The Summer of Debate rolls on.
With schedules needing to be made now is the time to hammer out the details. After the football division alignment is settled the last remaining hurdle is one that is more complex than it appears:
How many games do you play?
The metamorphosis into the Pac-12 means a change in focus from regional to national. The Pac wants to compete among the other elite conferences and it has taken steps to earn comparable money. The Pac-12 needs to also schedule with the national rankings in mind.
That means fewer Pac-12 games.
(By the way, if the Pac-10 does not change its name I will take back every nice thing I’ve said about Larry Scott. Being able to accurately reflect the number of schools in your conference is the benefit of using a unique modifier like “Pacific” instead of being one of the multitude of leagues bragging about how “Big” they are.)
When the Pac-10 grows, the conference football schedule needs to shrink back to eight games.
The rationale is this: In three of the four years the Pac-10 has played nine league games the conference runner-up finished with a 7-2 league record and 9-3 (or better) overall record. Not once did that second team get selected for a BCS at-large bid. The goal in taking away that extra conference game is turning those 9-3 teams into 10-2 and 11-1 teams.
The model is the 2007 Kansas football squad. The Jayhawks didn’t play Texas, they didn’t play Oklahoma, they didn’t even win their division yet they finished 11-1 and went to the Orange Bowl, which, by the way, they won.
The last two years the SEC championship game has been a play-in for the national championship game. Why? Alabama and Florida didn’t play each other in the regular season either year.
In business you’re told to dress for success. In college sports you schedule for success.
An eight-game Pac-12 conference football schedule would include the five others schools in your division and three rotating schools from the other side. If the divisions are split using the zipper model one of those three teams from the other division is always your geographic rival.
The Pac-10 does a good job of scheduling non-conference games that appeal to the computer polls, and that should continue. But the 4th out-of-conference game should be a true gimme. A big fat cupcake.
After playing for national championships and landing multiple BCS bowl bids the next goal is to fill the Pac-10’s improving bowl slots every single year. While we’re at it, Mr. Scott needs to go out and take a couple of the Big 12’s bowl tie-ins now that they’re short a couple teams and they’re going to saddle half of them with an extra conference loss each year.
The main argument you’re going to hear in favor of keeping the nine-game league schedule is that Pac-10 teams don’t have fans with blind brand loyalty. To sell tickets they either have to A) win a lot, or B) play big-name teams.
In the short term it’s going to cost you money two ways. You have to buy a second NAU-type game every year, and you know it’s going to attract a smaller crowd.
The mindset that causes the smaller crowd is the mindset that has to change. If the Pac-12 truly wants to be a national player it needs to convince its fans to buy in, and that means buying football tickets for games against bad teams.
It’s the sports equivalent of “Think Globally, Act Locally.” The Pac-12 fan is being asked to say, “I want my team and conference to do better nationally so that’s why I’m going to pay to watch my guys play North Texas instead of Oregon State.”
It will be interesting to watch. There’s no question that, from the standpoint of on-field competition, it stinks. We The People have every right to mourn the death of the perfectly balanced conference. But if we’re going to step away from perfection (and expanding to 12 officially steps away) we have to go all the way. If you’re going to tear off the bow of your boat for firewood you may as well burn the whole thing.
You’re trading a better game in September or October in hopes of landing a much better game in January.
At least in the Pac-12 it will be a valid hope. In the SEC South Carolina is only playing eight conference games so Florida has a better chance to make a BCS bowl. The Pac-10 doesn’t have a clear-cut #2 program behind USC so everybody will get a crack at a dream season if the talent and the schedule converge just right.
For the Arizona fan, hey, it’s not like the nine-game conference schedule was working out for the Wildcats anyway. If the Cats rode an easy conference schedule into the Pac-12 championship game and pulled off an upset, would you complain about paying for that New Mexico State game as you traveled to Pasadena? Me neither.
The world of the Pacific-10 has shifted. It’s like the company you worked for was bought out. It doesn’t exist anymore so there’s no sense in wishing for the way things were. You have to get to work adapting to the new culture and looking for the new opportunities.
(I realize the hole in the analogy is that in the real world you can look for a new job when things change around you. But in the economy of college athletic conferences there aren’t a lot of people hiring. Sure you could join the Mountain West but that’s one heck of a pay cut. And now back to your regularly scheduled analogy.)
The Pac-12 is here. Pass the cupcakes.