Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Mercifully, the Pac-12 remains the Pac-12
By Eamonn Brennan
As I tweeted last night, I like to envision the Pac-12's decision not to expand to 16 teams a certain way. I like to think the Pac-12's various university presidents and league officials met each other in a conference room. I like to think the discussion went around the room -- think "12 Angry Men," but with shirts that look like this -- until one of the participants raised his arms and quieted the crowd out of respect.
"Can someone," this imaginary person in this imaginary scenario says, "please give me one good reason why we need to expand?"
The imaginary room falls silent. The members glance longingly around the room. No one has the answer.
Of course, the actual reasons the Pac-12 made its surprise decision against expansion are far less dramatic. A source told ESPN's Andy Katz that the Pac-12 eschewed the moves "because commissioner Larry Scott failed to get assurance that Texas would back an equal revenue sharing plan if the league added the Longhorns, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State." In its statement on the decision Tuesday, Scott cited the Pac-12's "culture of equality" as one of its reasons for passing on expansion. Why add four more teams, and split that massive new TV rights deal four more ways, if good ol' Texas wasn't willing to do the same with its own individual network revenue? If USC and UCLA reluctantly agreed to revenue sharing last year, why shouldn't the rest of the new-look conference follow suit?
So maybe my pretend scenario isn't that far off the truth. Maybe the Pac-12 realized how good things already were. The league doesn't need to add teams to make more money. Just this summer, the conference signed a 12-year, $3 billion TV deal with Fox and ESPN. When you've got that in your back pocket, why rock the boat? Why do you need to add four more teams?
The fallout from the Pac-12's decision could be widespread. For one, it puts a halt -- however brief it may be -- to the rampant game of musical chairs that is conference realignment. It could save the Big 12, at least for a few more years. It keeps Missouri from having to sweat that big SEC invite. The Big East is still at risk, as the conference's potential merger with the remaining Big 12 teams may have been its best move after the Syracuse and Pittsburgh defections. But the league's football schools have made a pledge to stick together and seek to add new programs, and though the league's hoops stable was weakened by the losses Sunday, it is still perfectly viable where basketball is concerned.
In general, the Pac-12's move helped restore some sanity to college sports. Can everyone take a breather on conference realignment now? I -- and pretty much everyone else in the world, as far as I can tell -- sure hope so.
More than anything, though, the Pac-12's decision helps us solidify what the Pac-12 will look like in the years to come, particularly from a basketball perspective. We know Arizona is on the rise. We know UCLA is right on the Wildcats' tails. We know the league will be weak in terms of depth for the next few seasons, and we know that the conference's recent additions, Colorado and Utah, won't push the league toward basketball dominance anytime soon.
But we also know that those 12 teams stand to gain every bit as much from not expanding as from making the move. As state above, the current Pac-12 configuration has a massive TV rights deal in its back pocket. It will showcase its teams on two major networks more frequently than at any time in its past. Its national exposure will increase by leaps and bounds. And that can only help each of those struggling teams -- and the Pac-12 has more than a few these days despite all the rebuilding the conference has seen in recent seasons -- get back to hoops prominence more quickly.
We could understand why the Pac-12 wanted to expand. Hey, if you've got a chance to add Texas to your conference, it probably makes sense to try. But at the end of the day, expansion didn't help the Pac-12, particularly in basketball. For once, someone saw the benefits of the status quo. For once, common sense prevailed over panic and fear.
If only every conference realignment could proceed so rationally. Wait, why do we need to do this again? Maybe that question was never asked. Maybe it seemed silly. But whatever produced the Pac-12's decision, every college sports fan has reason to be thankful.