Divisional Alignment Talk Will Take A While

The Pac-12 (who is Conference Commissioner Larry Scott kidding by putting off the math correction?) won't settle the increasingly contentious issue of divisional alignment, at least publicly, in the next month, according to Scott, who wants to slow things down, after the whirlwind that has been the last couple of weeks of expansion negotiations.

Scott said Thursday evening that no decision will be made on the divisions, the conference championship game or the number of conference games until after Pac-12 media day on July 29. Conference athletic directors and Scott will meet the following day, when they can try to hash out these issues with Scott with everyone in the same room, instead of causing a blackberry meltdown.

"I really want to slow things down now," Scott said. "There's no reason to rush."

Given Scott's track record, and the latitude he has been granted to use his own judgment in determining what is best for the conference, I tend to agree with ESPN Pac-12 beat writer Ted Miller, who said "A part of me wonders whether the issues ahead, divisions, a championship game, etc., have mostly been settled but Scott just wants more headlines over the coming weeks."

That's not the reality Oregon St.'s football brass, Coach Mike Riley and Athletic Directory Bob De Carolis, and some other northwest veterans are hoping for, though.

The issue, of course, is the prized trip to Los Angeles every football season that some covet, for exposure and recruiting reasons.

Washington St. Athletic Director Bill Moos, who also has a lot of years of experience in Eugene, and Washiington Athletic Director Scott Woodward are already talking about the issue as well. Husky coach Steve Sarkesian sees it as a big deal to have that LA connection.

And even Mike Parker, the Voice of the Beavers, has come out in support of the "zipper" concept, which will split up traditional rivals as far as divisional alignment goes, but protect the various rivalry battles. And potentially set up the possibility of a rematch of the Civil War, the Apple Cup, or more likely, the inter city street fight that is USC-UCLA, a week or two after what has been the biggest game of the year for the teams, in the conference championship game.

Anyone want to imagine the level of trash talking that could arise from that?!

Coach Riley raises an interesting consideration, harkening back to the days of the baseball Pac-10 Northern Division. If the Northern Division is comprised of the four northwest schools and the bay area schools, rightly or wrongly, will the division winner really be viewed as being on the same level as the southern division winner? It certainly didn't happen in baseball days, and respect didn't truly come north until Oregon St. proved they were worthy in Omaha.

The solution to that of course is to win the championship game.

And while the odds of one of Oregon, Oregon St., or Washington reaching the conference title game on a pretty regular basis, Riley also is concerned about whether any of the northwest schools will attract the key player or two that can make the difference once they get there.

The currently prevalent idea around the ten non-LA schools is that the promise of a trip to LA every year is critical to recruiting the LA area blue chip recruit, and that a visit from an LA program every year is critical to the home gate.

Only time will tell if that many recruits are really choosing a northwest school over USC and UCLA when they have a similar offer on the table from either or both LA schools if and only if they get to play a conference road game back in the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl.

Even with the "zipper" alignment, not everyone can have an LA trip every year though unless both UCLA and USC get 5 home Conference games every year exclusive of their rivalry game, giving them a competitive advantage over every other school in the conference. Oregon St. fans might want to remember how well that worked back in the day when USC demanded, and got, an arrangement where OSU visited USC three times for every trip the Trojans made to visit the Beavers.

Without the zipper, it is still possible to guarantee a game against an LA team every year, by separating USC and UCLA two out of three years in their games against opposite division teams. Any alignment that has balanced home and away games still means no trip to LA one year in three for someone.

There would also be a secondary problem in the northwest with the zipper. Would it be Oregon St., the closest team geographically to Washington, or Oregon, who loves to hate the Huskies, that gives up half their games against UW?

A possible scenario is Oregon gets to play the Huskies every year, and UCLA, while Oregon St. travels to Pullman in late November twice as often, and has to face USC annually (80 years of history says playing the Trojans a lot means losing a lot, and anyone who thinks their current troubles aren't temporary simply isn't being realistic), while the Ducks get to duck the Trojans half the time.

And before the Ducks start bashing the Beavers for complaining about that, consider that it could be the opposite, which Oregon fans won't like any more. That problem isn't in anyone's best interests long term.

There is also the myth that the visit from the LA school is somehow a gate bonanza. Reality is USC does NOT sell out Reser, Cal, Washington St., and Hawaii have all out-drawn USC in Corvallis in recent years, not to mention Washington.

There are similarly unacceptable scenarios for the bay area schools, the desert schools, and the Rocky Mountain newcomers that don't need to be broken down in detail to see the issue matters everywhere.

And the marketablility of the zipper format that no one will understand is zilch to the casual fan.

A much more sensible approach would be to rotate the LA schools between the divisions periodically, NOT annually, for football and basketball (which is where this really matters) only, spreading the impact across the conference over the long run.

The other issue is where to play the conference championship game, and again, there is an increasingly popular idea that the team with the best overall record should host the game.

Which is hard to imagine being seriously considered. Even Autzen stadium in December, never mind Martin stadium, isn't maximizing the value of what is supposed to be a national showcase event for the conference. And that would have been the case multiple times in recent years, despite the USC run of dominance.

Scott's prolonging the process may not really lead to these problems taking their worst form, but the back-room politics could unnecessarily aggravate what are unavoidable costs of doing better business. Those that think it can't get that ugly ignore history, both recent, in the beleaguered BIG XII - II, and locally, historically. North vs. South squabbling and large market vs. small market bickering is what tore apart the Pacific Coast Conference, and it took a lot of lost opportunities before that setback was overcome.

It would be a shame if the golden egg of championship game and tv money somehow gets scrambled over an ill-conceived desire to bang heads with USC.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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