Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott today announced the decisions reached or confirmed (based on recommendations by the athletic directors) unanimously by the university chancellors and presidents in this week's meetings.
Football Divisional Alignment
The conference will use a North-South alignment, with California and Stanford joining the Washington and Oregon schools in the North, and USC & UCLA will be in the South, along with the Arizona schools, and newcomers Utah and Colorado.
And the divisions will be called "North" and "South", for simplicity sake, which Scott admitted was for marketing purposes toward both the casual fan, and new fans, nationally and internationally.
A 9 conference game schedule remains, with the NCAA mandated full round robin within each division. This eliminated the possibility of the pod system. The various confusing zipper models were also discussed at some length, but really never were a viable alternative, as each problem solved creates another.
All the California schools will continue to play each other every year, which means the northwest schools and the Arizona and new teams will see more of each other than the California schools from the opposite division.
For example, Oregon St. will only see UCLA and USC once in two years, and play in LA only every other year, while seeing, for example, Arizona and Arizona St. twice each in three years.
The exact schedule won't be released for 30-25 days, as the logistics of who plays where in any given year are still being worked out.
There has been a lot of consternation by some in the northwest about the sacrifice of not getting to play in LA every year as they have, but it's notable that throughout history, a guaranteed trip to LA has only recently existed, since the conference went to a 9 game league schedule. Since expansion to 10 teams, the majority of history had occasional gaps in the schedule.
USC probably won't mind making only half as many trips north, given they have lost on their last two trips to both Reser and Autzen, as well as their last trip to Husky Stadium.
In a way, pod scheduling was somewhat retained, as all the northwest rivalries were maintained, just as all the California rivalries were.
Conference Football Championship Game
At least initially, the conference championship game will be at the higher positioned divisional winner (overall conference standing, and then tiebreakers, with head-to-head the first tiebreaker if applicable). The logistics of a neutral site game will take a little time to work out, and this assures a full stadium.
This may or may not be a temporary situation. The issue of travel on short notice for a large, far-flung geographic fan base will always be a challenge, regardless of where the game is played. Weather is also a factor, and Scott acknowledged that, noting the Pac-12 is modeling this after the NFL model, where the home field is a reward. Scott also noted the presidents and chancellors are interested in the college atmosphere that a neutral site would not bring.
Licensing rights for the 2011 game will be handled as a one-off, and then become a part of the new media agreements.
This was the crucial issue, which was required in order to get agreement on essentially everything else.
Currently, first and second tier television money is distributed primarily to the schools on the broadcast, with a lesser amount distributed equally to the rest of the schools, as bowl profits, basketball television revenue, and third tier television money already is.
This money will be distributed equally to all conference members, starting with the 2012-13 school year, when new media contracts begin, with the provision that an extra $2 million apiece will be distributed to USC & UCLA in any year the threshold of $170 million (including bowl revenue) is not reached. This will probably be met by the packages negotiated that take affect in 2012. Larry Scott set a threshold he anticipates being able to exceed significantly in the new negotiations.
This means that while the other 10 schools will not receive $400,000 they might otherwise have, they will still see an increase in 2011, when the conference championship game kicks in, and more the following year.
Utah has a phase-in over 3 years, where they get only a half share, then three-quarters, in their first two seasons.
It's a step on the road in the right direction, and while its also a one-time short step, its part of the price that has to be paid for staying more than a decade too long in Tom Hansen's alternate universe.
Interestingly, the issue seems to be least concerning to the programs actually seeing the greatest relative impact, USC, UCLA, and Cal, based on the degree of discussion (and hand wringing) it has generated, while those who will see the biggest gains are seemingly concerned the most about just how much things will improve.
There will be no divisions for anything but football. Basketball will still be an 18 game schedule, with everyone invited to the post-season tournaments. Teams will play a home and home against their natural rivals every year, and play 2 games against 6 other teams, and a single game against the other 4, on a rotational basis, over a 10 year cycle.
The "California guarantee" does not extend outside of football. Mens and womens schedules would continue to mirror each other to avoid venue scheduling problems. This has worked well historically.
The site of the basketball tournaments are currently at the discretion of the Fox Sports Network, and they will both continue in LA for the next two years.
Volleyball will expand their schedule, keeping a double round robin, with an extra week, and some in-week dates for rivalry (short travel) games.
Baseball is really not impacted, as Utah will just assume Cal's spot in the existing format, since the Bears are dropping baseball, and Colorado doesn't field a team. Softball will gain a bye week, since Colorado doesn't field a softball team either, and add one week, plus an in-week series.
The possibility of additional post season tournaments, such as one for baseball, is being looked at, partially in conjunction with future media contracts, according to Scott.
How a Pac-12 network would fit into the new media landscape remains to be seen, as Scott noted that even when new negotiations begin, the conference is still obligated to first negotiate with their existing media contract partners.