Radical Pac-12 Alignment: Zipper Or Pod?

The Pac-10 is about to be the Pac-12 in a year, meaning that some fundamental things about the conference will be changing next season. With the heads of the Pac-10 families meeting, we've decided to take a look at the upcoming pressing alignment issues and wonder what you think we'll happen, how it'll affect the conference for the better or for worse.

Monday we looked at conventional divisional alignment. Today we look at the more intriguing pod and zipper formats.

Larry Scott is definitely a forward thinker, and he's looked outside of convention to expand the conference. Now he might go outside convention again in organizing the divisions. Instead of using geography, he's shown willingness to produce some outside-the-box ideas. Like so:

Zipper Format (East/West)

The basic gist; we split up rivals into separate divisions, although the rivals would still play each other at the end of the season. Here is the most common permutation of rivals which would split teams east/west, courtesy of Pac12 Cooler (yes, Cal fans, Palo Alto is technically east of Berkeley):

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via media.tumblr.com

He goes onto explain:

Teams would always play their side of the graphic, PLUS the teams in their row every season. Then they would play 2 of the remaining 4 teams. This results in every team playing every other team twice out of every four years, and at least once in each stadium over a four-year college career. All teams would have exposure to each region of the Pac-10 every year and would also play all their regional rivals.

Pros: As a Golden Bear, this couldn't work out any better.  Cal would always play their California rivals, plus Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado, plus two of the other four schools, PLUS no more dealing with those pesky Beavers on a yearly basis.

In general though, most of the traditional rivalries (northwest, California, southwest) would be preserved. The non-California schools would be guaranteed trips to California every year, which would satisfy their desire to get recruiting inroads to the biggest football state on this side of the country.

Cons: Not to shortsell it, but one division in this format looks far more attractive and difficult than the other. Placing all the big public universities in one conference while the state schools end up with Utah and the private California schools seems to create a distinctive regional advantage in both matchups and ticket sales. You'd have to figure the smaller schools wouldn't be happy with having to try to battle through USC every season.

More importantly, it diminishes the value of the rivalry games. The zipper offers the untantailzing possibility of a rivalry game being played on the next-to-last week of the season, and then the same two rivals meeting again for the rights to Pasadena. Who really wants to play the Big Game the week before the season ends...only to play the Cardinal the next week in the Pac-12 championship game? Doesn't that immediately diminish the value of the Axe, even if the rivalry games get moved later on?

I'm not sure I like this. This is an issue that needs to be resolved. And that's not even the most radical format being proposed here.

Pod Format

I'm not sure what the divisions would be for this format, but the key element in here is the scheduling.

Pod 1: NW schools.
Pod 2: CA schools.
Pod 3: AZ and MTN schools.

Each year, you'd play everyone in your pod and three of the four teams in each of the other pods. (For instance: The NW schools would play three of the four CA schools every year.)

Pros: Preserves rivalry games and regional rivalries (much like the zipper). In addition, this would probably cause the least competitive imbalance, because the schedule will be well-distributed among opponents from region to region. It's easy enough to rotate matchups, there wouldn't be too much rancour for losing too many glamor games, and it would provide all of the non-California schools ample opportunity to get the matchups they desire.

Cons: Teams within their division aren't guaranteed to play each other. It's possible a division winner (depending on the alignment) might not play everyone in their division, raising some big questions as to how legitimate the conference title winner is if they don't play. Yes, currently the pod system violates the current bylaw, but that can easily be amended.

Zipper, pod, or are either of these possibilities a little too radical? Discuss!

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