Tuesday, June 15, 2010
So what's next with Pac-10 expansion?
By ESPN.com staff
One of the good things about the Pac-16 scenario -- other than beaucoup dinero -- was that it was going to mostly keep intact the integrity of the traditional Pac-10 alignment (apologies to the Arizona schools), with the old Pac-8 settling in as a "Western" division.
Now, with Utah likely to soon join Colorado as the conference expands to 12 teams, there are some complications, starting with how the teams will be split up into divisions.
A North-South split appears most likely. In fact, the Boulder Daily Camera reported that Colorado was previously promised a spot in a South division if the 12-team scenario with Utah prevailed. That means the South would include Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, USC and UCLA.
That would not go over well with the schools in the Northwest, which believe they need an annual trip to southern California for recruiting purposes. A "down the spine" split could alleviate that, with traditional rivals posted on opposite sides and guaranteed a game every year, but that creates travel issues, and the ACC tried that model and no one can keep up with which teams are in which division. A source said that idea has "no traction."
There are reports that Utah has already told the Mountain West Conference that it is leaving, but a source said no invitation has been extended from the Pac-10. Yet. That could change inside of 24 hours.
So instead of nine of the top 20 TV markets with the Pac-16 model, commissioner Larry Scott will have to settle for adding Nos. 16 (Denver) and No. 31 (Salt Lake City). That still might be enough to set up a conference TV network, and the addition of a conference title game could further increase revenue.
While the loss of $20 million a year, per team, a Pac-16 might have distributed likely has created some heavy hearts today, a Pac-12 is still expected to increase the conference's annual payout -- currently about $8 million to $9 million a year -- significantly.
How much, of course, remains to be seen when new broadcast rights are negotiated before the 2012 season.
Other issues ahead:
- Is there any other scenario besides the "Utah joins and the conference becomes the Pac-12?" It doesn't appear so. But you never know.
- When will the "Pac-12" start play? Utah can leave the Mountain West as early as 2011. Colorado and Pac-10 officials previously said the Buffaloes would join the Pac-10 in 2012, after the new media contracts are signed. But the Boulder Daily Camera suggested that 2011 is a possibility.
- What about Colorado's "exit" fees from the Big 12, which could be as much as $9 million. Colorado and Pac-10 officials were vague on the matter, though it seems the conference has agreed to at least pick up a portion of the bill. It's also possible there might be a legal challenge to the fees. Or at least some negotiating the figure down.
- Is there going to be a championship game and where? Holding the game every year in LA is a non-starter -- that means two trips to LA for fans of the winner. One solution is having the No. 1 seed play host for the game. Variations in stadium size could be an issue there, though.
- An idea: What about Las Vegas as a neutral site? It's within driving distance for eight schools and it's certainly a nice destination with more to offer than just the game. Stadium size, at present, could be an issue, but stadiums can be upgraded. And, really, it's not about ticket sales. It's about TV inventory.
- Will the conference schedule include eight or nine games? If it continues to be nine, that means there will be more opportunities for the "North" teams to play in southern California. If it's eight, then there will be more opportunities to schedule easy nonconference games. Or challenging ones.
- Will a Pac-12 get better bowl arrangements? Scott already made a solid move when he added the Alamo Bowl. Might there be others?
- How will the revenue eventually pencil out as things come together in 2012? Will it be enough to stay competitive with the rich conferences: the Big Ten, the SEC and the Big Texas?
- Finally, are we done? Or will expansion be an issue that continues to loom?