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Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Does the Pac-10 need to expand?

By Ted Miller

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson walked out of an Iowa cornfield. It appears that conference expansion -- a no less shocking apparition -- will emerge from one in Nebraska: The Omaha World-Herald is reporting that Nebraska could jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten by Friday.

If an actual expansion event occurs this week, there seems to be widespread belief that it will cause a chain reaction across the country.

And the general feeling -- we could say, "according to sources," but we know you are tired of reading that -- is that if the Big 12 starts losing schools, the Pac-10 almost assuredly will gain them.

If you send out invitations, they will come ... to the new Pac-16: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado forming an Eastern Division with Arizona and Arizona State opposite the Pac-8 Western Division. Or maybe it's Baylor instead of Colorado.

Talk about a tectonic shift in college football.

So is this imminent? It's still hard to say and there continue to be many variables. The circle of trust on the Pac-10 side is small. It might include only commissioner Larry Scott (and a few choice advisers). He has been empowered to make whatever move he feels is best for the conference without further consultation with the university presidents.

What he wants is to create a conference that could distribute as much as $20 million per program when it negotiates its new broadcast contract, a process that could include the creation of a Pac-Whatever network. That per-team revenue would essentially put the conference on comparable footing with the Big Ten and SEC, though it remains to be seen how those conferences will end up and what that means for their revenue.

To do that, Scott needs Texas. So he appears ready to tailor his invitations so they create as appealing a scenario for the Longhorns as possible. Ergo, he invites many of the Longhorns' best buddies.

Plenty of longtime Pac-10 fans love the conference as is -- its symmetry, its natural rivalries, its general sophistication. The conference has repeatedly referenced its elite academic profile, which won't be bolstered by a couple of the teams that are reportedly expecting invitations. Heck, from a competitive standpoint, Arizona and Arizona State probably aren't eager to get thrown into a division with Texas and Oklahoma.

What about, despite all the chatter, retaining the status quo? Perhaps savvy marketing and a can-do attitude would be enough for the conference to land a new broadcast contract that would at least approach the figures connected to the 16-team scenario, without the increased expenses and decreased tradition.

While this remains one of many possibilities that can't be ruled out completely, the present momentum suggests that it's not going to happen.

Adding Texas and the state's 27 million potential TV eyeballs would represent a coup for Scott that few saw coming only a few weeks ago. Oklahoma is certainly a prestigious program. And if four other invitations are needed to get the Longhorns, so be it. The increased revenue justifies the compromises. At least that's the thinking at the executive level.

And at this point, with the already rich Big Ten apparently making a big move, and the SEC already overflowing in revenue, the Pac-10 almost doesn't have a choice in order to remain competitive. Further, just in terms of pure perception, an absence of expansion would suggest failure -- as in the conference wanted to expand but it couldn't get the deal done.

If the Pac-16 is Scott's ideal scenario, then an immediate test of wills might be ahead: Colorado is a much better fit for the conference than Baylor, from academics to culture to geography. Critics say that Colorado doesn't bring the Denver market but that's not savvy thinking. It could bring the Denver market in the future, and that potential would add dollars to a broadcast contract more than Baylor.

But Baylor boosters are agitating for intervention -- government and otherwise -- on behalf of their Bears. The Longhorns might feel obligated to side with Baylor over Colorado. So, if Scott ends up inviting Baylor, know that Texas asserted itself. And if Colorado is the pick, then Scott imposed his will. But that's probably getting ahead of ourselves.

Still, after so much speculation and misdirection and rumor, it appears the eggshell is cracking and the expansion bird is about to emerge. Who isn't curious as to what it might look like when it finally takes flight?