Will the Pac-10 expand? And could such an expansion include Utah and maybe BYU? What about Colorado, Boise State or San Diego State?
Pac-10 expansion is certainly a hotter topic than it has been for 33 years and, as an on-the-record skeptic, I'm closer to being proved wrong — especially after newly appointed Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott told reporters this week the league would explore the topic in coming months.
Still, there is a difference between studying and exploring and actually expanding.
Pac-10 expansion will take place if the league's presidents and chancellors digest Scott's studies and proposals and decide that's the way to go. Scott is like a city manager, a staff guy, doing due diligence in studying data and making recommendations to a city council. It's the councilmen who vote and make executive decisions.
The Pac-10 is exploring this because of money. With TV deals with Fox, ESPN and ABC ready to expire, the league is looking at increasing its money tug through TV, perhaps even creating its own TV network like the Big Ten and MWC.
The Pac-10 needs to polish its act first. For instance, in 2008, the Pac-10 TV deals made $43 million compared to $66 for the Big Ten. The SEC is making a killing with its $3 billion contract with CBS and ESPN.
But the Pac-10 can't even agree on true revenue sharing of its own TV money — like the Big Ten has done in dividing it equally. The Pac-10 allows some schools bigger bites of the pie. For instance, in 2008, USC kept $6.4 million while Washington State got $3.1 million.
So, on the surface, the Pac-10 needs to do something. University presidents are always looking for more revenue with coaching salaries and expenses soaring. But will these same presidents, when it comes to pulling the trigger, really shake up the Pac-10 tradition of everyone playing everyone else — a true league?
The problem with all this is that college sports is cannibalizing itself. Just look at the ACC and Big East. The closest treasure bonanza for the Pac-10 would be Colorado and Texas. The most logical rivalry, travel partner and football package for the league would be Utah and BYU.
It is not a given that the Big 12 would give up Missouri and St. Louis' No. 21 TV market to the Big Ten without a fight. Why would the Big 12 give up Colorado and Denver's No. 16 television market to the Pac-10? Why would the Buffs — who have already said no before — go to the Pac-10, which hasn't put two teams in a BCS bowl since 2002?
If the Pac-10 took Utah and BYU, it would gain the No. 31 TV market while ignoring San Diego State and a city with the No. 28 market and less travel expenses.
Bud Withers, a longtime college football columnist for the Seattle Times writes: "A well-placed source on the college landscape says that a bit before Scott came to the Pac-10, the league had an analysis done of expansion possibilities and concluded that a Colorado-Utah addition didn't really do all that much. And that, realistically, nothing short of Texas would."
This issue is so new, novel and exciting, we haven't even tasted the cloud of politics that will gather like a storm in the months to come.
What politics? Well, what if Utah was invited but not BYU? How would that go over here if we put the debate of football resumes aside? Think for a second of the politics.
Look no further than the BCS and Congress, elected officials and hearings we had this past year over the unfairness of the cartel.
If Utah and BYU, unified in this fight, found themselves divided into BCS and non-BCS, how would that float? Can you say decaffeinated Tea Party?
A 12-team Pac-10 would mean two divisions and a playoff. Would presidents at Arizona State and Arizona doom themselves to a southern division against USC and UCLA without easy wins over Washington State in football? Would a northern division president at Washington, Oregon or Oregon State accept a separation from the California schools, a prime recruiting ground and America's No. 2 TV market in Los Angeles?
If Utah received an invitation but BYU did not, would an ultra-conservative, right-wing state Legislature soon hear a bill mandating Utah, a state school, remain tied to the same conference as BYU? It could become law.
Utah's board of Regents, a body that oversees the state's higher education, hasn't been involved in sports that I remember since turning down Utah Valley State College's bid for football 20 years ago. That decision, in part, was to prevent a junior college recruiting in the state from BYU's backyard. Would the regents get involved to keep BYU and Utah together? Probably not. But it could. It is a political body that, I'm told, once had five regents living on the same street in Bountiful.
Could Utah's Gov. Gary Herbert, a native of Utah County, sign an executive order telling the Pac-10 any invitation to a university in the state must to be a two-team deal? Texas governor Ann Richards set that precedent in the early '90s when the Southwest Conference disbanded and the Big 12 invited Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
"Not without my Baylor," was Richards' edict.
In such a political climate, would that turn off the Pac-10 and Utah's 31st-ranked TV market for something more lucrative like No. 5 Dallas-Ft. Worth and TCU?
Which Pac-10 presidents — unless presented with mind-boggling money deals that certainly would not be such with Utah's TV market — would sign on to divide the league's revenue two more ways and call it progress? To expand, all 10 presidents must vote in the affirmative. If one holds out, it's nixed.
In other words, all this Pac-10 expansion talk has fired up a lot of discussion and it's been fun to hear and sift through it. There is a ton of debate fodder, speculation and opinion.
Expansion? What if the Big 12 — losing Missouri — successfully courts USC and its second-ranked TV market? Ahh, we have subtraction.
Anything is possible.
So far, actual Pac-10 expansion is closer to reality than it has ever been. Isn't it?
But talk is the easy part.
We might as well wade in it while we can.