Pac-10 changes blend the old with the new

SAN FRANCISCO -- Change can be scary, especially in the tradition-steeped Pac-10.

Consider that when the conference’s athletic directors met this month, USC’s Pat Haden reportedly told the group, “my alumni will kill me if we don’t play the Northern California schools.”

That issue, among others, was smoothed over and solved today. The Pac-10’s CEOs unanimously approved a North-South divisional alignment for football that splits up the Bay Area and Los Angeles schools, but also guarantees that the California teams will play every year.

No, schools from the Pacific Northwest won’t annually get to play in Los Angeles, where they seem to grow football players on palm trees. But the conference’s new championship game will be played at the home stadium of the team with the best overall conference record, meaning that L.A. might be a December destination anyway.

“I talked to one Oregon coach that said, ‘No problem. We plan on making the championship game every year,’ ” commissioner Larry Scott said.

In the end, the decisions ratified by the CEOs were a blend of the old with the new. Rivalries dating back to the 1930s were preserved despite a divisional split necessitated by expansion and the creation of a title game.

“The conference had been outstanding as a traditional conference,” said Arizona State president Michael Crow, who chairs the Pac-10’s CEO council. “Now we want to go beyond tradition. Not throw tradition out the door, but now how can you leverage tradition by advancing the conference in the new kinds of designs, new kinds of arrangements, new kinds of networks and contracts and so forth.

“Larry brings that skill set to the table, which is why we went out and found Larry and hired him.”

Scott praised the collegial way in which the presidents and chancellors participated in the give-and-take, and their schools are literally richer for it. The conference is now touting its more equal revenue-sharing plan, and new money could still be had if the league moves to create a television network.

Crow envisions that such a network would help spread the gospel of the Pac-10 academics by projecting, as he called it, “American success through championship behavior.”

“How do you tie national competitiveness and national athletic performance to academic performance and innovation?” he added.

The creation of a title game is just one more way the conference can show off its ability to make varsity as well as straight A’s.

“It promises to deliver a full house and have the energy, excitement and atmosphere befitting a major collegiate championship,” Scott said.

“If you would have told me a year ago when I met with you coming out of our CEO meeting that this conference would have expanded by two, started a football championship game and had this level of optimism, I would have been thrilled,” Scott added. “I feel like we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in a short period of time. We have a lot of momentum right now. I couldn’t be more pleased. I feel energized by where we’re going.”