Dick Harmon: Defining the culture of the Pac-10

Published: Saturday, Feb. 13 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

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."

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