With Utah In, It's Time to Look Back, and Ahead

The "no-brainer" of the day was Utah's Board of Regents approving their move into the Pac-(now)12, and very likely, the Southern Division. Which makes Texas speculation and the makeup of that Southern Division the remaining hot topics across the conference.

Should Anyone Hate Texas?

The possibility that Texas was running a ruse all along when the possibility of a Pac-16, and the big payoff the west coast teams could realize is a theory that seems to have a lot of followers. And has upset many of them.

Realistically, Texas surely had hopes of something similar to what played out in mind, but that doesn't mean they weren't seriously considering the Pac-16 as well. That just didn't turn out to be their best option. Texas isn't the most productive sports marketing program at the college level just because Texas is big, though that's an advantage they wisely leverage.

No, the Longhorns are run by smart people who knew they were operating from a position of power. They still couldn't be positive of how everyone else would react, but they had options, and they knew it. Sure, they had scenarios they were expecting, and ones they were somewhat realistically hoping for, but Texas essentially conducted an RFP process, and selected the one that was best for them at this point in time. (More on that later.)

12 Vs. 16?

The 12 team format we wound up with represents the best reasonable solution available at this time. And it strikes a balance between mass expansion and the traditionalists, which, since they also happen to include a number of top contributors to the various programs, shouldn't be totally ignored.

While not huge, the Denver and Salt Lake markets are a significant addition, and they are growing. Many of the top markets really aren't.

Certainly, this is worth less than the 16 team model, but there are fewer mouths to feed as well, and it's obvious that the 16 team model is worth more because of Texas (the University, not the state). But while the Longhorns have a great library, the books they have don't include the word equal.

Like many, I'm convinced that long term, Texas would be a problem from the point of view of most of the Pac. They would try to take over, and probably succeed. If they didn't, they would eventually jump ship. Starting the Longhorn Network is intended to be a money maker, but it is also a move to make them capable of going independent, or to any other conference, at their option. It will take a little time to work out the details, and the Longhorns know that too.

The Big XII - II is a stop along the way, on the road to one of several other possibilities, involving possibly the Big 10-12, maybe the SEC, or maybe something else. Again, Texas is getting ready to entertain offers, and pick the best one.

Being at 12 with these specific additions of Colorado and Utah also positions the Pac-12 conference well for the next realignment cycle down the road. The Big XII-II is probably headed for another serious problem in another contract cycle or two, with possibly valuable fallout to others. The reason Nebraska and Colorado bolted has only been exacerbated, but no one left had the options the Cornhuskers and the Buffs had. Expect Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and especially Kansas, who found out being a basketball powerhouse was meaningless, to all go to work on honing their game in the conference room.

The Big 10/12 still has Notre Dame as a target, but how successful they will be at end-running the Irish via the Big East still remains to be seen.

There will be further changes coming. The fallout is unpredictable at this point, but there will be opportunities that arise.

And looking down the road, despite some of the obvious issues beat to death about facilities, academics, and politics, long term, the Mt. West Conference schools and markets, and even Fresno St. and Nevada, are potentially viable future considerations.

The Pac-12 will be agile enough to still go in a lot of different directions, depending on what happens. Knowing that more high stakes moves are coming, that agility is a vital characteristic to maintain.

Accomplishments

The addition of the football conference championship game is the crucial accomplishment this time around, along with staying well positioned for the short and long term future.

The next one will be adding at least one, preferably two, bowl tie-ins, though that second one may take a while, and maybe some creativity. Larry Scott and the consultants he hires were put in place to be creative, though, so that should be just a matter of him doing his job, rather than something that should prove to be a big problem.

Alignment Issues

The key to the divisional alignment fuss, which may be already settled anyway, but could still be a sore spot (we all should learn from the BIG TEX conference that grudges are not good), is to play 9 conference games, not 8.

That allows everyone in the opposite division from the LA schools, which it now appears will be the bay area and northwest schools, two trips to LA, and two visits from LA, every three years, which will come much closer to satisfying everyone than two trips and two visits in four years, when combined with the conference championship game's exposure, and payoff.

No one is going to be happy with any arrangement, because the football season isn't long enough for everyone to have full access to LA. So it is about softening that perceived blow.

It is also important to understand the difference between the culture of football in the other big divisional conferences and the Pac-12 when evaluating the issue of 9 games vs. 8.

In the SEC, there are ample local pushovers to fill four non-conference schedules with three home games and a road trip blockbuster, AND Florida, LSU, Alabama, etc. will still sell out if they schedule a Division II opponent. Only Oregon and maybe Washington if they get rolling again, consistently approach a sell out.

For many of the Pac-12, four non-conference games will often mean two road games, and it is already a problem to fill three games. Witness ASU this year.

That ninth Pac-12 game will be the most valuable property that can be delivered to Pullman, Corvallis, Palo Alto, Tucson, and probably Salt Lake and Boulder, especially in years they do not have a divisional championship contender. Probably even Berkeley and Westwood.

The zipper approach has some proponents among some football fans, but could be a colossal mistake, marketing wise. It would confuse and aggravate the marginal and distant fan, which are the ones the conference is trying to attract. Because these are the swing viewers. There is no need to hold onto those of us that are deeply dedicated to our teams and conference, we are watching anyway. And would be had Colorado ST. and Utah ST. been the teams added.

It's the fan that might watch the SEC, or the Big 10/12, or maybe not watch college football at all, that is the target, and the fan that will deliver the TV deal that will really pay the bills. The ACC hasn't found success in confusing their fan base. That lesson should be learned without that mistake being repeated.

Getting going in 2011 would be the right thing to do as well, EVEN if there are temporary complications with the existing TV contracts. It is important (read valuable) to get the fan base energized and keep them that way, again, for the less than 100% devoted fan, the ones we are trying to reach. Utah is already on track for that, per Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. Colorado faces a buyout, whereas the Mt. West has no such provision, but in the long run, it's in everyone's best interest to make the move happen.

Can Utah and Colorado Compete?

Sure they can. Utah has already proven they can, with their undefeated seasons, capped with BCS bowl wins, AND with other wins over BCS conference teams (remember Oregon St. in 2008?). Utah is 19-11 against BCS opponents in their last 20 meetings, 7-3 against the old Pac-10, and has won six straight bowl games, the longest streak in the country.

The argument has always been that the non-BCS conference teams would suffer when they have to face Pac-(now)12 opponents nearly every week. And that will bring the Utes down to earth. No one outside of USC's strong run has dominated long term for a very long time. But don't expect Utah to consistently fall to the cellar.

Recruiting of players and retention of assistants, as well as contribution dollars, will get both an immediate and a long term boost from just being in the Pac-12, which will partially offset the lack of depth that is really their perceived weakness. They might pick up some help from southern California, but the important thing is they won't lose as many of their top local prospects to the Pac-10 or the Big XII.

Colorado currently has more work to do, but are coming from experience in a BCS conference, and one with arguably a tougher ceiling to break through. And their California connection just got a big boost. Both athletically and in their general student population, California is where the Buffs get their out of state talent now. And the Buffs have won a National Title in the last 20 years. Escaping the shadows of Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma will help them more than the shadow that USC casts will challenge them.

It isn't about getting recruits away from USC and UCLA, it's about competing better against ASU, OSU, and Cal. And Boise St., for that matter.

Arizona is also close (within driving distance), and important, to both Utah and Colorado as well.

Which is another reason why the Utes and Buffs are headed for the sunny side of the Pac. A combination of wins and major market exposures cements those new markets, rather than just dabbling in them. And that's more worthwhile in TV contract negotiations than keeping the Pullman market happy!

NCAA football is after all, a sports business, not a sport.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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