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The Pac-12? It Could Happen

Cougars, Utes, Broncos or Aztecs Oh My!

By Lance Epstein

TUCSON, Ariz.—First year PAC-10 commissioner Larry Scotts has thoughts of a Pac-12 and a PAC-12 Football Conference Championship game as earlier as the 2012-13 season.

On Tuesday, Scott addressed the media through a conference call and introduced Kevin Weiberg, former Big 12 commissioner, as his deputy commissioner and chief operating officer effective April 12. However, the addition of Weiberg took a back seat when Scott announced the Pac-10 might soon become the Pac-12.

"It really is over the next six to 12 months that we'll start having serious analysis and serious conversations," Scott said.

With the Pac-10 in negotiations for a new television deal (currently deal ends at the end of the 2011-12 academic calendar), Scott has inquired about acquiring two more teams. In addition, a Pac-10 network in order to create more revenue and spectators. Scott is confident this plan will enable the Pac-10 to keep up with the major BCS Conferences, particularly the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Big Ten.

“To me, the logic if the Pac-10 is going to think about expanding, now is our window,” Scott said. “The reason being if you’re going to consider a reconstruction of the conference, there’s a value proposition associated with that. Given that we’re about to have negotiations regarding our media rights, it makes sense that if you’re going to do it, to do it when you can monetize it and get value from it commercially.”

Currently the potential suitors that will join the Pac-10 conference have not been decided. One reason for expansion is to bring in more revenue for the conference, since other BCS conferences have been whispering about expansion. The Big Ten has asserted that the conference would likely add a 12th team within the next year and a half (have been in major discussions for the University of Texas…would be absolutely jaw dropping to see the Longhorns leave the Big 12).

In order for the Pac-10 to compete with the Big Ten, SEC and Big East, the conference requires an increase spotlight, publicity that will result in additional income. Since Pac-10 teams are located in the West Region of the country their basketball and sometimes even football games begin as the East coast is in asleep.

An intriguing plan to secure more east coast viewers and the media’s attention is to establish a Pac-10 network. Weiberg has constructed a big-time network, considering he assisted in building the Big Ten Network. He succeeded first-hand in making the Big Ten Network grow from 17 million homes in its inauguration to 75 million homes within its first year of existence.

“Clearly for a network to be successful, you want it to be distributed as broadly as possible not only in the region but hopefully to have distribution that is national in scope,” Weiberg said. “One has to think carefully about how to achieve that. It’s fundamental to the economic success of such a network.”

Even with a network up and running, the conference has been in a downward spiral. In football, the Pac-10’s perennial powerhouse, University of Southern California (USC), experienced its first non-BCS season since Pete Carroll first season as head coach. Speaking of Carroll, he left the Trojans program for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

For the last decade, the only team in the Pac-10 to be mentioned year after year in the National Title discussion has been the Trojans. Losing Carroll will set back the USC program, but also the revenue extra money his team consistently fetched for the conference.

Without Carroll, it is unknown whether Lane Kiffin can continue the legacy that Carroll established. More worrisome, is there does not appear to be any Pac-10 team like that on the horizon.

Besides the gridiron, the Pac-10 is also struggling in basketball as well. In a conference known for UCLA’s years of dominance, the Pac-10 has not had a National Champion since 1997 (Arizona). Even more shocking is the conference has not seen a team play in the National Championship game since Arizona’s 2001 loss to Duke in Minneapolis.

In recent history (particularly the past two seasons), the conference has not produced a genuine title contender. After three consecutive final four appearances, UCLA’s exodus of players leaving early for the NBA draft (Russell, Westbrook, Kevin Love, Jrue Holliday, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Jordan Farmar) and their experienced veterans such as Darren Collison and Aaron Afflalo graduating, have left the Bruins exiting early in the tourney and possibly a NIT berth this year.

The once dominant Arizona Wildcats, the conferences most consistent team over the last 25 years, has struggled as well. Lute Olson, the face of Arizona basketball has retired. Olson might have been the most recognizable icon besides John Wooden over the last 40 years for the conference.

Arizona troubles have been publicized as they have gone through four different coaches in the last four years. In the previous two years, they have squarely been on the NCAA tourney bubble (some analyst believe the Cats didn’t deserve the at-large bid the last two years). Their streak of 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances appears to be coming to an end this season, barring a miraculous run in the Pac-10 tournament.

Furthermore with UCLA and Arizona faltering, this season the Pac-10 conference, according to most experts, will only receive one bid to the NCAA Tournament that being the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.

The addition of two new teams may perhaps give the Pac-10 an extra NCAA tournament bid. Possibly even give a chance for a Utah team to finally compete and play in a National Championship game. Ultimately and hopefully, this will lead to additional profits for the conference.

It is not premature to speculate, which teams will merge into the conference. Some of the teams rumored to be in the expansion include San Diego State, Brigham Young University (BYU), Utah, Boise State and the Big 12’s Colorado.

The best bet for the Pac-10 in football would be to take Utah and Boise State. Over the last couple of seasons, Boise State has been one of the premiere teams in college football. If Carroll’s Trojans did not rule the West as they have over the last decade, a strong argument could be made for the Broncos being the preeminent team out west.

As for Utah, the program is just a year removed from upsetting third ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Additionally, Utah has played in two BCS games in the past six years (played in bowl games in 6 straight seasons). Only USC, Texas, Oklahoma Ohio State, Florida and Virginia Tech have been to more during that span.

Along with adding these two teams, the Pac-10 would be eligible to have a conference championship game. Only conferences with 12 or more teams are entitled for a championship game by NCAA sanctions. This game would be an extra primetime game, meaning an increase of money in the pockets of the Pac-10.

However, a team like BYU would make much more sense. BYU has a large fan base, travels well, which means more capital spent on merchandise. Also, their athletic program as a whole has been considerably more productive than Boise State’s program.

My guess is the Pac-10 wishes, desires and wants to snatch Utah and BYU. The two colleges are extremely lucrative in merchandise sales and all around competitiveness in both basketball and football.

Despite the fact that some fans despise the integration of two new programs because it ruins rivalries and history of the Pac-10, but the change can benefit the conference. The fans felt similar in 1978 when the conference allowed Arizona and Arizona State to join.

Without Arizona’s run of excellence in softball, swimming, baseball and the basketball team’s 25-year streak in NCAA Tournament, what kind of history would the conference have? If Arizona State didn’t become a member, the Pac-10 wouldn’t have American hero Pat Tillman, MLB’s all-time homerun king Barry Bonds, Mr. October Reggie Jackson or the PGA’s famous lefty, Phil Mickelson.

The Pac-10 gains the potential to create new rivalries and recapture an audience that has been lacking as well.

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