Having just added Colorado and Utah, Pac-12 wasn't ready to take on Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Some years ago, researching football attendance numbers in the Pac-10, I chanced upon a trend: A lot of schools were drawing fewer people when they played Arizona and Arizona State, years after the league expanded in 1978.
It led me to this thesis: Fans had trouble wrapping their arms around the desert schools like they did Stanford, Oregon or UCLA. Deep within, there was something recognizable, identifiable, with the old rivals.
How do you think it might have been had the league included Oklahoma State or Texas Tech?
Accuse me of being shortsighted, old-fashioned or thickheaded, but I think commissioner Larry Scott and the Pac-12 presidents did the right thing this week when they balked at expansion to 14 or 16 programs.
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In the end, the weight of it all was just too much. Chiefly, there was Texas and its me-first posture about the Longhorn Network. There were presidential concerns about diluting what they perceive (rightly or wrongly) as superior academics in the Pac-12.
And there was simply the hellbent pace of realignment lately. At some point, the presidents had to ask themselves: Do we need to be a part of this?
In the end, I’m told there wasn’t even a vote. Scott, seeing Texas’ intransigence on its network issue, didn’t press the matter with the presidents. If he had, they might have come to a completely different conclusion. But even if Scott pushed, they might have pushed back.
(It’s worth interjecting that this action didn’t have an expiration date on it. If Texas feels increasingly desperate, for instance, the Pac-12 might be revisiting the matter in the not-too-distant future.)
Somebody close to the discussion told me the collegial nature of the Pac-12 had to do with the decision. Only the hallowed Ivy League was together longer than the 33 years of the Pac-10.
If you’re relatively tight — as tight as USC and Washington State can be, anyway — and you value tradition, you’re probably less likely to jeopardize it with a move made in haste.
“We all get along exceedingly well,” said the source. “Expanding at this point really doesn’t make any sense. Think of it as family. We just added Utah and Colorado, and we all don’t even know them yet. What sense does it make to add more?”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s willingness to work with the creaking Big 12 is likely tied to the Dear John from the Pac-12 (though there are claims back there it did all this for leverage). Had the Pac-12 been willing to caulk the Oklahomas onto the conference and go to 14, it could have put the league in position to go to 16 by annexing, say, the Kansas schools at some point.
Was the Oklahoma football brand, without Texas, enough to make an expansion to 14 financially worthwhile?
“My opinion is no,” says Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson. “Texas is what moves the financial number.”
Rather, the case for expansion was tied up in how the college landscape might look in the next round or two of TV negotiations, up into 2020. If other conferences are at 16, went the argument, could the Pac-12 afford to lag behind with no viable candidates for expansion?
I struggle with that scenario. First, it assumes the college world is going to be flooded by peace and harmony in 10 years, that everybody’s going to be content being in a 16-team league.
I doubt it.
Second, by about 2015, Washington should be making $35 million annually on television. In the school year 2010-11, it made $6.215 million. Is this gusher going to run that dry?
Remember, this is a Pac-12 including USC and UCLA, in the second-largest market in the country; Oregon, with the premier facilities on the West Coast; Washington and California, both doing massive renovations that should aid competitiveness; and Stanford, which has lately proven it’s capable of winning a national title in football.
And this league is suddenly going to have the cachet of the Sun Belt Conference?
I don’t think so. Fortunately, neither did the Pac-12.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org