Pac-12: Jim Delany

Pac-12, nation now fret Haden's next hire

September, 30, 2013
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There is something undeniably reprehensible about dancing on the grave of a fallen coach. The celebration of a person's perceived failure at his life's work is unseemly. We all know big-time college coaches are big boys who are paid well. We all know that now-terminated USC coach Lane Kiffin brought on much of the ill will he received by how he conducted himself.

Still, the nationwide cackling over Kiffin getting fired in the early morning hours Sunday doesn't represent a high moment in our sports culture.

This grab for measured compassion is made here, however, because of a cold and unfortunate reality that will seem like another potshot at Kiffin. Outside of the Kiffin household, the folks most unhappy about his getting pink-slipped are coaches, administrators and fans of the other 11 Pac-12 teams. And probably some fans of other national powers who have moved on from chortling about Kiffin's fate to asking the most important question.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 teams knew what they were getting with Lane Kiffin on the USC sideline. Now the sleeping giant has the potential to wake up.
What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?

Because the right coach at USC competes for national titles on a regular basis. The tradition is there. The facilities, once below standard, are vastly improved. The rich recruiting territory is there. And the ability to ante up big checks for an A-list coach and his staff is there.

Further, the next coach won't be freighted with the ready-made and mostly legitimate excuse Kiffin made when things went wrong on the field: NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions that made the USC roster thinner than those of their opponents. Those end after the 2014 recruiting class and season. The next coach can make the program whole in 2015, his second season.

USC, with 85 scholarships and the right coach, will immediately challenge Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12, and Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, etc., for national supremacy.

That's why the other Pac-12 schools are mourning Kiffin's departure. While he was tough to compete with on the recruiting trail -- his clear strength -- other schools were hoping that Kiffin would become the Trojans' "Meander Coach." That's the sort of coach rival teams want to stay atop a college football superpower, such as USC.

A Meander Coach is a coach who does just enough to hang on for several years but falls short of program standards. While not a complete disaster, he allows a program to slip a few notches in the conference and national pecking order. Good examples of this would be Bob Davie at Notre Dame, Ray Goff at Georgia and Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

A Meander 2013 season for USC under Kiffin would have been 9-4 in a 13-game schedule. Kiffin probably would have coached the Trojans in 2014 with that record, particularly if it included a win over Notre Dame or UCLA. But athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough through a 3-2 start, capped by a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, to understand that barely good enough was not even going to happen. So he made his move.

Now the hope around the Pac-12 and the nation is that Haden gets his coaching pick wrong. Haden, a former USC and NFL quarterback and Rhodes scholar, is extremely bright and knowledgeable about football, but the odds are pretty good he will get it wrong. After all, to get from John McKay and John Robinson to Carroll, USC had to go through Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett. Just as Alabama had to go through Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula to get to Saban. Notre Dame and Tennessee also can teach lessons about superpowers struggling to find the right guy.

Former AD Mike Garrett's hiring of Carroll? Complete luck. It was a desperation move after Garrett was turned down by Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. The Carroll hiring also was widely panned when it was announced. He was seen as a slightly goofy chatterbox and washed-out NFL coach. Perceptions changed, but only because the wrong hire turned out to be right.

One benefit Haden has bought himself with a midseason termination is time. While plenty of other teams are going to fire their head coaches, Haden is the first in the ring. While it's certain he already has a short list of favorite candidates that probably is not unlike the lists every publication has written up since Kiffin was fired, he also can sit back a few weeks and get a measure of who's interested. There will be plenty of back-channel feelers from agents of NFL head coaches and assistant coaches as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches.

A successful precedent for Haden to consider is Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne's handling of the transition from Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Just like Haden, Byrne fired Stoops midseason after an embarrassing loss before a bye week and installed a veteran coach, Tim Kish, as his interim head coach. He then conducted a stealth coaching search over the next six weeks, breaking the news of his hiring of Rodriguez on Twitter.

Byrne gave himself a head start with the hiring process. He got his first choice hired before the season ended and gave his new coach a head start with recruiting. He also accelerated the getting-to-know-you phase compared to all the other teams looking for a new head coach in December. Byrne even received a boost from Kish's version of the Wildcats, who won three of their final six games, including a win over archrival Arizona State.

Other Pac-12 coaches are now fretting the same thing happening with the Trojans: What if USC suddenly starts playing inspired football under interim coach Ed Orgeron? It's entirely possible the Trojans will be a better team going forward, meaning the Sun Devils are grateful Haden didn't take action after the Trojans lost at home to Washington State on Sept. 7.

As for Haden's coaching search, it will be a bit more high-profile than Byrne's. The Trojans are a national team. So in the next few weeks there will be a cacophony of public denials. They will be meaningless. Saban repeatedly said without ambiguity that he wasn't leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Until he did. And who knew that Bret Bielema was so eager to bolt Wisconsin for Arkansas?

The two biggest problems the USC coaching search encountered after Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks that led to the Kiffin hiring are gone: (1) upcoming NCAA sanctions, and (2) no one wanting to be the guy-after-the-guy.

So know that just about everybody is in play. Until they're not.

The Pac-12 and the college football nation didn't feel too good about Kiffin in 2011, when he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and won at Oregon and Notre Dame. But in the past 18 games, they embraced his USC tenure. They wanted him inside Heritage Hall as long as possible.

Now there is worrisome uncertainty among 11 other Pac-12 teams, not to mention folks like SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If Haden hires the right guy, the Trojan colossus will dust itself off and rise with a cocky grin. Rose Bowls and national championships will shortly follow.

Pac-12 renews three bowl games

June, 24, 2013
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Before the Rose Bowl, we'll have the unofficial Rose Bowl North and Rose Bowl South.

The Big Ten has inked new deals with the Holiday and Kraft Fight Hunger bowls and starting in 2014 will take on a second and third Pac-12 opponent in the postseason. The agreement for both bowls is six years.

This move has been rumored for a while and it's slightly bigger news for the Big Ten, since the Pac-12 is basically continuing its agreement with two of its current bowl partners. But switching up opponents is always refreshing.

Noteworthy, however, is that the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl gets a boost in prestige because it moves up in the pecking order from sixth to fourth. The Holiday Bowl retains its place in the selection process of Pac-12 teams (after the Rose/playoff pick and Alamo Bowl).

In an attempt to avoid the repetition of sending the same team to the same location several years in a row, the Big Ten is implementing a tier system for its selection process.

"We want to make sure that there is freshness," said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on a conference call Monday. "That the bowl community is well-served. It's hard when a team goes to say, Florida, five times in six years, it's hard to get them excited. If you've been to the Rose Bowl three years in a row, maybe San Diego and San Francisco aren't the right places to go in your next bowl trip. There will be some selection order, it will be heavily influenced by freshness ... it's constrained by parameters to make sure that our teams and our players and our coaches have unique and fresh experiences."

The Pac-12 also announced on Monday that it's renewing its partnership with the Sun Bowl for another six years and it will pick after the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl selects its representative in the process.

As for the Las Vegas and New Mexico bowls, stay tuned. Asked Monday about the rest of the bowl lineup, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott offered this:

"We're not ready to announce some of our other arrangements," he said. "We will shortly. I think what you'll see at the end of the day, we've optimized our lineup. We've made some changes. But I think top to bottom you'll see improvements as evidenced by today's announcements ... I think you'll see top to bottom an even more robust bowl slate for us."

So more postseason changes could be coming.

Neither Scott nor Delany said the new bowl arrangements between the conferences were a direct result of last year's failed alliance between the teams. But given the history of the leagues and their common interests moving forward, it makes sense that they increase the postseason play beyond the Rose Bowl.

"Our conferences have a tremendous affinity toward one another and obviously tremendous tradition," Scott said. "We've looked for ways to play each other more often ... our schools like to play each other. If you look at the teams our schools play, tough, out of-conference-competition and you'll see a lot of Pac-12-Big Ten matchups. There's a tradition there."

Added Delany: "Our schools probably play each other as much as other conferences do and that goes back a long time. Collaborations don't happen very much because they are difficult. We had some difficulties on our side. [Scott] had some difficulties on his side. But what it didn't do was interrupt the communications. It didn't interrupt the desire to create good match-ups. I'm a firm believer in partnerships -- whether it's a ACC/Big Ten challenge or a Rose Bowl or bringing people together under the College Football Playoff. We figure out a way to do things and we don't worry about what doesn't happen as much as what happens. That was a plane that didn't fly. But once it didn't fly, I'm on to something else. And this is a very good something else."

As for the Sun Bowl, the ACC is contracted through 2013. However, a Sun Bowl spokesperson said Monday afternoon that the league has not finalized any plans beyond this season. The news release, instead, offered this: "The Hyundai Sun Bowl Football Selection Committee is currently under negotiations to bring a quality opponent from a current Bowl Championship Series conference to match up with the Pac-12." Which could either mean the ACC is still trying to finalize the contract, or we could see a new opponent in this bowl game as well.
If we all go out to dinner with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott this weekend, he's buying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Scott is the highest paid college conference commissioner, earning more than $3 million last year.

The WSJ reported:
Scott took home a $1,376,000 bonus in addition to a base salary of $1,575,000 and other compensation of $71,462. His total compensation surpassed that of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who made $2.8 million in salary, bonuses and benefits that year. It also is nearly double the $1.6 million listed for commissioner Mike Slive of the Southeastern Conference, which has won the past seven major-college football national titles and recently announced it will launch a network with ESPN in 2014.

Why is Scott so well paid? Well, a lot of that is his "quadrupling [the Pac-12's] annual television-rights revenue." From the report:
In the span of 2011-12, Scott added the Universities of Colorado and Utah as members after initially exploring the possibility of a 16-team conference. He brokered a broadcast-rights deal with ESPN and Fox worth $3 billion over 12 years, elevating the Pac-12 from a distant fifth place nationally with $58 million in primary media-rights revenue to the leader, with the new deal worth an average of $250 million annually. He led the launch of the Pac-12 Networks, the only such venture to be wholly owned by a conference.

The Pac-12 generated only $176 million in revenue in 2011-12, well behind the Big Ten at $315 million and the SEC at $273 million, but those numbers were based on the old TV deals. This past year, the Pac-12 expects to pocket more than $300 million, though financial details won't be available until next year.

The Pac-12 Network is also expected to turn a small profit in its first year of operation.

It doesn't seem like too many Pac-12 administrators are unhappy with Scott (easy there, Arizona basketball fans). From the article:
"Larry is the go-to guy that pulled all this together," said Ed Ray, the Oregon State University president and head of the committee that approved Scott's compensation package. "I would say he had a hell of a year."

Now if Scott could just get DirectTV to join his fan club.

 


The BCS presidential oversight committee meets Tuesday afternoon in Washington D.C. to discuss college football's future postseason. The 12 presidents will hear from the FBS commissioners who last week endorsed a seeded four-team playoff beginning in 2014, which would have semifinals at bowl sites and bid out the championship game nationally. The commissioners are expected to present multiple models and discuss the evolution of their discussion, which came to a head last week in Chicago. Although the commissioners are unified, they’ve made it clear the presidents have the final say here.

The oversight committee begins its meetings at 3 p.m. ET, and while initially scheduled to meet four hours, the session likely will last well into Tuesday night.

To get you prepared for a long day and night, here's a primer, in question-and-answer form.

What action will the presidents take Tuesday?

It's likely they'll approve the four-team playoff model endorsed by the commissioners. ESPN.com has learned that the two most evolved elements of the playoff are the basic four-team model and the use of a selection committee to determine the four teams. Two elements that still must be discussed further and likely won't be resolved Tuesday: understanding playoff access and revenue distribution. Although there's an agreement in principle among the commissioners for how the revenue should be divided, the presidents want to have a thorough discussion on this topic.

What elements unified the commissioners in Chicago?

The two big ones were the selection committee and having the semifinals played inside the bowls. Commissioners who have chaired the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee -- such as the SEC's Mike Slive, the Big Ten's Jim Delany and the Big 12's Bob Bowlsby -- strongly advocated for it, and others, like the Pac-12's Larry Scott, warmed up to the idea. They see the committee as more transparent, more rational and having fewer conflicts of interest than the current polls used in the BCS formula.

The commissioners emerged from their April meetings in Hollywood, Fla., with two models: a four-team playoff inside the bowls and a four-team playoff at neutral sites outside the bowls. ESPN.com has learned three leagues -- the SEC, Big 12 and Conference USA -- advocated neutral sites for semifinal games, which likely would bring in more revenue but devalue the top bowl games. The Big Ten and Pac-12 didn't want to see the Rose Bowl drop down several notches (think NIT) and endanger the other bowls. This was a deal breaker, and it eventually pushed the group toward an inside-the-bowls model.

How will the model work inside the bowls and with access?

It's very likely that five or six bowls, not just the four BCS bowls, will be part of the playoff structure. There will be the familiar four -- Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta -- as well as one or two yet-to-be-determined bowls (Cotton, Capital One, etc.). Although the commissioners spent a lot of time discussing an anchor plan -- where the No. 1 and No. 2 playoff participants would play at regional sites -- they determined it would be too difficult because of television sponsorships, ticket distribution and other factors. So the semifinal games will be predetermined and rotate between the bowls. For example, if the TV contract is for 12 years and the rotation includes six bowls, each game could host a semifinal four times.

The selection committee could end up selecting participants for more than just the four-team playoff, especially because the additional bowls will provide access for champions from smaller conferences. The same guidelines applied to selecting the playoff participants – strength of schedule, valuing conference championships -- also will be used to determine who appears in some of the additional bowls. For example, if the Mountain West champion and the Big Ten's No. 2 team have comparable profiles, including strength of schedules, and are ranked 12th and 13th, the Mountain West champion likely would get the nod to a big bowl because of its championship.

While there will be access for smaller-conference champions, the bowls who have contracts with certain leagues will continue to feature teams from those leagues. If the Rose Bowl isn't a national semifinal and loses the Pac-12 and/or Big Ten champion to a semifinal game, it will replace them with Pac-12 and Big Ten teams. The only way the Rose Bowl features teams not from the Big Ten or Pac-12 is if it's a semifinal.

How much traction does the plus-one model have?

None. It will be discussed Tuesday because the presidents want to look at multiple models, but everyone is so far down the road toward a four-team playoff and they're highly unlikely to turn back. Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, a playoff opponent who prefers the status quo and a plus-one over a four-team playoff -- as do the Big Ten colleagues he represents and some Pac-12 presidents -- will have his say, but he also understands where this is headed. Perlman realizes he can't be Mr. Davis in "12 Angry Men" and sway everyone else in the room.

How would the selection committee operate?

The group will have certain guidelines for selection, such as valuing strength of schedule conference championships. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but these guidelines will help break ties. Expect the committee to be around 15 members, and it will meet throughout the season. It's unclear who will serve on it, although former coaches as well as school and league administrators are the likeliest candidates.

According to a source, the committee could reveal a poll midway through the season to let the public know where things stand with certain teams. Such a poll likely would debut around the time the initial BCS standings do (Week 8 or so).

When would the playoffs take place?

The five or six bowls in the playoff rotation likely will take place around Jan. 1. The Rose Bowl will keep its traditional New Year's Day afternoon time slot, whether or not it's a national semifinal. A new contract for the Rose Bowl is expected this week and will last through the 2026 game. The Rose Bowl contract always has been completed before the BCS contract.

We could end up seeing three of the bowls take place Dec. 31 and the other three, including the Rose, on Jan. 1. The championship game then would take place about 10 days later.

Colleagues Mark Schlabach and Heather Dinich will be in D.C. for the presidential oversight committee meeting, so be sure and check in with ESPN.com throughout Tuesday afternoon and night.
Larry ScottKirby Lee/US PresswirePac-12 commissioner Larry Scott prefers a playoff model that awards conference champions.

While inclined in all my glory by the hotel pool during my vacation last week, a waiter brought me my drink, complete with a mini-umbrella and a garnish of epic proportions.

I raised the frosty concoction to my lips. And then spit it all over myself.

"This is awful!" I said. "What is it?"

"It's a 'disingenuous,'" the waiter said. "It's the hottest thing in college football this offseason."

The amount of disingenuous blather cascading out of conference meetings the past few weeks has been equal parts amusing and distressing. Amusing because it's so transparent. Distressing because these guys could make a mess of a great opportunity.

There are two chief lines of disingenuousness: 1) We want the four best teams in a playoff; 2) we want only conference champions in a playoff.

The SEC folks were just ridiculous with their "four best teams" chicanery. When SEC commissioner Mike Slive kept repeating "One, two, three, four" to reporters last week, what he was really saying was, "The SEC's priority is maintaining subjectivity as the key component of the college football postseason."

Understand: There is no "one, two, three, four." There are only opinions and computer formulas. You might note that no -- zero -- pro sports use a "one, two, three, four." They all have divisions. To advance to the playoffs, you must win your division or win a wild-card spot. In no case is there a subjective voting process or selection committee.

What do the SEC and, apparently, the Big 12 want? Those conferences want a two-team expansion of the current BCS system. Or they want a selection committee that will always tap 11-1 Alabama over 12-0 Boise State or 11-1 Texas over 11-1 California.

Those folks prioritize hunches over concrete accomplishment. Why? Self-interest, naturally.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott knows this. This is why he keeps countering "one, two, three, four" with "conference champions." And why Scott and the Pac-12 have not committed to much of anything about the postseason, from venues to format.

Scott and the Pac-12 folks know they have plenty of leverage. They want to use that leverage to protect their interests, just as the SEC folks do. Among those Pac-12 interests is protecting the Rose Bowl, but that may already have been accomplished when the SEC and Big 12 teamed up for their own bowl game.

Hashing out a final format figures to be contentious, and it probably should be. Count on some give and take during negotiations, complete with moments of kicking and screaming behind closed doors. In the end, however, there will have to be some compromise.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
Jerry Lai/US PresswireBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany proposed a plan in which conference champions would have to be in the top six of the final rankings in order to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff.
Oh, by the way, a perfect compromise has already been proposed and has been called the "Delany Model," a tip of the cap to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany: the top-six plan. Conference champions would be required to be ranked in the top six of the final rankings to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff. If four conference champions aren't ranked in the top six, the highest-ranked at-large teams would fill however many voids there are.

That would prevent, say, a three-loss conference champion from slipping into the final four. It also provides a course of entry for an elite team that doesn't win its conference to backdoor its way into the process.

It is the clearest way to maintain the value of the regular season while also ensuring an impostor won't slip in. It splits the difference between "one, two, three, four" and "conference champions."

It makes so much sense, I'm nearly certain it won't be adopted. Sigh.

There are other issues to consider, particularly from the Pac-12 end of things:

  • Schedules need to be standardized. One conference can't play eight games and another nine. That's a variable that must be eliminated, one way or another. Otherwise you're comparing cupcakes and rib eyes.
  • There needs to be a serious consideration of scheduling in general. Penalties should be integrated into the system for weak nonconference scheduling.
  • If some sort of BCS-type formula is retained, it needs to reincorporate margin of victory. That was previously killed because administrators were worried about coaches running up the score. A simple solution to that is establishing a baseline figure of dominance, such as making a 21-point victory no different than a 50-point victory.

Further, there needs to be serious give and take about potential problems with a selection committee. One of my concerns is that a committee could be influenced by its knowledge of likely reactions among fan bases. For example, say Stanford and LSU are both 11-1. Which fan base would be more measured in its reaction to being left out? And don't think that wouldn't be in the minds of every committee member while they hashed out the particulars.

Know that this won't be anything like deciding which middling teams get left out of the NCAA basketball tournament. Programs with huge followings such as Ohio State, Texas, USC, Notre Dame and Florida State could produce an apoplectic backlash -- perhaps an even tangibly threatening one -- against a committee, and foreknowledge of the comfort of avoiding that likely would seep into the process.

A term to chew on as we charge along into the unknown: "Unintended consequences." We almost certainly will encounter plenty of those in 2014 and beyond.

The good news for the Pac-12 is it has a strong position and a key seat at the table. There might be some give for the Pac-12 during negotiations, but there also should be plenty of take.

Larry 'Ca-ching' Scott is in the money

May, 23, 2012
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Commissioner Larry Scott has opened up a new financial frontier for the Pac-12 -- most notably a $3 billion TV deal and a new network -- but he ain't doing too badly himself.

USA Today published the 2010 salaries of college conference commissioners Wednesday, and Scott came out on top with $1.9 million in compensation.

Also on the books for Scott:

Scott also has received a loan of nearly $1.9 million from the conference, and as of June 30, 2011, the balance due was unchanged from its original amount, according to the return the conference filed last week and provided in response to a request from USA TODAY Sports.

"The loan has to be repaid fully," Pac-12 spokesman Dave Hirsch said.


The Big Ten's Jim Delany made nearly $1.8 million, the ACC's John Swofford nearly $1.5 million and the SEC's Mike Slive just more than $1 million. Former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who resigned last September, received nearly $1.7 million, according to USA Today, while outgoing Big East commissioner John Marinatto netted about $600,000.

The man Scott replaced, Tom Hansen, made $590,000 in 2008.

Big Ten also likes conference champs

May, 15, 2012
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Gene SmithAP Photo/Terry GilliamOhio State's Gene Smith and Pac-12 members seem to agree on a criteria for future playoff teams.
The Big Ten is holding its spring meetings in Chicago this week, and it appears the thinking among administrators is in line with what the Pac-12 athletic directors and commissioner Larry Scott said two weeks ago: Any potential college football playoff needs to prioritize teams that win their conference.

Adam Rittenberg over at the Big Ten blog chatted with Ohio State AD Gene Smith, who was unequivocal about his top priority:

"The conference champion piece," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "We're a collegiate environment, and we've set everything up for competition to be conference champions, and we have it in every single sport that we have. ... When you go through your conference and you win your conference championship, that's pretty strong."


Other parties at the table in this playoff debate favor a "Four best teams plan," one that would only ensure the process remain just as subjective as the present BCS standings.

The good news is there is plenty of room for compromise between the folks who are right (winning a conference championship matters) and those who are wrong (let's pretend we can rank the four best teams).

The Pac-12 blog is on record supporting the "Top-six plan": Conference champions would be required to be ranked in the top six of the final rankings in order to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff. If four conference champions aren't ranked in the top six, then the highest ranked at-large teams would fill however many voids there are.

But there's wiggle room here:

[Nebraska athletic director Tom] Osborne told ESPN.com that there has been "a lot of discussion" this week about having the top three conference champions and the highest-ranked at-large team in the four-team playoff. This model would give access to a team like reigning national champion Alabama, which didn't win its league or its division but finished No. 2 in the final BCS standings and beat LSU for the title.


"I don't think you can say all four placements are conference champions," Smith said. "You have to leave some room for that type of scenario, that best high-ranked team that is not a conference champion has some room to get in there."

Of course, you can immediately see how this could get controversial. What happens if a fourth conference champion has the same record as a more highly rated at-large team? Further, we still don't know the rating system -- the old BCS rankings, a new ratings system, a selection committee, etc.

The good news is that the Pac-12 and Big Ten are aligned on their thinking: Any playoff format needs to give priority to teams that win their conference championship.
Jim DelanyAP Photo/Paul BeatyBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany's playoff proposal rewards actually winning one's conference.


At the Pac-12 meetings last week in Phoenix, it became clear that conference coaches and athletic directors as well as commissioner Larry Scott favor a potential four-team college football playoff including a requirement that each of the four participants wins its respective conference championship.

The reasoning for that is logical and unassailable: A national title contender should first prove it's the best team in its conference. College football folks -- coaches, administrators, etc. -- frequently talk about preserving the value of the regular season. Not requiring a playoff team to win its conference directly contravenes that.

On the other side of the playoff debate are the folks who don't want any such requirements. They say introducing one muddies things up. They say it's important to pick the "four best teams." Keep it simple and credible!

Four best teams? Er, how will we determine that? The ole BCS rankings? A selection committee?

Not acceptable.

There needs to be give and take here. If the Pac-12 and Big Ten are going to sacrifice their automatic tie-in to the Rose Bowl, that means they need to get something in return. Thankfully, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany already has proposed an equitable plan that allows for both sides of this debate to get most of what they want.

It's the top-six plan: Conference champions would be required to be ranked in the top six of the final rankings in order to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff. If four conference champions aren't ranked in the top six, then the highest ranked at-large teams would fill however many voids there are.

CBS Sports' Brett McMurphy went through all the scenarios. He found that, since 2004, only seven top-four teams in the final BCS standings would have missed the playoffs with this top-six plan.

Writes McMurphy:
Under this format, in the past eight years, 30 of the 32 teams in the playoff would have been conference champions. Only two teams -- No. 2 Alabama (in 2011) and No. 4 Ohio State (in 2005) -- that weren't a conference champion would have qualified for the national semifinals.

Using the conference affiliation for the schools for each season and not their future affiliation, the SEC would have had the most schools in the playoffs from 2004-11 with eight, including seven conference champions. The Pac-12 and Big 12 would have been next, each with six schools, followed by the Big Ten with five (four conference champions, one at-large), the Mountain West with four, the Big East with two and the ACC with one.

Of the Mountain West's four representatives, two were by Utah, now in the Pac-12, and two by TCU, which joins the Big 12 this fall.

That sounds about right.

The teams left out? Stanford and Texas, both twice, and Alabama, Michigan and LSU.

[+] EnlargeUtes Celebrate
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Utah team that demolished Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl might have gotten to play for the national title under Jim Delany's top-six plan.
That sounds about right.

The best scenario to look at is 2008. From McMurphy's breakdown:
Top 6 ranked teams: No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ), No. 2 Florida (SEC champ), No. 3 Texas (at-large), No. 4 Alabama (at-large), No. 5 USC (Pac-10 champ), No. 6 Utah (Mountain West champ).

Conference champs in four-team playoff: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 USC, No. 6 Utah.

Non-conference champs in four-team playoff: None.

Top-6 teams left out: No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Alabama.

Revisionist history: The good news is that the top four conference champions are all ranked among the nation's top six teams. The bad news is No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Alabama, both of which didn't win their conference, would not be included in the playoff. Lower ranked, but conference champion, USC (No. 5) and Utah (No. 6) would have made the field.

In 2008, the top-six model would have created a far superior postseason. The most likely scenario would have seen USC, clearly the best team in 2008, beating Utah, which physically manhandled Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl, for the national title.

Wait ... did I just pull one of those "Just because" deals there, making assumptions about how good a team is?

Yes, I did. Most folks outside of the Southeast -- including Vegas bookies -- believed USC was the best team in 2008. It finished the regular season with the same record as Florida and Oklahoma, but its loss on the road against an Oregon State team that won nine games was deemed worse than the Gators' and Sooners' blemishes. That judgment was arbitrary and ran counter to what many folks believed: The Trojans in 2008 would have left a bootprint on the foreheads of either Florida or Oklahoma.

And, of course, when Utah held Alabama to 208 total yards -- 31 yards rushing! -- it became nearly impossible to say the Crimson Tide belonged in the same building. Oh, that's right, an Alabama team playing in its first BCS bowl game since 1999 was SO disappointed that it lost the SEC title game that it decided not to try hard in the Sugar Bowl. Please.

Of course, this analysis is bothering some folks. Good. That's how the "Just because" stuff felt for the Trojans in 2008 and for Oklahoma State last year. The most certain way to ensure the new four-team playoff will foment annual controversy is to make the "Just because" element its foundation. We'll still be debating the subjectivity -- and inherent biases -- of the system for weeks as the season winds down.

See, out here on the West Coast, the top-six plan seems simple. It seems fair. It doesn't muddy anything up. It actually provides clarity: Win your conference.

It first tries to award the highest-rated conference champions for, you know, accomplishing something during the regular season, then it makes sure that we don't end up with a three-loss team in the playoff.

It's the best and most equitable endgame in the four-team playoff scenario. And the Pac-12 and Big Ten should fight for it.
Changes are coming to the college football postseason, and it appears that the most likely scenario is to play the semifinals and national championship game at neutral sites, a source familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.com on Tuesday.

This part likely will be interesting to Pac-12 fans:
A proposal to play the semifinal games at the home stadiums of the higher-seeded teams is all but dead, according to the source. The semifinal games will either be hosted by the existing BCS bowl games or opened for bidding. The source said it seemed almost certain that the national championship game will be opened to bidding by the existing BCS bowl sites and other cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Indianapolis.

The conference commissioners have reached a conclusion that some FBS schools' stadiums aren't large enough to host a national semifinal game and that many college towns don't have enough hotel rooms to accommodate bigger crowds.

"What happens if TCU finishes No. 2 in the country and hosts a semifinal game?" the source said. "TCU finished No. 3 two years ago. Are they really hosting No. 3 Ohio State in a 45,000-seat stadium? Where are people going to stay if Oregon hosts a semifinal game? In Portland? As much as it would be great for the sport to see a game played in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Lincoln, Neb., some of the logistical issues are just too severe. I think that idea has come home to roost as far as these guys are concerned."

No offense to the source, but Oregon could produce plenty of hotel rooms within an hour's drive, probably more than most AQ conference teams. Just saying.

If the semifinals and finals were to be played in existing BCS bowls, the games could rotate in some fashion. What would that mean for the Rose Bowl? Well, that remains to be seen.
Conference commissioners are still debating about what to do with the Rose Bowl as well, according to the source. Rose Bowl officials have repeatedly said they prefer to keep their traditional matchup between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams; Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott also favor keeping the traditional tie-in intact. But if the Rose Bowl isn't willing to give up its affiliations with those conferences, it might fall out of a potential national semifinals rotation. However, the Rose Bowl would still be eligible to bid for a national championship game.

The elimination of the semifinal games being played at the higher seeds' home stadiums is good news for the BCS bowls, at least other than the Rose Bowl. It presents a scenario where they can still exist in a high-profile way, one that really doesn't dramatically change much for them.

Other, perhaps, than conference affiliation.

Stay tuned.
The Pac-12 blog's official stance on the Rose Bowl: It's awesome. Has been since 1902. If you've ever been to one, you are nodding.

If you are not nodding, you are either ignorant of the Rose Bowl experience or are untroubled by being wrong. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Our position on this is unambiguous. When the BCS power brokers meet in Hollywood, Fla., this week with the intention of transforming the college football postseason, the Rose Bowl must be given special status. Why? If you were to request a list from the sports' cognoscenti on the greatest traditions in college football, most would rate the Rose Bowl No. 1.

Some ACC, Big 12 and SEC fans might be shrugging. Their conferences don't play in the Rose Bowl, other than in a couple of BCS-mandated exceptional cases. Why should they care?

Well, I don't live in Egypt, but I care about the pyramids. We're talking about history, folks, about tradition, about maintaining a connection to the past. If our postseason endgame somehow ends the Rose Bowl, it would be like knocking down the Washington Monument because we feel like we can build a bigger and better pointy thing in our nation's capital.

We know that one of the four options that will be discussed -- as first reported by USA Today -- is the "Four Teams Plus" plan. It would make the Rose Bowl an automatic part of a "playoff" that would determine the national champion.

The four highest-ranked teams at the end of the regular season would meet in semifinals unless the Big Ten or Pac-12 champion, or both, were among the top four. Those leagues' teams still would meet in the Rose, and the next highest-ranked team or teams would slide into the semis. The national championship finalists would be selected after those three games.


This plan has been widely ridiculed, and for good reason. It's ridiculous. It continues to add subjectivity to the process instead of having more decided on the field of play. That's what we are trying to get rid of.

As I've said before, it doesn't seem that complicated to have a four-team playoff set, then let the Rose Bowl choose next, likely the best available teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Why should the Rose Bowl get priority? Because it's the Rose Bowl.

Should there be flexibility to the Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup? Perhaps. It's already happened without great loss of life (though there has been a bit of wincing, particularly one year in Berkeley). It might be unavoidable. The game itself, however, is the most sacred relic.

The hope here is this won't end up being only a Jim Delany and Larry Scott crusade. The Big Ten and Pac-12 commissioners obviously have the most at stake among all the pooh-bahs in Florida, but there's no reason for SEC don Mike Slive et al to go all Sun Tzu on the Rose Bowl just to score an Art of War point.

It would be great if Slive et al would take the high-grounded position and recognize the Rose Bowl's special status in college football.

There will be a lot of smart folks in Florida. Let's hope they are smart enough not to drive a carelessly placed wingtip into the game they are charged with protecting.
Larry Scott, Jim DelaneyUS PresswireThe Rose Bowl needs commissioners Larry Scott (Pac-12, left) and Jim Delany (Big Ten) in its corner.
Every Big Ten administrator who has commented on the league's four-team playoff proposal also has made sure to acknowledge the Rose Bowl in the same breath.

"The Rose Bowl is extremely important to Michigan State just as it is to every school in the Big Ten and Pac-12," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Associated Press.

"Any talk of a limited playoff needs to keep the tradition of the Rose Bowl and the bowl system in play," Iowa AD Gary Barta wrote to the Des Moines Register in an email.

"My concern -- first and foremost -- is maintaining our relationship with the Rose Bowl," Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez wrote in his monthly letter to fans.

Perhaps there's some little-known Big Ten bylaw requiring league officials and administrators to pay homage to the Rose Bowl whenever discussing the future of college football. Commissioner Jim Delany always makes a point to acknowledge the Rose Bowl as the league's most important external relationship.

Kevin Ash, the Rose Bowl's chief administrative officer, enjoys hearing this from one of the game's conference partners. He hopes the pledges continue, as the Rose Bowl needs both the Big Ten and Pac-12 to be in its corner.

One of the big questions with any playoff model is how it would impact the current bowls, including the Rose. Would the Rose Bowl remain a premier sporting event on New Year's Day, or would the game start seeing drops in attendance and ratings like some of the other major bowls?

The Big Ten plan would remove the top four teams from the BCS bowl pool and have semifinal games played on the college campus of the higher seed. The championship game then could be bid out, like the Super Bowl.

The Rose Bowl's fate largely rests with Delany and his Pac-12 counterpart Larry Scott.

"We rely on them heavily to lead on our behalf, because we don't sit at the table with them," Ash told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We're not an active party. We know they have our best interest at heart, and we're a huge part of who they are in the postseason."

Like many, Ash senses the momentum building toward a college football playoff. He understands that the next BCS cycle, beginning in 2014, could bring changes for the Rose Bowl.

"It's going to be interesting to see some of the proposals," he said. "There could be variations that could be OK for the Rose Bowl game. If the commissioners feel we need to move in a different direction, which is best for college football, we've got to be a part of that."

The desire to maintain the traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 Rose Bowl matchup has been viewed as one of the primary impediments to a college football playoff.

Like the Big Ten and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12, the Rose Bowl has been viewed as an obstruction to a college football playoff. Although the game has loosened its access rules and has had teams from other leagues, most recently TCU in the 2011 game, the desire always has been to have the Big Ten champion face the Pac-12 champion on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

Any type of playoff format would decrease the likelihood of having both league champions in the game.

"Whatever system they decide to put forward, we will deal with the access issue as it applies to us, and we will embrace any visitor that comes to our game," Ash said. "But each year, we hope to have a Pac-12 and Big Ten champion playing for the Rose Bowl championship. Simple as that. Does it hurt us to have other teams in here? No. But we're traditionalists. It's a part of who we are."

Some see the Rose Bowl's traditionalist nature as being inflexible. The Big Ten, and, to a lesser extent, the Pac-12, have been viewed this way as well.

Ash said it's not the case.

"Since the BCS, we've learned to evolve, and we still have our tradition," Ash said. "Tradition is a two-sided sword. If you sit on tradition, then you can get left behind, but if you are careful about how you move forward, then you can keep that tradition going. There's possibilities out there, models that can be successful for us. We've got to see what plays out."

And follow Delany's and Scott's lead.

"They're very, very intelligent guys, and their leadership is amazing," Ash said. "We need to evolve in order to stay relevant. I think those are the guys who can take us there.

"They're going to protect us as best they can."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott just finished a conference call with reporters. Here are some notes and nuggets from that call:

Both commissioners acknowledged that adding a difficult nonconference game against BCS opponents could create an impediment to their teams reaching the BCS title game. That's especially a concern in the Pac-12, which is pledging for now to keep its nine-game league schedule. But both say the benefits outweigh the risks.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
Jerry Lai/US PresswireBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany said his league won't be seeking any scheduling partnerships outside the one with the Pac-12.
"It seems counter-intuitive to make it tougher to make a bowl game, to make it tougher in the current BCS construct to go undefeated and get to the national championship game," Scott said. "In a time where there's an intrinsic pressure to kind of dumb down interconference schedules, here we are kind of reinvesting in regular-season college football and getting higher-caliber, tougher competition.

"But I think in our conference -- and the Big Ten feels the same way -- it's a broader, more holistic view about the benefits of a high-quality regular-season schedule. It's not just about how easy can you make it to qualify for a bowl and make the BCS championship game."

I asked Delany if this would make it harder for Big Ten teams to get to the national title game.

"I think it probably does," he said. "[But] in an overall, holistic way, I think it helps our football programs. I think it will engage fans, help our recruiting, help in the presentation of television. If fans follow it, our partners will be rewarded and we will ultimately be rewarded.

"We all agreed that the 12th game was kind of a 'buy game' too often for our conference and a game that was not as compelling maybe as we would like. This is a step that's for the fan, for the player and for recruitment. Clearly, for coaches used to having four [nonconference] home games, it makes it more challenging. But that's just one aspect."

Much remains to be ironed out on which teams will play whom. But Delany said he'd like "to have competitive equity play a significant part" in determining the matchups. Which raises the possibility, if two strong teams meet in the regular season, that they could have a rematch in the Rose Bowl. Would that water down the Rose Bowl?

"It's obviously a possibility," Scott said. "We do have to set these schedules somewhat in advance, and I don't think you can perfectly calibrate or choreograph matchups. I would underscore, however, that these games would be taking place early in the season. In the unlikely but possible scenario where a rematch would occur, it would be a rematch from right at the beginning of the season, not at the end of the season."

Of course, the Big Ten already does an interconference dance with the ACC in basketball. Would the Pac-12/Big Ten football games get treated like the Big Ten/ACC challenge? Delany said they would be different in that the matchups would likely occur over three-to-four weeks, not in a couple of days like the basketball challenge.

"Whether or not it's branded that way, I think people will measure and count," Delany said. "That's the nature of competition."

Delany said the Rose Bowl is the only thing that's really sacrosanct between the two leagues, and everything else right now is "a blank canvass." The two conferences can come up with all kinds of creative events, mini-tournaments, whatever. Delany called it "not a five-year or 10-year deal, but an indefinite collaboration."

Some of the creative events could take place at NFL stadiums or at the Rose Bowl, in and out of the leagues' footprints. Delany mentioned Yankee Stadium, Atlanta and Texas as possibilities for some neutral-site games. But he said the majority of the football contests would likely be held on campuses.

Both Scott and Delany said this was not the first step toward any kind of real merger between the leagues. And Delany said don't look for similar collaborations between the Big Ten and other conferences.

"We have a common DNA but a tremendous recognition that 90 percent, 80 percent of what we do is in our region," he said. "Those who think regional rivalries and local rivalries don't mean anything any more, I think that's erroneous. It's wonderful if you can have that and this. Our goal is to build something new here on a very strong foundation of history."

Big Ten-Pac-12 will team up and compete

December, 28, 2011
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Who needs to expand when you can collaborate? That's the message from the Big Ten and Pac-12 on Wednesday, one that should be greeted with applause from fans of both conferences.

A collaboration, in this case, means the Rose Bowl conferences will play each other annually, instead of just in the Rose Bowl and a couple of annual nonconference tilts.

The collaboration will get off the ground faster in basketball and Olympic sports, but by 2017 the conferences are expected to have a full, 12-game Pac-12/Big Ten football schedule in place. Yes, every Pac-12 team will play a Big Ten team on an annual basis.

What does this mean for you?

Well, it means Michigan-USC and Oregon-Ohio State: Marquee games that will move the buzz needle nationally. But it also means teams with smaller stadiums -- Utah, Washington State, Oregon State, etc. -- are going to get quality games annually that put them in the spotlight.

From the news release:
In football, the objective is to create an annual 12 inter-conference game schedule between the two conferences by the 2017 season. The plan calls for each school to play an opponent from the other conference every year with some flexibility built into the process to respect existing post-2017 FBS non- conference match-ups. Additionally, more inter-conference games are expected to appear sooner based on schedule openings. Many sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, could see an increased level of inter-conference competition in the near term, possibly as early as the 2012-13 academic year. Over the coming months there will be a series of detailed scheduling planning meetings among administrators of both conferences to work out exact details.


“As other conferences continue to grow through expansion, we believe there is great merit in deepening the historic relationship between the Big Ten and Pac-12,” Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany said in a statement. “We believe that both conferences can preserve that sense of collegiality and still grow nationally by leveraging our commonalities in a way that benefits student-athletes, fans and alumni. This collaboration can and will touch many institutional undertakings, and will complement our academic and athletic missions.”

ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski writes:
It isn't a merger, but the cleverly constructed "collaborative effort'' (as the official press release describes it) provides the Pac-12 and the Big Ten with some of the benefits of expansion without the mess of exit fees, litigation and the loss of historical rivalries. And from a strategic standpoint, the arrangement could broaden the geographical, television and brand reach of both conferences.


Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told Wojciechowsk this collaboration puts the breaks on expansion.

"We've obviously explored the possibility of going beyond 12 [teams],'' Scott said. "I've been a believer, philosophically, of that if it made sense. Now I don't see us expanding anytime in the foreseeable future. A lot of what we can do through collaborating with the Big Ten will help us accomplish some of the same things.''

What sorts of things?

For one, it's about good games that generate buzz, which means more revenue. It also means high-quality content for broadcast partners ESPN and Fox as well as the Big Ten and Pac-12 Networks. For athletic directors, their job of scheduling three nonconference games a year just got easier. It also should benefit recruiting in terms of exposure in big markets.

Yes, the Big Ten knows playing regular games in California could help it, and probably more than the Pac-12 playing in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Still, the bottom line is this was some forward-thinking that has the potential to benefit everyone while preserving two conferences that value tradition.

And, best of all, it should produce some really great games.

Press coverage: The nation's No. 2 league?

November, 17, 2010
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The SEC is king in college football after producing each of the last four national champions. That won't change until a team from another league hoists the crystal football.

But the SEC has a reason to look over its shoulder this season. Several of them, in fact. The Big 12, Pac-10 and Big Ten are trying to catch the SEC, and all three leagues can make cases for being the nation's No. 2 conference right now. According to the ESPN Stats & Info conference power rankings, the Big 12 is No. 2, followed by the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.

Which conference is right behind the SEC?

Bloggers David Ubben (Big 12), Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) weigh in.

Adam Rittenberg: What the Big Ten lacks -- an undefeated team -- it more than makes up for with incredible depth. The league boasts three 1-loss teams in Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, all of which could finish 11-1. It also boasts a veteran Iowa team that no one wants to face in a bowl, in addition to decent squads like Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan. Even Illinois has made some major strides from 2009.

[+] EnlargeIowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe Big Ten boasts some great talent at quarterback, including Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who ranks third in the nation.
This is the deepest the Big Ten has been since 2006, when it entered late November with the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 team and three teams -- Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin -- ranked in the top 7 of the final BCS standings. The Big Ten's rise also has occurred while Michigan rebuilds. The league also has significantly upgraded its quarterback play, boasting five of the nation's top 15 rated passers. Although the Big Ten's nonconference performance was just so-so, competition within the league seems to be largely undervalued by those evil BCS computers. A top-tier SEC or Big 12 program seems to get much more credit for beating a mid-level team in its league than Wisconsin gets for beating Iowa on the road or Michigan State gets for beating Northwestern on the road. The human voters see the Big Ten in a different light.

The Big Ten finished the 2009-10 bowl season as the nation's No. 2 conference, recording four victories against top 15 opponents.

Nothing has changed to move the Big Ten off of the second line.

David Ubben: Hey, I get it. In college football, a conference is only as strong as its strongest link. That's how the expression goes, right? Gimme a break.

The Big 12 has landed a team in the title game in each of the past two seasons. Despite being on the outside looking in on this year's chase, the league still has five teams in the top 20, and earlier this year, nine teams were in the poll or receiving votes. All that should be even more impressive considering the league's glamour program, Texas, at 4-6, is having a "down year" that is insulting to down years. Nine consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins for the Longhorns has come to a rather spectacularly bad end.

But otherwise, strength is everywhere. Baylor is having one of the program's best years and should be just as good in 2011. Missouri, had they not tripped up at Texas Tech, could be in the top 10. Oklahoma State has emerged as the league's surprise top 10 team and Nebraska is proving everybody wrong who thought they were overrated in the preseason. Texas A&M struggled early, but has won four Big 12 games in a row to reach the top 20. All in a down year for the two programs who have ruled the conference, Oklahoma and Texas.

Outside of Colorado, which is leaving anyway, and rebuilding Kansas, every team in the league is proving to be, at the very least, capable. Iowa State, despite playing the toughest schedule in college football, still has a chance to qualify for a bowl, and if Texas does the same by beating rival Texas A&M, the league could have 10 bowl-eligible teams.

So maybe the Big 12 doesn't have a team vying for the crystal football this year, but it has a whole lot of really good teams, and a handful of others who are proving there's no such thing as an easy week in the Big 12.

Ted Miller: Over at the Pac-10, we're grinning. We're about to point out the Pac-10 plays a nine-game conference schedule, which automatically adds five losses to the conference, which, of course, hurts the conference's national perception, not to mention its number of bowl-eligible teams. Every other BCS conference plays eight, other than the eight-team Big East. But that’s not why we're grinning. We're grinning because the Big Ten and the Big 12 will do that soon, and then they'll find out the perception consequence of not giving your entire conference an extra win with a nonconference patsy. Of course, the savvy SEC will continue to play eight conference games, schedule weak nonconference opponents and then trumpet itself as super-awesome.

Why is the Pac-10 No. 2? Well, it's got the nation's No. 1 team in Oregon. It's got the nation's No. 6 team in Stanford, which many believe to be the nation's best one-loss team. And four of 10 teams are ranked. Are Iowa and Wisconsin good teams? Absolutely. But Iowa lost to Arizona, which has three Pac-10 defeats, and Wisconsin got a fluky one-point win at home over Arizona State, which is 2-5 in the Pac-10. The Pac-10 is 10-4 overall vs. other BCS conferences. It's ranked No. 1 by the Sagarin ratings, which for some reason don't believe stadium size is a true measure of a team or a conference. Even lowly Washington State is no longer the pushover it was the previous two seasons.

Depth? Let's put it this way: The Pac-10 would love to match the team that ends up second to last in its conference versus the one that ends up in that spot anywhere else.

Rittenberg: Three strong cases for the No. 2 spot. But are any of these leagues closing the gap with the SEC?

Ubben: I guess we'll find out come bowl season, but I don't know that anybody in the Big 12 is in position for a run like the SEC's enjoyed in the latter half of the last decade.

Oklahoma and Texas will be Oklahoma and Texas, but the strength of the Big 12 has been a rising middle class with teams like Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M and maybe Baylor and Texas Tech positioning themselves to become mainstays in the top 25 during the next couple years or beyond.

That's good for the computer ratings, but not good for a league trying to field a national champion. And for better or worse, a league's ultimate identity boils down to its best team or two. Thanks to that rising middle class, getting inside the top five and staying there could be harder than ever in the next few years.

[+] EnlargeOregon quarterback Darron Thomas
AP Photo/Paul SakumaThe SEC might be the top rated conference, but the Pac-10's Darren Thomas leads the nation's No. 1 team in Oregon.
Miller: Are we talking reality or perception? Because the SEC's ostensible superiority is largely about perception -- i.e., fan passion equals great football. The Pac-10 has a winning record vs. the SEC over the past decade, and the Big Ten has done just fine vs. the SEC in the Capital One and Outback Bowls. The SEC is probably No. 1, but the margin is thin, and the conference refuses to prove its superiority during the regular season by consistently scheduling tough nonconference games.

When USC ruled the Pac-10 from 2002-2008, folks called the conference the Trojans and the nine dwarfs. Now that USC has fallen, Oregon has risen, and teams such as Stanford and Arizona also have made moves. But USC will be back. That's just inevitable. And if Utah continues to play at a high level after it joins the Pac-12, you could make the case that the Pac-10 should start to produce multiple top-10 teams and five or six top-25 teams annually, which would put it on par with the SEC.

And, honestly, with resurgent Nebraska joining the Big Ten, I'm not sure we won't have a new No. 1 conference in 2011 anyway.

Rittenberg: Well, Ted made most of my points for me. I'll be sending a gift basket to Scottsdale.

The Big Ten certainly has matched up well with the SEC in the Capital One and Outback bowls, and the addition of Nebraska next fall truly enhances the league's clout. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany often points out the only way his league truly regains national respect is by beating the best from another conference at the championship level. The Big Ten still gets bashed for Ohio State's stumbles against the SEC in the BCS title game, and barring a wild final three weeks, a Big Ten squad won't be facing Auburn on Jan. 10 in Glendale. So the Big Ten must wait for that true statement game.

When I look at these two leagues from top to bottom, I don't see much difference. The Big Ten has continued to build off of its strong finish to 2009, while the SEC seems to have backslid. All you need to do is look at the SEC East division. Could Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State beat Auburn or LSU? It's possible, but I really think the entire league matches up better now with what the SEC is offering.

Like Ted writes, it's all about perception. Until a team from another league beats the SEC at the highest level, the SEC will keep living off of its incredible run.

But the Big Ten is catching up.

The great expansion hullabaloo

June, 4, 2010
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Here's the headline from last year's Pac-10 meetings: "Cost Containment Proposals Highlight Pac-10 Meetings."

Things are a bit more interesting this year.

A report that the Pac-10 is now looking to expand to 16 teams, with the new six all coming from the Big 12 -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado -- sent shockwaves through college football on Thursday.

The Pac-10, according to the reports, would then split into two divisions, with Arizona and Arizona State joining the Big 12 six and the old Pac-8 forming the other division.

(One of my first thoughts was I know two guys who hate the idea: The Stoops brothers, Oklahoma's Bob and Arizona's Mike, who would suddenly be playing not only in the same conference but also in the same division, which means playing every year. Mike Stoops has repeatedly told me he has no interest in playing a game against brother Bob.)

Two immediate questions arise: 1. Is this about to happen? 2. And if it is not imminent, is this still the most likely endgame?

I do not know the answer to either, but my feeling is: 1. No; 2. I'm not sold. Yet.

Before all of this hullabaloo started, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott told me that nothing of significant news value would happen this weekend. Yes, he said, expansion was on the agenda and a variety of scenarios would be discussed. Yes, he said, the conference is looking into creating its own network but that can't come into fruition until it first negotiates with its present contracted broadcast partners.

In a lighter moment, he told me he didn't want me to end up like other reporters who wrote about imminent blockbuster expansion scenarios that turned out to not be that imminent after all.

After all of this hullabaloo started, Scott still told other reporters the exact same thing: No invitations have been extended. Nothing has been decided.

Is the "Pac-16" a possibility? Absolutely. Will that scenario be discussed this weekend during the Pac-10 meetings in San Francisco? Without a doubt. And it already has been discussed, according to a source. But so have other scenarios.

Expect expansion to play out over the next few months like a coaching search. Conference presidents and commissioners are working behind the scenes, looking for tango partners. They also are aware of how the media works, so there will be a considerable effort to create plausible deniability. Such as:

Reporter: Has Conference X contacted University of Z?

Commissioner: No.

But, of course, there has been some contact through some sort of back channels using representatives with some sort of authority to represent their organization.

Consider this interesting story on the Big Ten side of things from the Columbus Dispatch. If the Pac-10 has "contacted" Texas -- despite denials -- well, it's not alone. From the Dispatch: "Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee sent an e-mail to Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on April 20 saying that he had spoken with Texas President William Powers."

You can read Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg's amusing explication of the story and the e-mails here, but know that the Big Ten's Jim Delany has maintained -- much like Scott -- that the conference hasn't made official contact with any other university.

What should you take away from all this as of Friday, June 4?

Know how Scott has repeatedly said -- to me at least 20 times -- that everything is on the table.

It is. And the endgame options range from no change (still not completely unrealistic) to huge change (more realistic now than it was 24 hours ago).

And now, our expansion links!

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