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Thursday, June 17, 2010
How the Pac-10 will be divided

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

How the new Pac-12 will be divided is an unresolved issue. Heck, there's even debate among athletic directors whether the new conference should play eight or nine conference games.

And you thought the newsiest June in college football history was over! No way!

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday evening that no decision will be made on the divisions, the conference championship game or the number of conference games until after Pac-10 media day on July 29. Conference athletic directors meet the following day, when they can -- face-to-face -- hash out these issues with Scott, who is in no rush to resolve them.

"I really want to slow things down now," Scott said. "There's no reason to rush."

Earlier in the week, it appeared a North-South divisional split was the plan. In fact, Colorado AD Mike Bohn apparently believes this lineup -- with Colorado in the South -- was promised to him before the Buffaloes agreed to go west and  leave the Big 12. Scott said, however, that no decision has been made on the divisional lineup.

"We know what [Colorado] wants," Scott said. "[The North-South split] is not part of our contract [with Colorado]."

As for a potential Pac-12 TV network, a final decision on that won't come until the spring of 2011, Scott said.

But the most interesting issue going forward is how the divisions will set up. So let's take a look at the top possibilities.

North-South split: This remains the frontrunner.  (By the way, Jon Wilner does a good job of speculating what might be going on behind the scenes here.)

Positives: It makes regional sense. It maintains travel partners. Further -- and this is more important than some might think -- as divisional "brands," North and South are easy to figure out. A person in, say, Maine would immediately be able to name which Pac-12 team is in which division. Or put it this way: Name the six teams in the ACC's "Coastal" division. Understand?

Negatives: Even with a nine-game conference schedule -- which would include four non-division games -- teams from the North wouldn't get annual dates in southern California, which is important for recruiting and also is important for some alumni. Further, a home date with USC typically draws a big crowd, so missing the Trojans as an every-other-year home game is a hit. California and Stanford also probably would be irked losing annual games with their in-state rivals.

East-West split: We're splitting hairs on East-West here. Wilner calls this the "zipper" plan, which means we could call the divisions "Slider" and "Teeth".

Positives: This plan insures an LA team is in both divisions, so that means a trip to southern California every other year plus however many times the rotation includes a trip to the team from SoCal that's in the other division. Traditional rivalry games are maintained as annual events by creating designated opponents -- Oregon-Oregon State, Cal-Stanford, USC-UCLA, etc.

Negatives: Less regional, so there would be more long trips. It's likely a person from, say, New Hampshire wouldn't immediately know which team is in which division. We might have our first Pac-12 controversy if Colorado has its heart set on a spot in the South, in a North-South split, and believes it was promised as much.

Other scenarios involve just switching around teams, such has putting Washington and USC and California, etc., in a division. Or putting Oregon and Washington together to honor that rivalry.

Yet here's a telling remark from Scott taken from Lya Wodraska's Utah blog for the Salt Lake Tribune. When asked if Colorado and Utah will be travel partners, Scott said,  "Absolutely, that is the DNA of the Pac-10," he said. "There were five natural travel partners and now there will be six."

That would strongly suggest that Colorado and Utah will be in the same division. If that's an "absolutely" then how would the down-the-spine plan work? The Utes and Buffaloes together would mean splitting up at least one natural rivalry. Or, more likely, going with a North-South plan.

In other words -- open up! -- there remains a contentious issue for us to chew on over the coming weeks.