into 2 equal divisions, but ultimately, if the analysis shows significant profit increase, then it will likely happen. Now, if they could just figure out a playoff system!