Pacific and Plains: Making a Pac-16 work

Whether it's Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State announcing plans to join the Pac-12 this week, or some combination of other schools at a later date, Pac-12 expansion seems likely as the college football landscape continues to undergo a radical transformation. Here, we lay out our best idea for making a Pac-16 work, in hopes that the conference consider it when that fateful day comes.

When I read that the Pac-12 might be growing to a Pac-16, I was excited. I want our conference to be the best in the country, and Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech have each had great seasons as of late. Then, however, I read that the conference's big cahunas would have to organize and schedule this new league, and I got a sick taste in my mouth. Conferences around the country have found an uncanny ability to mess up the simplest of decisions, so instead of sour grapes after the fact, let's get ahead of the curve and lay out a sweet structure for a future Pac-16. I'm assuming the Texas and Oklahoma teams are the additions, but same principles could be easily adapted should a different four teams join the conference.

Pacific Division

Northwest Pod
Washington State
Oregon State

California Pod

Plains Division

East Pod
Texas Tech
Oklahoma State

West Pod
Utah (Rivals: COL, UA)
Colorado (Rivals: Utah, ASU)
Arizona (Rivals: ASU, Utah)
Arizona State (Rivals: UA, COL)

It's very simple: you play your three pod members every year. You play two of the remaining four teams in your division every year. You play four of the eight teams in the opposite division every year.

Don't let the simple structure fool you, though – there are a lot of advantages to the way this conference sets up. I see several priorities in establishing a 16-team league, and this plan achieves all of them.

  1. Maintain existing rivalries. Each team would play its three main rivals every year. For teams with more of a history in the league, these rivalries are excellent: Stanford gets Cal, USC and UCLA every year, Washington gets Washington State and the Oregons, Oklahoma gets to leverage its Big 12 history and take on Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech annually.
  2. Establish new rivalries. Rivalries are the lifeblood of college football, so any time you throw together 16 teams without common history, establishing strong rivalries and the bonds that go with them is a must. Here, teams could play their primary rival the last game of every season, so give Colorado and Utah a few years and they'll hate each other in good time. By the same logic, Arizona/Utah (Battle of the Desert) or Colorado/Arizona State (Battle of the Party Schools!) don't carry particular weight today, but have them square off each and every year in a red-letter game, and the bad blood will flood soon enough.
    Here's an optional, but awesome, bonus idea to make rivalries better yet: Have a team's record in its pod games be the tiebreaker for conference standings, for both the conference championship game and bowl pecking order. Think the Red River shootout isn't big enough as is? Let's just raise the stakes so it's the difference between playing for a national title berth and in the Alamo Bowl.
  3. Make a 16-team amalgamation feel like a cohesive conference. Why not have a system where you play everyone in your division annually? Well, because that's seven games, and then you only play one or two per year against the other division. So that's literally eight or 16 years until you get to host every team in the Pac-16. That's two eight-team conferences who just so happen to be fourth cousins.
    Here, over the course of two years, every team would play every other squad in the Pac-16. (Heck, the Big 10 doesn't have that feature now, and they're significantly smaller.) The math means that over a player's or student's four-year career, he will have the chance to host every team in the conference, and play in every stadium in the conference. Imagine being in a Pac-16 and never getting to play in or visit the Rose Bowl or Autzen Stadium your whole college career. This proposal guarantees that wouldn't happen.
  4. Have a structure that lends credence to the conference. The Big 10 got mocked, rightfully, for having "Leaders" and "Legends" divisions. I can only pay half-attention to the ACC because, ten-plus years after its formation, I have no idea who's in which division. And it's still kind of weird that the Big 12 has ten teams, while the Big 10 has 12. A traditional, straightforward structure can legitimize a conference (look at the SEC East and West, or the Pac-12 North and South), while a wacky structure (cough, cough, four-team pods) can make it a laughingstock.
    Here, you have two perfectly logical divisions. You could give my mother, who is expert in fourth-grade geography but not so much in college football, the 16 teams in the conference and the names of the two divisions, and she could instantly tell you which teams belonged where. Mission accomplished. Heck, the division names even have a nice ring to them.
  5. Create a rivalry between the two divisions. This would be a unique feature to the Pac-16 that would make the conference that much more dynamic. SEC West fans don't look down on the SEC East; Leaders don't secretly detest Legends. Here, though, you have a natural rivalry between the original Pac-8 division and the Big 12-heavy division.
    It goes without saying that this divisional rivalry mirrors nicely the very real cultural clash between red and blue. College football doesn't exist in a vacuum and you can bet the conference championship games and inter-divisional clashes would be that much more intense because of the cultural undertones. As a political junkie, I kind of like that, and I bet folks in Berkeley would be just as excited to prove something to the good folks in Lubbock. I bet the citizens of Norman would be more than happy to return the favor. Bring it on.
  6. Ensure fairness. You don't want one team to reach the championship game over a more deserving opponent just because one squad had to face Oregon and Stanford, while the other one got Washington State and Oregon State. Here, each team plays every fellow Pac-16er exactly once over a two-year period, save for its rivals, who it naturally plays annually.
    So with good luck maybe you could have an easy schedule one year. That, of course, is inevitable in a 16-team league, because you can't play every team any one year; you're going to have to duck somebody. But whatever scheduling luck you have one year will precisely even out the next year – you will play every team you didn't play the year before, while every team you did have to play the year before will rotate off the schedule, save for your rivals.
  7. Create a nine-game conference schedule. Selfishly, an AD typically wants an eight-game conference schedule so he can squeeze Sam Houston State into the final slot. The school gets the extra revenue from a home game and one less chance to lose. But, obviously, that stinks for us fans and for the sport of college football. Should it indeed become the first superconference, the Pac-16 could set a strong tone with nine-game schedules and a conference championship game, and you can bet other conferences would feel the pressure to match that standard. The sport will be better off for it.

Heck, the setup even works nicely for basketball. Play your pod members twice and everyone else once, and you have an 18-game conference schedule. Tada. Add in your second rival and you're at 17. Add in a third rival and you're at 18, or add in half the remaining six teams in your division and you're at 20. Your choice, can't go wrong.

I've classified this story so it will show up on all 16 schools' websites. Some of you have much bigger fan bases than Stanford's humble but faithful bunch. So if you like what you're hearing, or if you have some suggestions, come onto our free BootBoard and let's hash it out. If you think the proposal would be good for the prospective conference, let's make it a reality.

You know how to reach your athletic departments. Larry Scott's email address is presumably, and the Pac-12 has a Facebook page and Twitter feed. Let's make it happen, folks.

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