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Opening the mailbag: Expansion, playoffs, USC & the NCAA

Read this and then unleash your weekend with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

Jim from Davis, Calif., writes: I'm somewhat baffled by all the talk of conference expansion as a "necessary reaction". Why does one conference stand to lose money if some other conference expands? Heck, if the Big Ten expands to 16 teams and swallows up the Big East, doesn't that open up one more guaranteed BCS slot for everyone else, while the Big Ten teams now get 1/16 of the payout instead of 1/11th? Not to mention the fact that it's 45% harder to go to the Rose Bowl. It makes me wonder if conferences just want to get big enough to support their own TV network, and moreover if the Big Ten needs to get bigger to get the most out of their existing TV network. Super-conferences seem to be good for conferences, but bad for the schools in them.

Ted Miller: Some of that is Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott's point.

The Pac-10 doesn't necessarily need to follow the leader. If the conference can maintain competitive revenue per team with its next media deal -- whether that's with a new Pac-10 Network or existing media entities -- then why expand?

But it's more complicated that that.

Imagine a new 16-team Big Ten and SEC. Do you suspect those two superconferences would view the Pac-10 as an equal partner in the BCS? No.

Now imagine the Big 16 and SEC-16 business offices looking for myriad ways to generate more revenue with their huge footprints across the East Coast, Southeast and Midwest (and Southwest?).

What happens if, even after Scott signs an impressive media deal, the Big 16 and SEC-16 end up distributing two or three times the revenue per team than the Pac-10 does? You would suspect they would gain a significant competitive advantage -- as I wrote last week.

The point is: If the Big Ten and SEC, force a "paradigm change" -- SEC commissioner Mike Slive's term -- it's possible the Pac-10 will have no choice but to expand. At least if it wants to keep up.

Patrick from Berkeley, Calif., writes: If the Pac-10 expands to 12 teams, how many conference games will teams play?

Ted Miller: It's possible the conference could continue to play a nine-game conference schedule, which would make scheduling easier for athletic directors and also help ensure that teams see each other in a more regular rotation. But other 12-team leagues realized that by playing eight conference games and four nonconference patsies they could artificially inflate their records and thereby look better to the humans and computers that rank teams in the BCS standings.

For example, what would happen to Oregon State if it played Memphis, Southeast Louisiana, UAB and Northern Arizona in its nonconference schedule, as a certain preseason top-10 team did in 2009, instead of a nine-game Pac-10 slate plus TCU, Boise State and Louisville?

What would happen is the Beavers would win nine, 10 or 11 games on a regular basis rather than seven, eight or nine.

Four nonconference patsies means a team needs only to win three -- sometimes even two -- conference games to "earn" bowl eligibility. And then you can join the disingenuous squawking about having, say, 10 bowl teams, when that result is significantly based on scheduling rather than having 10 teams actually worth a pooh.

Of course, as many of you often note, it's more fun to watch Washington play Nebraska, or Oregon visit Tennessee, or a USC-Ohio State home-and-home series than four home games vs. directional schools.

Andy from Seattle writes: Mark Emmert (UW's prez) just resigned to take the helm of NCAA. It's a huge loss for UW, as Mark was monstrously talented in raising big $ in Olympia and with UW boosters (as a PhD student at the UW school of med, I know he was a huge asset to UW's billion dollar research juggernaut; as a bleed-purple Husky fan, he led the Husky stadium renovation effort). However, I know he's a big fan of NCAA football playoff and if anyone can get it done, it's Mark Emmert. Any thoughts on this one?

Ted Miller: I think the NCAA made a great hire, by the way. Three reasons: 1. He's a true academic who also loves sports; 2. He's savvy about money -- fundraising as well as business; 3. During my interactions with him, albeit limited, he's always seemed like a guy you could have a cocktail with.

But Emmert's personal position as pro-playoff will only go so far. The NCAA doesn't control the BCS. The national title game isn't an NCAA property.

College football is controlled by the six BCS-AQ conferences and Notre Dame. When the BCS meetings took place last week, there wasn't a whimper of playoff talk. In fact, BCS executive director Bill Hancock told reporters they were "now planning as though [the BCS] is going to be here in 2040."

Now, Emmert could try to sell a plan to the college presidents. And perhaps widespread conference expansion would make more massive change palatable.

But, please, don't hold your breath.

Nicola from Los Angeles writes: So it's been over six weeks since the NCAA infractions committee closed their doors....has there been any wind of anything at all? Or is this actually taking longer than everyone thought? Will we (USC) get in trouble, based on the length of the deliberations?

Ted Miller: You didn't hear the news?

USC just received this from the NCAA. Turns out the investigation was just a big a misunderstanding. The Trojans are free and clear.

Of course, I'm joking!

It's just that I get so -- SO! -- many questions about USC and the NCAA and their seemingly endless tango that, well, I'm exhausted. When I absorbed USC athletic director Mike Garrett's grumpy expression as I approached him for a standard "no comment" during hearings before the NCAA infractions committee all I could think was, "Right back at you."

The hearings ended on Feb. 20. NCAA officials will tell you it typically takes around six weeks for a ruling to be made public, but this was a particularly complicated case. David Price, the NCAA's vice president of enforcement, said the hearings were "the longest in my 11 years" as an NCAA enforcement officer. It didn't seem like he was enjoying himself either.

Chatting with some folks in the know at the time, they said it could be 10 weeks. It will be 10 weeks Saturday.

So it wouldn't be surprising if we learned of USC's fate something next week. Or the next.

As for whether the length of the deliberations matter, I'd say "sort of," but it's more accurate to say that a thorough report on a complicated case takes time to complete, no matter how severe the penalties.

Eddie from Scottsdale writes: Why don't you ever answer UCLA questions?

Ted Miller: Is this one?

My answer: 57. No, 74.