Posted: Friday June 4, 2010 7:30PM ; Updated: Friday June 4, 2010 7:30PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

'Pac-16' mega conference with Texas, Oklahoma a real possibility

Story Highlights

As time has passed, the original report of Pac-10 expansion is gaining steam

It's feasible because both the Pac-10 and the teams involved would make money

Texas will almost certainly leave the Big 12 if Nebraska bolts for the Big Ten

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Bob Stoops
Bob Stoops and Oklahoma are part of the proposed "Pac-16" conference expansion.
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

A little more than a year ago, the Pac-10 hired a college athletics outsider -- a tennis CEO who admitted he hadn't attended a college football game since the mid-'90s -- to help modernize a perceived country-club league lacking for national exposure. If commissioner Larry Scott manages to pull off the jaw-dropping makeover his league is reportedly considering -- a 16-team mega-conference that would bring in Texas and Oklahoma and reap Big Ten/SEC-level clout -- he should win every executive-of-the-year award there is to offer.

As long as you're at it, Larry, care to help clean up the oil spill?

In talking with various parties across the sport Thursday and Friday, it's sounding more and more like the proposed plan first reported by Texas fan site Orangebloods.com (whose reporter, Chip Brown, was a longtime beat writer for the Dallas Morning News) is more than mere gossip. While the process isn't nearly as far along as some would like to believe (Scott was presumably being truthful Thursday when he said "we have not developed any definitive plans"), a number of signs point to the "Pac-16" being an eventual possibility.

The No. 1 reason: It makes too much sense.

Fans, media, administrators and coaches have been busily theorizing all sorts of scenarios ever since the Big Ten and Pac-10 announced their intentions last winter to explore expansion. For the most part, none of them seemed particularly sensible. Texas to the Big Ten? OK, but why would the Longhorns want to spend half their season traveling to State College and Madison? Utah to the Pac-10? Geographically it makes sense, but it's not going to send the TV networks scrambling for their checkbooks.

The plan laid out by Orangebloods is the first we've seen where both the conference and teams involved would get substantially richer without destroying rivalries and terrorizing schedule-makers.

Texas is obviously the crown jewel in the Pac-10's eyes (as it is several conferences these days) due both to its national prestige and massive state full of TV sets. Texas A&M is its logical expansion partner. Presumably, a 12-team league with these two additions is one of several models Scott and his conference presidents (with the help of Creative Artists Agency, the powerful Hollywood entertainment firm the league hired as a consultant) have either discussed or will be discussing at their meetings this weekend in San Francisco.

In that model, however, there's little incentive for Texas to leave the Big 12, which, contrary to various accounts, remains the school's first preference. In a 12-team Pac-10, the 'Horns and Aggies would be geographic outliers, and Texas' annual rivalry games with Oklahoma and Texas Tech become endangered.

In the 16-team plan, however, where the six former Big 12 schools (according to Orangebloods' report, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado) join Arizona and Arizona State in an eight-team "East Division," league schools would still spend at least three-fourths of their season within their traditional backyard. USC could play seven traditional Pac-10 foes and take one trip to, say, Norman. Texas' basketball team could play 10 league games against fellow Big 12 imports, do home-and-homes with Arizona and Arizona State and take one Thursday-Saturday swing to, say, the Oregon schools.

Then you use conference tournaments and title games to determine a champion.

Mind you, this is all far from becoming reality. Expanding a conference is not like making a fantasy-football trade. Even if Scott is convinced that 16 teams is the way to go (and we don't know that he is), he still needs the approval of 16 different university presidents (who themselves are presumably consulting with athletic directors, coaches and boosters). If by some chance he leaves San Francisco this weekend with the league's 10 current CEOs on board, then clearly, this man has Svengali-like persuasion abilities.

For years, Scott's laissez-faire predecessor, Tom Hansen, led us to believe that not just he, but his school's presidents, were content with their beach-bum status quo. Preserving league traditions was more important than, say, getting a second BCS berth. And any mention of expansion was always couched with reminders about the Pac-10's serious attention to academics.

With that being the case, you're telling me those same schools are suddenly OK with Oklahoma State? (No offense, Cowboy alums.) It's hard to believe the presidents of USC and UCLA will make that decision lightly.

But then again, Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau sounded positively giddy when he told a Massachusetts alumni group last Monday he would be "surprised if something did not happen [this weekend] that revolutionized college athletics," and that the league was considering "a couple of schools, at least one of which meets the academic standards of the rest of the Pac-10."

Just how many TV $$$ does it take for a group of presidents to lower their "standards?"

Meanwhile, university administrators won't be the only power-brokers with a say in various schools' destinations. Get ready to hear from the politicians.

The Big 12 was formed in part out of political pressure, with Texas' governor (Ann Richards) and House speaker (Pete Laney), among others, essentially forcing Texas Tech and Baylor's inclusions. That Virginia Tech wound up in the ACC rather than initial choice Syracuse was almost entirely the work of then-Virginia governor Mark Warner.

Should we reach the point yet again where one conference (the Pac-10 and/or Big Ten) threatens to destroy another (the Big 12), you can be sure that legislators in the affected states will start frothing. With the massive amounts of money at stake, you think the governor of Iowa is going to stand by and watch Iowa State lose its BCS affiliation? Or the Kansas legislature will allow KU and K-State to go separate ways? Not without funding-cut threats or other maneuverings.

We saw a hint of this dilemma in an e-mail exchange between Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Ohio State President Gordon Gee, reported Friday by the Columbus Dispatch. In it, Gee makes reference to Texas' "Tech problem" -- as in, how do we lure Texas without getting stuck with its stepchild? Whether the Pac-10 is willing to make that compromise, or whether it's even necessary, remains to be seen.

So while it's undeniably fun to fantasize about this seemingly impending realignment wave, in reality, it will not play out nearly as smoothly as some of this week's reports make it sound. Don't expect either the Pac-10 or Big Ten to emerge from their respective conference meetings this weekend having locked-in new lineups.

(The one domino we could see fall Monday: Boise State to the Mountain West.)

Right now the entire college sports industry is either engaged in or watching a very high-stakes poker game. Who's going to blink first?

Texas isn't necessarily looking to flock West -- but it almost certainly would if Nebraska bolts to the Big Ten. (Texas reportedly has little interest in the SEC, mainly for academic reasons.) Of course, we don't yet know whether the Big Ten is serious about the Huskers or whether they'll have to make a decision before the Longhorns make theirs. And remember, it was only a month or so ago that the Big East seemed to be the conference most in jeopardy -- and it may still be. Nobody knows.

About the only thing we can take away from this week's rumblings is that the Pac-10 could wind up every bit as much a player as the Big Ten in whatever eventual shakeups ensue. That alone would have seemed implausible six months ago.

So kudos to you, Larry Scott. You were hired to make your conference more relevant. It feels like you already have.

 
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