When Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott set out to expand the conference last month I thought the move was ballsy and needed to be done.
Regardless of the outcome Scott had to do something and he really could not wait any longer to make a move.
The Pac-10 has a long and storied tradition of academics and athletics that is unmatched by any other conference. Putting aside the petty inter-conference rivalries for a moment it is clear that the Pac-10 suffered under the leadership of of former commissioner Tom Hansen. Hansen refused to get into the modern day, whether it was negotiating better TV contracts or the conference having to be dragged into the era of the BCS kicking and screaming, Hansen never offered any suitable alternative other than the status quo.
His attitude was always one of "this is how we have always done it so why change?" The problem is the rest of collegiate athletic landscape did change. They merged into bigger conferences that had championship games, they courted ESPN in selling their rights and increasing their exposure. Other conferences like the Big Ten went out to stake their own claim in starting the Big Ten Network. Meanwhile the Pac-10 just plodded along, happy with the notion of trying to keep up with traditions that became a millstone around the conferences neck.
I won't deny that keeping the Rose Bowl Game between the Pac-10 and Big Ten is a neat thing but in the long run it hurts the conference. Tom Hansen let Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany pick his pocket by keeping certain traditions in place while Delany expanded by adding Penn St. Delany only wanted to keep the Rose Bowl Game if one of his member institutions didn't make it into the BCS title game. He got the best of both worlds and then Delany sets up the Big Ten Network further fattening the wallet of the Big Ten. I have no problem with that...Delany had a vision, saw an opportunity and chased it...that is what good businessmen do. Hansen held on onto his "tradition" for pennies as the conference languished with crummy regional TV deals and very little exposure outside of USC football and UCLA basketball and the occasional great Pac-10 bowl game. Even when Arizona was ruling Pac-10 hoops it wasn't like Hansen was leveraging it to help the other schools get exposure in the conference.
So that brings us to Larry Scott.
I have said before he knows how to turn a buck and increase the exposure of his franchise. He did it with the WTA he will do it with the Pac-10...it is just going to take some time.
His attempt to create a mega Pac-10 (16) was ballsy because he dared to try it. Scott didn't fail because he lacked vision or didn't think it through, he fell short because there were other forces behind the scenes working against him...like ESPN who saw their product being watered down if the Texas and Oklahoma schools left the Big 12. ESPN would lose big dollars because they didn't have a contract with the Pac-10.
So, in his not being able to expand the conference in the way he wanted he went to plan B...expand the conference to twelve by offering Utah and Colorado. Remember, there are many who wanted some sort of action. Larry Scott could have simply said if I can't have sixteen then I want nothing, but Scott is smarter than that, twelve is better than nothing and the Pac-10 (12) would increase their exposure by adding a conference championship game.
You take what you can get...
But in doing so he upset more than a few with his "proposed" conference alignments. There were some that did not like supposed traditional rivalries would be abandoned in trying to make the two divisions balanced. The most obvious change was the Bay Area schools being in a different division than the L.A. schools.
Change is difficult...but change is what many wanted. Beggars can't be choosers, you can only divide the conferences a couple of different ways and there is only one way to divide it if you want to keep balance....
And that is where revenue sharing comes into play.
Bud Withers of the Seattle Times has a good read this morning...
On July 30 in Pasadena, Pac-10 athletic directors are due to get about the business of how to place the two new members. To play a moneymaking league-championship football game, you need divisions, and that's an apt term in this discussion.
However they slice it, it's going to lead the conference fathers into another debate. And though it might not take place right away, it's probably going to be more explosive than the talks about divisions.
It's revenue sharing, and it might be the only subject that gets USC as fired up as the NCAA infractions committee.
Yeap, USC has a huge stake in this as they have driven the Pac-10's money train for much of the past decade.
Since 1986, the participants in a televised Pac-10 football game divide 55 percent of the TV booty. The 10 schools share equally in the other 45 percent. There have been occasional challenges to the agreement, but mostly just a series of tweaks over the years to reflect new TV partnerships.
It's the way of the world in the Pac-10, where the imbalance in shared TV revenue, and TV's tilt toward the booming market in Los Angeles, creates an annual gap of as much as $4 million to $5 million between USC and a have-not school like Washington State.
Even with USC on probation and with the NCAA attempting to cripple the program into oblivion USC is still a marquis name in college football and they are the team on the west coast. I mean its not like any other team stood up and grabbed the brass ring during USC's down period through the 80's and 90's. This could be part of the reason why the NCAA did not hit 'SC with a TV ban. As great as Cal, UW and Oregon, and to a lesser extent 'furd and UCLA, could be going forward they still don't have the drawing power of 'SC.
Think about it. Because of Hansen's lack of vision the Pac-10 franchise hasn't really stood on its own. The Hansen regime stifled the franchise with their lack of action. Hansen trying to hang onto the old tradition of the Rose Bowl game being played between the Pac-10 and Big Ten is no different then trying to hold onto other inter-conference rivalries for the sake of tradition.
If it weren't for College Game Day or College Football Live would Oregon get the exposure they deserved this past season? The certainly would not have received it if the conference was forced to try and market the franchise through the FSN regional coverage.
In the past, whenever equal revenue sharing has been discussed in the Pac-10, USC athletic director Mike Garrett has said the Trojans are out of here if it ever happens. But the Troy Boys are staying after school right now, knuckles rapped by the NCAA, and it might be a good time to catch them on the subject.
With me living in NYC the most obvious comparison here would be the Yankees. Even when the Yankees were down they still out drew the have-not's in both attendance and money. USC may be out of the post season for the next couple of seasons but 'SC will continue to be relevant and grab top recruits even if it is a reduced number because of the NCAA's ruling.
USC will still get a fair amount of exposure...a lot of it good.
Garrett threatening to leave at this point is just noise...he may be out of a job anyway so whomever his replacement is they will be the party to voice the schools stance.
I understand where Garrett is coming from though...because of USC's draw he feels that 'SC should get a bigger piece of the pie. USC has played in some of the most watched games in college football the past 6-7 years...the other members of the conference have shared in USC's success, Garrett just wants to make sure that by being the trail blazer USC gets its fair share. As an example and not to single any one team out but why should WSU get an equal piece of USC's pay out when WSU doesn't even schedule the tough games?
I am not saying that I necessarily agree with the stance that Garrett has taken but I can certainly understand it. He is going to have give a little if expansion is going to succeed.
USC going independent is an intriguing idea, but I doubt seriously that there is any discussion of that ever happening.
Personally, I don't see 'SC going anywhere...at least not in the short term, not while they are crippled because of the NCAA.
Now, with the expanded Pac-10, there are two new sheriffs in town. Well, deputies anyway. They have immediate voting rights on this issue, and presumably, they'll be of the equal-share persuasion. As always, it will take a 75 percent, 9-3 vote to change the formula, but that means the L.A. schools need to find not one, but two allies.
Why share, you ask. If you're sitting on oil in the Middle East, you don't funnel it to the sheikh across the border. Well, at some level, USC needs Washington State, if only for things like scheduling volleyball games and having somebody it can count on pounding in football.
Here is the fork in the road...
Like it or not the conference has expanded.
In order for expansion to work there has to be some balance. Regardless of what you think or the stance you take on revenue sharing you can't have the top two media markets in the same division. L.A. and San Francisco are the two biggest media markets in the conference. I would suspect (I haven't looked) that Seattle and Denver/SLC would not be the number 2 media markets.
So you have to split them up, which is what was rumored to be the plan floated early on...USC and UCLA in one division and Cal and Stanford in the other. Then you balance those with the next two. Yes, you lose some of the old traditions but if the Pac-10 wants to be relevant, if they want to grab some of the attention from the other conferences, this is the way it has to be done. I am not 100% happy with it, as the annual games against the Bay Area schools are always great, but like I said, change is difficult.
There is no way that the two top media markets in the Pac-10 would be in the same division...the other division would suffer. So, like it or not, there has to be a balance.
Larry Scott may not have achieved his goal of a mega Pac-16 but he his thinking out of the box even if it makes some uncomfortable.
If we worry too much about tradition the franchise as a whole will continue to suffer.