What is the culture of the Pac-10? Define it.

Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott told reporters this week the league will explore expansion, and who are the candidates?

"Fundamentally, institutions would have to be a fit academically, culturally with the Pac-10," Scott said.

Locally, some wonder if this culture statement is some kind of code word meaning a religious school like BYU would not fit in a liberal-minded league. (See Brad Rock's column Friday).

I enlisted some help from some of the nation's top sports journalists to help define Pac-10 culture.

John Feinstein is a columnist for the Washington Post, The Sporting News and Golf Digest and bestselling author of "A Season on the Brink" and "A Good Walk Spoiled." He not only knows Pac-10 athletics but is an expert on the ACC and has known Scott for decades.

"The perception is the Pac-10 culture is the same as any conference where the first consideration for any team in expansion is how much money are they worth. That is the culture: How much money will they bring?" said Feinstein.

Is the Pac-10 so steeped in liberalism that it would keep out a conservative program like BYU?

"Maybe in the West it could be taken as being more liberal, but I'm liberal, and I don't even think in those terms," said Feinstein. "I've known Larry Scott a long time, and any time a commissioner starts talking about academics and culture, I start reaching for my wallet. It's always the bottom line. It's not just true of the Pac-10 and Larry Scott but every conference and commissioner.

"To me, there are only two reasons for the Pac-10 to expand, and that's to get Texas. Then, if they got Texas, they could take NYU if they wanted and make money, obviously. Or, if they feel adding two teams is worth adding the money for a conference championship in football. To me, the obvious twins would be BYU and Utah, if they could convince them.

"There is a lot of talk in the Big Ten of expansion, if you have to divide 12 instead of 10 with a championship, that's something the accountants would have to figure out," Feinstein continued. "I would have to see that, because the Pac-10 is the only one left of the big six conferences to have a true round robin in basketball. Without a round robin, the ACC is just awful; it isn't the same league."

Is "culture" a code word for anti-religion, a strike against Mormons?

"That's possible," said Feinstein. "Again, in college athletics, anybody fits if they're going to make you money. For example, in the ACC, Duke and North Carolina State couldn't be more different culturally and yet they are natural geographical rivals and have been in the same league forever. If you look at most conferences, you will find schools that are completely different than others. It's competition and how you match up. Northwestern doesn't fit culturally with anybody in the Big Ten, it's just kind of there, a fish out of water in that league for some time.

"You can go through every conference and wonder how schools mix. How they fit is on the court or football field. They're all counting up their money.

"The only two leagues I can say where all the schools are pretty much lined up academically and culturally are the Ivy League and Patriot League, and I don't think that is the model the Pac-10 is looking for."

T.J. Simers, a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, didn't offer me a definition of what Pac-10 culture is. Instead, he declared: "I am all for adding more teams to the Pac-10 under any circumstances — anything that might allow UCLA to maybe win some more conference games. It might be the Bruins' only shot."

Ken Goe is a sportswriter for the Portland Oregonian who covers Pac-10 sports: "Not entirely sure exactly what he meant. My best guess is he was talking about schools that see themselves as strong academically and being relatively progressive on social issues. Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area and much of the L.A. area tilt liberal politically, especially on social issues. And Arizona increasingly does."

Bud Withers is a veteran columnist and author at the Seattle Times who covers Washington and Washington State. He makes it clear he isn't trying to be a mind-reader and his interpretation may differ widely from what Scott meant.

"Aside from the general thrust of a respected level of academics, a lot of the Pac-10 schools are known as research universities. That could be a factor, if a small one," said Withers.

"I think there's sort of a feeling within the league that it isn't a win-at-all-costs one (despite how USC has apparently been behaving recently). It's the only conference in the country that has an enforcement arm within itself (and in fact, it slapped Washington very hard for its football rules-breaking in the early '90s).

"There's definitely an emphasis on well-rounded programs, or at least a belief in women's programs. The league likes to call itself the conference of champions, and in fact, it has the most NCAA championships, all sports, men and women.

"I'm sure there are other possible interpretations," Withers said. "In the past, my sense is the Pac-10 hasn't been terribly receptive to religion-based schools, but I'd hesitate to say that is necessarily part of Scott's statement."

Greg Hansen is a veteran Pac-10 journalist for the Tucson Daily Star and has covered the University of Arizona for decades. He is the author of a new book, "Hustling to Beat Deadline."

Hansen says the "culturally" fit word is a term a guy like Scott — Ivy League — throws around to confuse people.

"Seriously. There is no more culture in the Pac-10 than any other league. The four California schools insist their academic status sets them apart and therefore they won't deal with someone like San Diego State," said Hansen.

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"But that doesn't explain Washington State or Arizona State, which are not exactly Harvard. He (Scott) is a lifelong tennis guy (played it and ran the women's pro league), so he's got a country-club attitude about him, and it fits with the Tournament of Roses big shots and the faculty reps from Stanford and USC.

"I'm actually guessing he's bluffing about expansion, hopeful that Texas will pay attention and they can actually get a serious dialogue going. I just can't see them sharing their money with Utah and Colorado with no notable return from those two.

"He's got a lot of pressure on him to show progress after 30 years of stodginess in the league," Hansen said. "Talking about expansion and firing Jim Muldoon, an institution in the league, probably shows that he's making progress."

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com