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Pac-10 Expansion Scenarios: Will The Conference Play, Or Get Played?

"This game is rigged man. We like them little bitches on the chessboard."

In many ways, the conference expansion talk that's been flying around all spring reminds me of the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. Everyone is aiming to game the BCS by garnering more conference power when they should be focused on building the logical solution, a college football playoff (check out Dan Wetzel's excellent column at Yahoo for more on this). But the game is the game, and no one seems ready to escape it.

The Pac-10 can play the game by providing its teams with better revenue and its fans with maximum television coverage to boost their product, although it would sacrifice the things that made the conference unique to begin with. Or they can choose not to play, letting the other major conferences surge ahead with better television and bowl deals, and be satisfied with traditions that have worked for over a century until people come up with real solutions to real problems. Or just shine up shit and call it gold.

For a long time during the Tom Hansen era, the Pac-10 chose not to play. The result? They languished and were marginalized for the past decade in the eyes of fans and media outside the West Coast when the SEC rose up and the Big 10 and Big 12 surged ahead.

Well, now they're coming to play. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott had everyone buzzing last week with the bold Pac-16 rumors. With the greenlight from the school chancellors and presidents, the game is set to begin. He laid out the likeliest scenarios going into the weekend.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott laid out a host of expansion scenarios to athletic directors on Friday, the first day of conference meetings here. They range from a full merger with the Big 12; to merging with six current Big 12 schools, including Texas; to adding Colorado and Utah; to the status quo, according to one athletic director.

After the jump, a breakdown of the four scenarios above. What do you think will end up happening? Sound off in the comments and vote in the poll for what will end up happening!

Scenario 1: Full or near-total merger with the Big 12

Wire quote that best describes this scenario (WARNING: for those who want the Wire unspoiled for them, don't click on the links): "Sheeeeeeeeeiit."

Analysis: Chaos. A Pac-16 is tough enough to picture, but an 18 to 22 team conference? You might as well install an FA Cup-style playoff along with the regular season to determine who gets the prize. There's no logical way to extrapolate who the best team in a conference where teams only play half the teams in the conference. It's excess for the sake of excess, a money grab with only one intention--to send the winner of the conference championship to the BCS title game.

I wouldn't be surprised if Scott is just throwing smoke out there to convince teams to accept the lesser offer (in economics, it's called the compromise effect--putting out a bolder alternative so he gets people thinking about the middle choice). Even Clay Davis would think this is highway robbery.

Probability: Snowball's chance in hell. Let's move onto the three real scenarios in play.

Scenario 2: The Super 16

Wire quote that best describes this scenario: "The game the same. Just got more fierce."

Analysis: We discussed most of it on Friday, but this is ideal financially for all parties. The Pac-10 wins. The Pac-10 teams win. The TV networks win. The only big losers would seem to be the Arizona schools, who would have to tango with Texas and Oklahoma rather than USC--twice the trouble for twenty million.

Will it happen? All it takes is one bad apple to muck things up (as Scootie points out in this fine comment), and there are plenty of candidates here for ruining this fantastical scenario. Texas A&M dragging their heels. Baylor (really, BAYLOR?) dragging the politicians in. Texas schools being just as interested in the Big Ten as they are the Pac-10 (and in the end Texas is the golden apple the Pac-10 is chasing in this deal). Nebraska's recalcitrance to make any decision of any sort (although a ruling might come later this week, so strap in).

However, there are alternatives if the original six invites decline, like poaching Utah from the Mountain West to take A&M's spot. So even if some teams back out, the deal does not die.

Probability: 25% Too many teams have to coalesce and think ambitiously, and we all know how hard it is for groups to go for the aggressive play rather than take the traditional route. I do feel it could happen though, simply because there is a substitute (Utah) who could come in and take the place of other less willing partners.

Scenario 3: The Pac-12

Wire quote that best describes this scenario: "The king stay the king."

The natural order sustains itself--a little more conference street cred, but USC is still the main hustler. Colorado has been in the doldrums for the past few years; it'll be more than awhile before they dig themselves out. Utah, on the other hand, is a very good team that has shown the ability to beat middling Pac-10 opponents and has posted several undefeated BCS seasons coming out of the MWC. However, expecting them to be the lead challenger to the Trojans and the Oregon schools is asking a lot. They won't be playing with the puppies anymore.

At least a quarter of the teams get off the hook for playing USC, but they also lose the ticket and TV revenue from participating in their national telecasts. It's unclear how divisions would break themselves up.

Utah and Colorado alters the dynamic slightly, but not as dramatically as scenario 2.

Probability: 45%. Although the least dramatic of the three possible changes, commissioners and chancellors are a stodgy bunch and will probably shrink from taking on too many teams. It's the most practical of all scenarios while at the same time being the least groundbreaking. The Utes and the Buffaloes make the most sense geographically, they provide athletic and academic tradition, and their inclusion doesn't make people think too much. Logical enough.

Scenario 4: The Pac-10 lives on

Wire quote that best describes this scenario: "The game is rigged. But you cannot lose if you do not play."

Nothing changes. We have our round robin system. We have our automatic Rose Bowl berth. We get slightly better-looking TV contracts by doing something interesting like a conference championship game. In other words, we choose not to play the games the rest of the conferences play and we pray that one day everyone will sit together and make a playoff happen.

Probability: 30%. It's not likely things will stay the way they are. Oh, we might stay the Pac-10 for a few more years, but the writing is on the wall. Scott has been looking for ways to market his conference on a more prominent level, and staying as the Pac-10 will not help him achieve any of these goals.

The only way the Pac-10 remains inert is if the commissioners of the conferences in question stick up hard and fast for their conference. That the need for a playoff would solve all the revenue problems rather than conference expansion. Build something that'll last and provide meaningful value for everyone involved.

Until then, we're just going to be sticking our hand in the next guy's pocket. "All in the game, yo."