Posted: Wednesday June 23, 2010 1:21PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 23, 2010 2:39PM
Stewart Mandel

Lingering expansion questions, more mail (cont.)

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Utah has proven itself against top-tier Pac-10 teams like Oregon State and Cal, going 7-3 in its last 10 meetings with Pac-10 opponents.
Utah has proven itself against top-tier Pac-10 teams like Oregon State and Cal, going 7-3 in its last 10 meetings with Pac-10 opponents.

So now that Utah is heading to the Pac-10, I am curious to get your take on what I've seen as the under-reported aspect of it: We finally get our chance to see what one of the "BCS Busters" can do in a BCS conference. Utah has had the most impressive BCS win of the three (Alabama), but I don't see Boise or Utah winning more than eight games in a big-time conference because of the grind of heightened competition week in and week out.
-- Neil Wicker, Columbia, S.C.

Whenever someone makes the argument that Utah or Boise State wouldn't be able to hang for an entire season in, say, the Pac-10, my answer is always this: If they were in the Pac-10, they'd be able to recruit better players. And that's what you're about to see with Utah.

As I said in last week's Mailbag, I believe Utah will contend for the Pac-10 title within a couple years of joining. The reasons are threefold. One, the Utes have already demonstrated repeatedly that they can play and beat Pac-10 competition. They're 7-3 against that league since 2003 (Meyer's first season). They beat Cal last year, Oregon State the year before. Those aren't the dregs of the conference. Secondly, while they're about to face a much tougher week-in, week-out grind, they're also going to start attracting better recruits by shedding their non-BCS stigma. They don't need to start piling up five-star receivers, they just need to build up more quality depth. And finally, Utah will benefit from USC's sanctions. The Utes won't be walking into the Pac-10 of 2002-08, which the Trojans dominated, but into a more wide-open league where any of six to eight teams could contend in a given year. Plus, due to USC's scholarship reductions, some very good Southern California kids that might otherwise have signed with Lane Kiffin will now be up for grabs to the rest of the Pac-10. Utah can get in some of those doors.

There is a precedent for Utah's situation. If you recall, Louisville won the Big East within two years of moving up from Conference USA. Cincinnati, another C-USA import, won two years later. The Pac-10 is indisputably tougher than the depleted Big East that those schools walked into, but Utah comes in more established, having acquitted itself against national competition (19-11 against BCS-conference schools since 1998) much more so than those teams had. It's impossible to project what sort of team Utah will have a couple of years from now relative to the rest of the Pac-10, but it would not surprise me at all if the Utes are one of the top three or four teams.

Great article on the potential conference divisions for the Pac-10/Big Ten. I'd say a great fit for the Pac-10 would be to hold its championship in one city, year after year: VEGAS.
-- Lance Landry, Denver

I think that's a great idea -- just as soon as someone there builds a new stadium. Clearly, you've never been to Sam Boyd Stadium. I have, and trust me, the Pac-10 is not going to hold its championship in a 37,000-seat stadium in the middle of the desert.

Stewart, I was wondering if you could explain something. Everyone talks about how powerless the NCAA is regulating things like expansion or the BCS. Yet, the NCAA was able to hand down a bowl ban for USC. What would stop a bowl from inviting USC to play and USC accepting if the NCAA is powerless, especially since USC clearly disagrees with the decision? If the BCS is a separate entity, why must it abide by NCAA decisions? Conversely, if the NCAA can prohibit a team from playing in a bowl, doesn't it have more control over college football's postseason than you and many others have stated?
-- Brian, Charlottesville, Va.

That's such a great question that I'm not even sure there's an answer for it. Somebody should write a thesis about it. The best I can try to do is whittle down a very convoluted issue into a few overly simplified explanations.

First of all, the NCAA's membership -- the schools themselves -- dictate policy. Yes, there is a president and an enforcement division and staff members who administer the basketball tournament, but ultimately they're only carrying out what its members created over the years through charters and legislation. At some point, for example, they agreed that a player shouldn't receive benefits from an agent, and at some point they agreed upon a bowl ban as an acceptable punishment. They also agreed at some point that, while bowl games are independent organizations, the NCAA should have the authority to "license" respective bowls based on established criteria. While this has never come up, I presume if a bowl defied the NCAA's rules and invited a banned USC team, it would lose its license pretty quickly.

Now, as to your bigger question: If the NCAA has the power to license bowl games (including the BCS games) and has the power to punish a school by prohibiting it from playing in one, why then does it lack the power to, say, implement a playoff? Because the majority of its FBS members don't want one. Just like President Obama can't unilaterally write a new law (he needs someone in Congress to sponsor a bill, and then he needs the two houses to pass it), incoming NCAA President Mark Emmeret can't decree that his schools ditch the BCS for a playoff. He'd need them to voluntarily introduce legislation. That's not to say he couldn't advocate for one, but college sports' unspoken truth is that the NCAA would be irrelevant without its cadre of big, money-making football conferences. So historically, the NCAA has just sat back and let them do as they please. And that's why we deem it "powerless."
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