The current rumor: Broken by Chip Brown at Rivals, who is pretty well-respected (click here to keep on following SBN's storystream of the expansion news). Hinted at by Chancellor Birgenau, a rumor that's now slowly starting to filter through the pipeline--the Colorado AD has also been led to believe something akin to expansion talks is occurring (HT yearsago)
The specifics: Six Big 12 teams (Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech) would be invited to join the Pac-10. These six teams would form what I'll go ahead and call a Big 8 division with Arizona and Arizona State. The original Pac-8 teams (Cal, Furd, Oregon & Oregon St, UCLA & USC, Washington and Wazzu) would constitute their own division and would most likely play each other every year, in addition to probably one or two conference games with the Big-8 division.
The snags: One team (Texas A&M doesn't want to do it; their original inclination, if expansion was necessary, was the SEC). The Big 12 cancelled a news conference for yesterday and has one scheduled for Friday, making one think that if there's something big in the works, there's group discord that needs to be resolved. The Furd could veto the plan based on academics, like they did in 1994 when they blocked Texas and Texas A&M from joining the Pac-10 as they searched for a new home outside the Southwest Conference.
The perks: A television network for the super conference, similar to what the Big Ten has with the Big Ten Network and what the SEC seems to have with its mondo distribution deal with ESPN. Would almost certainly become at least the third most powerful conference in the country and the dominant power east of the Mississippi, with the possibility of supplanting the Big Ten and competing with the SEC every year to turn out BCS title contenders. Bigger local audiences for the conference would entail larger TV revenue. In short, must be the money.
So, those are the big issues. Now, let's just say this does happen, so I can write a thousand to two thousand words on it. How would it work for the conference, and more importantly for us, what will it all mean for the Golden Bears? Examination, piece-by-piece after the jump.
What are your thoughts on the sixteen team conference? Please let us know in the comments--weigh in with your objections, observations, or analysis.
What the Big 8 Division would look like: In terms of traditional matchups, not much would change. The Big 12 South would be losing five of the six schools (with Colorado the lone participant from the Big 12 north), so many of the traditional rivalries would stick in place. In terms of traditional powers, not much changes either--Texas and Oklahoma would likely be vying every year for the division crown, and would almost certainly earn a trip to whereever the conference championship game is played.
What the Pac 8 Division would look like: Very little changes here. The winner still has to fight their way through USC and pray they don't draw a Texas or Oklahoma in their Big 8 conference matchup. No round robin schedule would mean the teams in this conference would have to hope their Big 8 draw is favorable so they don't pick up an extra loss against their traditional divisional opponents. (it goes the other way of course--teams in the Big 8 don't want to be facing USC, Oregon, or any of the dominant Pacific powers in a particular year).
Distance, not academics, the main drawbacks. The Furd was being terribly snobbish in 1994 and it's a decision I have to disagree with in retrospect. Texas's academic stature is much higher than some of the current Pac-10 schools like ASU, Wazzu, and OSU; to keep them out with that rationale is beyond hypocritical.
No, the main problem is distance. How do you get teams to agree to a half-cross country trip every year, assuming each team decides on one home and one road game against the other conference (i.e. the most ideal format for scheduling)? Will that keep teams away from the table?
Nine conference games? There seems to be a lot of thought toward playing all seven opponents in the division, in addition to another two. That would preserve the current nine conference regular season schedule the Pac-10 currently has in place, and that no other big conference dares to try.
Could it usurp the SEC? In a traditional sense, no. You can't substitute passion with sheer bulk of numbers. On the other hand, you'd have plenty of teams vying for national attention that it'd be impossible to ignore the conference's best teams (as has happened in the past with the Big 12 & the Pac-10. A merged conference gets the best teams better pub and more opportunities to showcase themselves on the big stage. We could see plenty of SEC-Super 16 matchups to decide who's #1 every early January.
What about basketball? A 16 team conference is pretty tough to navigate. You'd imagine the divisions would still play their home/away series (so 14 games), and then another four to six would be set aside to face teams on the other side of the conference. The Pac-10 tournament is already pretty meaningless except for TV revenue and building up resumes. A Super 16 tournament could become very weighted and very pointless
Where's the conference championship game at? Dallas Cowboys Stadium is too far west. Qwest Field is too far north. Invesco Field is too cold. Candlestick Park sucks for everyone to get to. So on and so forth.
As stated in the earlier Pac-10 conference championship game post we made, it seems like rotating sites makes the most sense from a fairness standpoint, but when's college football ever been fair? We'll probably end up with a warm weather solution, with San Diego, LA, Glendale and Dallas the likeliest sites.
More on the television deal. The Big 12 renegotiates its TV deal with Fox next year, as does the Pac-10. Fox has shown interest in a bigger contract for an expanded Pac-10, along with providing their own TV network so that no game is ever missed for the fans of the teams in the conference. It would also provide the conference with more incentive for ESPN to showcase its games on national television in the best spots, since it's very likely one or two national championship contenders will emerge from the 16 team monolith on sheer volume alone.
The national TV network ensures maximum exposure for not just football, but the conference itself--plenty of programming could be shown spotlighting the best of every sport. With rich traditions like that present in the Pac-10, who knows how many non-revenue sports that could help out.
The winner goes to...what bowl? Traditionally, when a Big 8 school wins its conference crown, it ends up in the Fiesta Bowl if they won their conference, not the Rose Bowl. While Pasadena is still the paradiso of prizes for any college football team besides the national championship, it's not a given the winner of this conference ends up parading their way down Colorado Blvd.
More BCS bowl bids? The super conference would definitely have the added benefit of being more likely to provide an actual BCS at-large. While that probably isn't high on the agenda of most fans, an at-large bid could provide teams that perform well but don't win the conference crown a chance to get a berth to a big time bowl. If the winner of the conference championship game rotates between the Fiesta and the Rose Bowl depending on their preferences, then the runner-up or at-large bid could take the other bowl if they're more worthy of it than other conferences.
Of course, we all hope this is just one step closer to the mythical college football playoff we've all been seeking, where the best team from many a super conference duke it out for a true national championship, but I'm guessing we're still a decade or two away from something that obvious happening...
As for Cal? You thought dealing with USC every year was tough enough to get to the Rose Bowl. Now even if we win the new Pac-8 division, Cal (or any other Pac-10 school) will end up with a reward of probably Texas or Oklahoma in the conference championship game. Ouch. An awful one-two punch to get to the end.
Still, you have to beat the best to be the best, so it doesn't seem like too much of an upgrade in difficulty from the already arduous round robin schedule. The Golden Bears still have to take care of business in their neck of the woods before going out and worrying about any conference championship. They'll still have to win seven or eight conference games, with the only caveat being they'd have to make sure the last win they get is on the first week of December.
This is a lot of analysis and speculation based on a plan that hasn't even formulated. But it's safe to say Larry Scott has us all talking about a conference that had become a "USC and Nine Dwarves" stereotype over the past decade. Now? The Pac-10 can't be taken lightly anymore. They're swinging first and planning on bringing everyone along for the ride, Super 16 or no Super 16.