Both Washington State's Bill Moos and Washington's Scott Woodward believe a massive expansion of the Pac-10 Conference would be a positive development for both schools.
If you’ve found the last few days of college-sports news dizzying, imagine what it has been like for Bill Moos. As recently as early spring, the Washington State University athletic director was retired on his ranch outside Spokane.
“Hey,” he said in response to a question about college-conference realignment. “You’ve got to remember, I was herding cattle three months ago.”
But the blinding speed at which the collegiate map is changing requires that administrators and fans be a quick study. Both Moos and Washington athletic director Scott Woodward are convinced a massive expansion of the Pac-10 Conference — by as early as Tuesday, it may grow by six programs — will be a positive development for both schools. Some estimates have a school in the Pac-16 earning an additional $20 million annually in TV revenue.
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“I accept it as, you’re running with the big dogs now,” says Woodward. “Competition gets harder and harder, but it makes you better and better.
“The thing I fear most is the status quo. Status quo, in the long term, will kill us.”
It doesn’t appear status quo will be a consideration anytime soon for the Pac-10. Thursday, it added Colorado of the Big 12, and the league appears poised to make offers early in the week to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. If A&M balks and consummates its interest in the Southeastern Conference, the Pac-10 likely would turn to a program like Utah for a 16th school.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe made a plea Friday for solidarity in his wounded conference. A migration to the Pac-10 could fall through at the eleventh hour, but it appears a near-certainty the league will grow to at least 12 teams for the 2012 football season.
“To tell you the truth, from a Washington State perspective, I went into this thing a little skeptical,” says Moos, who spent 12 years as athletic director at Oregon. “As I come away from it, I’m here to tell you, I think bigger is better for Washington State.”
Moos likes the fact that a 16-team Pac-10 likely would set up an eight-team division with the old Pac-8 members — USC, UCLA, Stanford, California, plus the Oregon and Washington schools — with most competition between division members. And he and Woodward each would embrace the revenue projected from new television contracts — more than double what the Pac-10 members now realize.
A spokeswoman in the UW business office says that in 2008-09, athletic-department revenues were $68.7 million, and the third-highest source of revenue — at about $10 million — was Pac-10 and NCAA money, including an NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance and bowl shares.
If $20 million is a possibility from television, not counting potential revenue from a conference-championship football game, it isn’t hard to understand the optimism of Woodward and Moos.
Seeds of a shake-up
The great realignment game developed mostly from two forces: For years, the Big Ten tried to entice monolithic Notre Dame into membership, and the league announced six months ago it was exploring expansion.
Second, new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott had a mandate from league presidents to seek out new revenue for an undervalued conference. Expansion became a possible means to that end. In February, Scott acknowledged adding programs was an option.
How, then, might the UW and WSU be affected competitively?
It would be more difficult to win a Pac-10 championship in any sport. But, with reconfigured conferences, there has been talk of seeking two Bowl Championship Series football bids for the Pac-10. Capturing a division title might accomplish that.
The recruiting impact is hard to judge. It’s unlikely either Washington school would try to recruit players from Texas on a wholesale basis, but it might do it selectively. On the other hand, Texas and Oklahoma could push for recruits in Washington, as well as mount a more intense effort in California.
Says Woodward, “Our tried-and-true method of recruiting is performing solidly in the Northwest and going into California, and as (football coach Steve Sarkisian) has done, re-establishing the Polynesian markets in Hawaii and Samoa.”
There would be multiple scheduling options in a 16-team league, but in general, most envision an emphasis on divisional play. For instance, in football, it’s likely Washington would play its other seven division members annually, and two from the other division. That means it’s possible, for instance, that UW fans could go as many as seven or eight years into the new format without seeing Texas at Husky Stadium.
“It’s more difficult on the football side than in basketball,” says Karl Benson, commissioner of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), which had 16 teams in the late 1990s.
In basketball, a school could play home-and-away series annually with the other seven in its division, and schedule perhaps four games against schools from the other division.
But there are other options. The WAC went to a “quad” system of four sets of four teams for scheduling purposes. In that format, the four Northwest schools could form one quad, playing home-and-away series, then meeting the other 12 teams once per season.
The Big East Conference has proved anything is possible. In that 16-team basketball league, each program meets the others at least once. But the league office adds three more games arbitrarily based on television desires, traditional rivalries and even projections of how the league shapes up competitively.
The Pac-10 has stayed intact since the Arizona schools were added in 1978. Now it may grow dramatically, bringing new challenges as well as untapped revenue.
“I think the most important thing I learned during the brief time we were 16 teams was, it’s hard to keep 10 or 12 schools happy, let alone 16,” says the WAC’s Benson. “There are trade-offs that have to be made. If there isn’t total commitment by your membership, the more numbers just exacerbate the dynamics and make it harder to, quote-unquote, get along as a family.”
The Pac-10 appears ready to try to prove it can be done.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org