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Pac-10 coaches vote 6-4 against round-robin scheduling

5/28/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

In an informal poll conducted by the Pac-10 blog, conference coaches voted 6-4 in favor of ending round-robin conference scheduling and reverting back to an eight-game slate, which was how things were before a 12th game was added in 2006.

That's about how a straw poll went in May during the Pac-10 meetings in Phoenix, and feelings were strong enough against the nine-game conference schedule that the athletic directors will review the issue during their June meetings in San Francisco.

The vote mostly split like the current conference standings, with the top-half teams favoring nine games and the bottom half teams wanting to go back to eight.

There's a good reason for that. Nine conference games insures five conference teams will lose an extra game every season, which could be the difference between earning bowl eligibility or not.

Two Pac-10 teams, Arizona State and Stanford, finished 5-7 in 2008. If both had finished 6-6 then the conference would have filled all seven of its bowl contracts.

There are a number of reasons the nine-game schedule was adopted in 2006.

  • Equity: With no misses in the conference, the schedules are equal, with no team, say, missing USC while another misses a team at the bottom of the conference.

  • Easier scheduling: It's easier to schedule conference games than to go looking for another nonconference opponent. Also, the home and road arrangements alternate every year, so there is little mystery where UCLA and Oregon will be playing next fall if they square off in the Rose Bowl this season.

  • Balance: An eight-game schedule led to some screwy home-and-road arrangements over a series of years because multiple teams wanted special guarantees, such as the California schools wanting to play every year. Moreover, in the eight-game format, coaches from Arizona or the Northwest would get angry when they missed an annual trip to the recruiting hotbeds of Southern California. And with the nine-game slate, each team gets at least one visit to each Pac-10 state a year.

  • Fan interest: A conference game is easier to sell to a fan base than a game against a lackluster nonconference foe.

"When the schedule went from 11 to 12 games, it seemed like the logical thing to do," said Jim Muldoon, the Pac-10's associate commissioner for communications.

A funny thing happened on the way to a logical, equitable decision: No other conference followed suit. And it benefited them.

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh is a strong advocate of reverting back to the eight-game schedule, and he presented his case to the coaches in May.

"There's a reason no other conference plays nine conference games," he said.

The biggest, of course, is most teams use a fourth nonconference game to schedule a certain victory.

If the Pac-10 did the same, it would not only increase the number of bowl-eligible teams, it also would increase the odds of getting two teams into BCS bowls, which the conference hasn't done since 2002. The strength of the conference, both as a mathematical part of the BCS formula and as a perception issue within the college football nation, would improve because records would be better.

"I probably have changed on this," Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said. "I believed [adding a ninth conference game in 2006] was the right thing to do. It just seemed to be fair to go around and play everybody.

"Now that we've been through it, I'm probably on the other side totally. I'm not sure it's a great idea any more."

Which format generates more revenue in the regular season? That's a tough one. Livengood said he doesn't think there's much difference.

During even-numbered years, he noted, Arizona gets five Pac-10 home games in the current format, and that generates a good gate. Harbaugh, however, pointed out that the a fourth nonconference game could always be scheduled as a home game, which then would operate as a two-for-one deal vs. the nine-game, round-robin schedule.

A Pac-10 team then could play a nonconference game on the road annually and still get seven home games every year. Stanford only had five home games last year because it opted to play at TCU and Notre Dame and played five conference road games.

Even with one marquee nonconference game, most Pac-10 teams could schedule their way to a 3-1 or even a 4-0 start, which is what nearly every other BCS team does.

It's the new strategic paradigm. It's the strategy of the BCS, which is about smart scheduling and public perception.

Still, it figures to be a contentious issue in June.

"A bigger part of it is how to get out of it," said Livengood, pointing out that all the old scheduling controversies will again arise. 

Getting out of it might be complicated.

The ultimate question, though, is whether the conference can afford to stay in it.