The first games have yet to be played in the Pac-12, the supersized Big Ten and the minimized Big 12, yet the winds of conference realignment are blowing again.
If Texas, Oklahoma and friends agree to the form the Pac-16 it would be the best move commissioner Larry Scott could make.
That is, unless you are an Arizona Wildcat or ASU Sun Devil.
It only took one year but talk of big-time conference expansion (or, more specifically, Big 12 disintegration) is back with news of Texas A&M bolting for the SEC. No matter what the official status is, the word on the cattle trail is still yes, just not yet.
It makes absolute sense for Scott to make a second run at adding the Longhorns, Sooners and two other Big 12 schools. As a football conference the Pac-16 would have perfect symmetry with USC and Oregon as the football anchors in the West and Texas/Oklahoma as the beasts of the East. Those programs have appeared in six of the last eight BCS championship games.
(Yes, SEC fans, the Pac-16 would only have one non-vacated win in those six appearances. Y’all are pretty good. But with Ohio State in disarray you could be looking at an SEC/Pac-16 championship matchup for years to come.)
The greatness of the Pac-16 would extend to all sports. The Pac-12 already has the top three schools in terms of total Division I national championships and taking four more institutions from the Big 12 would make it the top four and five of the top eight.
And the money? Holy steer. If the current Pac-12 is worth $3 billion in TV dollars, how much is it worth to have a conference footprint that includes the two most populated states in the nation (by a wide margin)?
Victories! Prestige! Insane riches! The Pac-16 would be the greatest thing ever to hit college sports! Unless you root for Arizona or Arizona State.
There was heated debate when the Pac-10 had to decide how to split into two divisions. Structuring a 16-team league would take three seconds. The original Pac-8 would gleefully reunite in the Pac-16 West and the East would be made up of the New Guys, the Still Pretty New Guys and the Only Been Around for 33 Years New Guys.
In football you would play the other seven members of your division and just two teams in the other division. If means the Wildcats would host each West division team only once every eight years. That’s not a rival; it’s a non-conference game.
This has nothing to do with avoiding competition. The UA has done just fine avoiding football championships where it is. Looking up at Texas schools instead of California schools isn’t going to change anything. But Arizona wants to be associated with the West. Why do you think the state sits in the Pacific Time Zone most of the year?
In the late 1970s UA president John Schaefer wasn’t talking with the Big 8 or Southwest Conference. He wanted his school in the Pac-10, aligned with the West Coast. That’s where a large portion of Arizona’s out-of-state students come from. That’s where the alumni live.
Sadly, it may not be where the future lies, at least athletically. Larry Scott has a Manifest Destiny air about him. He’s not going to be satisfied until his conference extends (clap-clap-clap-clap) deep in the heart of Texas.
So, Wildcats and Sun Devils, enjoy the Pac-12 South while it lasts. If you like your western rivalries root for the Big 12 to add Houston or SMU instead of standing pat. Root for Texas to go independent.
Or root for the Pac-20.
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The worst part about the re-expansion rumors is they’re keeping us from focusing entirely on the start of a monumental season for the premier conference in the West. The start of divisional play is causing significant changes to how football is played in this league:
With the advent of the Pac-12 Championship Game the regular season ends Thanksgiving weekend for everyone, which means going back to only one bye week per season. Will injuries be a bigger factor down the home stretch? For Colorado the ninth conference game combined with a trip to Hawai’i eliminated byes altogether. The Buffalo training staff is going to go through a lot of ice packs during 13 straight weeks of football.
You can’t lose if you don’t play.
The unbalanced schedule means who you don’t play is just as important as who you play. Utah misses Oregon and Stanford this year. Arizona skips Washington State and Cal. If the Utes finish exactly two games ahead of the Cats in the standings, this is probably why.
Rivalries won’t smell as sweet.
It was a common sight. If a team went into its rivalry game needing a win to clinch the conference crown its fans brought roses to the game. Win and you wave them in the face of your opponent, lose and the sidewalks get covered with trampled petals. The ultimate was two years ago when Oregon played OSU in a winner-take-all Civil War and everyone brought roses. No more. With divisional play you can no longer clinch the Rose Bowl against your fiercest rival. Carrying soda cans won’t have the same effect.
Things will be different in the Pac-12 but the changes are worth it. The South division loves being grouped with the L.A. schools and the Pac-12 North dates back to 1919. What’s not to like?
Fans from the Grand Canyon State hope it’s worth liking for a long, long time.
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