Pac-10 Division Proposal: Three by Four

As our friends in Walnut Creek are learning the hard way, the pending Pac-12 does not easily cleave into two. The Pac-12 cleaves far more naturally into three groups: the four Northwest teams, the four California teams, and the four Southwest teams. So instead of forcing the league in half, why not let the league's history, geography and rivalries lead the way, and create four groups of three?

The tease

Northwest Region: Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon
California Region: Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC
Southwest Region: Utah, Colorado, Arizona State, Arizona

If he will put aside his peccadillo of the moment ("We want to play in SoCal every year,") long enough to trust that this plan addresses this concern as well as theoretically possible, the honest Pac-12 fan will admit that it's hard to group the pending Pac-12 any more naturally than we have above.

Notice that within each group of four are the rivalries that define the Pac-10. Every team in the Northwest and California Regions is natural rivals with every other team in its region, and as far as the Southwest Region goes, give Utah and Colorado some time to get acclimated, and we have no doubt that they and the Arizonas will develop plenty of bad blood as well. (Colorado in particular seems a natural fit with Arizona and ASU as the three party schools of the conference, and, hey, compared to in-state rival BYU, Utah's the biggest party school of them all.)

Okay, so we like the regions. How do we make this work? Well, hang tight. First, let's look at the alternatives…

How other solutions fail

Geographic splits

If you split the Pac-12 into two groups of six, simple math dictates that at least one of these regions of four are getting fractured, and so you are left with an inherently unstable situation. California is the big prize because of recruiting and ratings, so good luck getting any team on board that's not in a division with a California team. (Ore/Ore St./Wash/Wash St./Col./Utah – what a ratings bonanza!) Okay, so then I guess we have to split up California so everyone has a California team in the league. Good luck getting the California schools, who reportedly want to stay together, on board with this, and good luck convincing the league's north of a Wash/Wash St./Ore/Ore St./Stan/Cal division, especially when the Pacific Northwest is as dependent on SoCal as anyone for recruits.

The zipper/meat cleaver

Do you want to take a "zipper" to the league (more like a meat cleaver, in my estimation) and create two divisions that separate every team from its archrival?

If so, we have to guarantee that each archrivalry occurs annually, right off the bat. Okay, now what about ensuring intraregional games like Stanford-USC, Cal-UCLA, or Oregon-Washington occur annually? Okay, put those teams in the same division, tada. Well, the same holds for the other set of intraregional games like Cal-USC, Stanford-UCLA and Oregon State-Washington. These have to occur annually too, right?

Well, if a team plays the five other teams in its division every year and plays the two cross-divisional games against the teams in its region (Stanford-Cal and either Stanford-UCLA or Stanford-USC) annually, we're at seven guaranteed games each year. We've guaranteed all the juicy games, which is good, but the problem is that we only have one or two free games left with an eight or nine-game schedule, which means that we're only playing teams in the rest of the league every third or sixth year! In turn, this means that you're only visiting the Pac-12 teams outside your region and division every six or 12 years(!!), which is a travesty: Classes upon classes of Pac-12 players will never play in the Coliseum or Autzen or the Rose Bowl. Unless you're really lucky and it's the one year of six or 12 that you're hosting his team, most fans will never see the next John Elway or Reggie Bush with their own eyes.

Okay, to make sure the scheduling lapses aren't as long, you could un-guarantee rivalry games like Stanford-USC (or Stanford-Cal, good luck) but that's obviously not ideal. Your only other choice in the zipper model is to say that a team won't play everyone in its division every single year, but no other league with divisions does that, and for good reason: you could have an undefeated USC and an undefeated Oregon in the same division in the year they don't play each other, and only one of them could even play for the conference title. Absolute Armaggedon. We need divisions to have a conference championship per the NCAA, but why even have permanent divisions at all if you're not going to even play everyone in the division? Here's the solution…

Regional Plan

1. Teams are divided into three four-team regions – the Southwest, Northwest and California.

2. Each game's location flips every time it is held. In plain English, if Stanford hosts Oregon this year, the next time the two teams meet, Oregon will host Stanford. Common sense, and happens already in every league.

3. Teams play every team within their region every year. This guarantees all major Pac-10 rivalries occur every year. In conjunction with Rule 2, this means that each team will host (and visit) its three biggest rivals every other year, as is the case currently.

4. Teams rotate through their other conference games such that teams will play every other opponent three times a four-year period. In conjunction with Rule 2, this rule means that no team will go more than three years without both hosting and visiting every other team in the league.

5. The exact composition of the two divisions rotates annually based upon two constraints. First, archrivals should always be in the same division, because otherwise we could have USC-UCLA the last week of the regular season, and then a rematch the next week in the conference championship – no thanks! Second, every team in a division in a given year must play every other team in that division. This draw could be held and televised at Pac-10 Media Days, and would be an awesome way to draw publicity to the league. Since game dates and locations would be set years in advance, there's no downside.

Mock schedule

So how would it work? Let's use Stanford as an example and draw out schedules and divisions.

Stanford is always in the same division as Cal. Every year, Stanford plays UCLA, USC and Cal. These rivalry games should be the last three of the year to build suspense and hype.

The league can stick at nine conference games, which I'm assuming for simplicity's sake, and in the spirit of competition. (However, if greed takes the day and the league wants to go to eight conference games and an extra guaranteed win of a home game, this plan still works just fine, as long as there's a nine-game conference schedule every third year. You need that "leap year" ninth conference game to ensure that you play every team in the league at least twice every three years, and thus host every team at least every three years and get to see most stars in person, which I think is an awesome feature.)

We've pasted Stanford and Cal four-year schedules above, and there are a lot of really cool things about schedules with this conference:

Your three biggest rivalry games will always come last and in the same order. November for Stanford will be UCLA week, then USC week, and then Cal week. It's like three Big Game weeks in one.

Home and away games could rotate on a weekly basis perpetually. No more weird four-week stretches without any home games.

The scheduling I've proposed is like basketball's in that whoever you play one week, your archrival plays their archrival, and then the next week, you guys trade. So if it's Stanford/Washington Week 1, it's also Cal/WSU. Then, Week 2, it's Cal/Washington and Stanford/WSU. This should make rivalries that much more intense because coaches and fans doing scouting of next week's opponent are going to see a whole lot of their archrival. This also makes the archrivalry season-long because checking the standings is a lot more meaningful when you've both played the same teams and have the same teams left on the schedule. Plus, now you can always compare results. Cal beat WSU 28-0? Well, we've got to do better than that.

With divisions rotating annually, there's no "easy" or "hard" division, and we're giving every team a fair shot year-in, year-out.

I would love to hear thoughts from fans across the Pac-10 at Daniel [at], but if you like this schedule, please pass it along to your media, your AD, Larry Scott, you name it. After all, college football is too important to be left to the professionals.

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