Expansion not without growing pains

Washington, along with the other nine colleges that make up the Pac-10, recently gave their new commissioner, Larry Scott, carte blanche to investigate the idea of conference expansion. He has been quoted as early as February that if the league were to grow, this would be the time to do it. And it would be the first time it has added new members in over thirty years.

The main reason for expansion - and really the only reason that matters - is revenue. By acting first, the conference could potentially acquire some key pieces - notably Texas and Oklahoma - in a land grab that's sure to take place if Nebraska and Missouri hold out from an offer from the Big-10 to move. That, coupled with the league's impending TV contract negotiations, has created a nearly perfect storm that need only one domino to set off a chain of events likely to find the Pac-10 nearly doubling in size.

With expansion to 16 teams, the Pac-10 could negotiate from a position of strength, creating a windfall of $20 million dollars or so a year for each school in the conference. And that's just based on the projections; the actual outcome could be even sweeter, depending on actual events.

And in many ways, it makes sense for the remaining Big-12 teams to join up with the Pac-10 and create the first 'superconference', rather than trying to repair the damage done.

So let's say Scott's vision becomes reality. The Pac-16? The Big Kahuna? The PacSouthwest? What would you call it?

From Washington's perspective, you'd probably call it a rough go in the short term. Let's take one of the scenarios that's currently being discussed. Sixteen Pac-10 teams would be divided into two divisions; one would be the regular Pac-10 minus the Arizona schools. They would shift over to the six former Big-12 schools - Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and either Colorado or Baylor.

This scenario looks fine if you are looking to retain old rivalries. Arizona and Arizona State came to the Pac-10 in 1978, so their move would make sense from a geographical and historical standpoint.

That means out of a 12-game schedule, the Huskies would now only be required to play the seven other teams from the former Pac-10, allowing them to choose two or three other games against teams from the new 'east' division of the conference. Sounds good in theory, but how do you choose? What's equitable? And what makes sense for everybody?

In theory, the quad system used by teams in the old WAC conference would probably be the most equitable, but that would take away another out-of-conference payday. In that scenario, each division would be cut up into quads by geography; the northwest schools would be one quad, the California schools another. For the 'east' division, the most likely quads would be UA, ASU and two Texas schools, with two other Texas schools and the Oklahoma schools making up the final quad.

So in any given year, you play all the teams from your division, plus one of the quads from the other division, then rotate the following year. The only question that needs to be answered is, how do the Texas schools get divided? Clearly a natural quad would be Texas, Texas A&M and the Oklahoma schools, but would that be the most equitable? Perhaps putting Texas and Texas A&M together with the Arizona schools would be a good fit to start with.

Any way you slice it, expansion loaf would be a lot easier for everyone to swallow if those in charge can figure out a fair and balanced scheduling package that benefits the league as a whole. But as we've seen with Big East basketball, finding that fair and balanced knife-edge is very hard to come by. More likely than not, scheduling will become a yearly bone of contention, with plenty of logistical nightmares thrown in for good measure.

In the long term, the benefits for UW joining the first 'superconference' could have far-reaching implications. The league could re-invent the way television contracts are done, especially if others follow their lead and create their own superconferences. By bringing in ESPN staples in Texas and Oklahoma, that long-standing eastern programming power would solidify their presence out west too, something that is already slowly taking hold. Recruiting in the state of Texas could move from being a national phenomenon to one where the western states clearly win by association, and that is definitely no small thing. Players that would have never looked at northwest schools, for instance, might now take a look - and vice-versa.

And with this move, could we once and for all drop this idea that colleges are supposed to be bastions for amateur athletics? Moves like the one Scott is looking to make aren't done if it weren't for the fact that student-athletes from all these schools are going to make this 'superconference' more money than they dreamed possible, especially during the dark days when Tom Hansen was running the league into the ground.

It's all about the Benjamins, baby - so it's time to lift the facade, drop the charade that is amateur athletics and pay the student-athletes what they are worth. College football is nothing more than a farm system for the NFL, and it has been for years. There's absolutely no reason not to allow the players to reap some of the rewards for what they do. And yes - the education they receive is vitally important, but it doesn't pay for that new iPhone either. I'm not talking about the days where leaving college for the pros meant a pay cut; I'm just talking about some equity. There has to be a middle ground where everyone wins.

Make no mistake; regardless of where it is headed, UW is simply a passenger on the bus Larry Scott is driving. It's up to schools like Nebraska, Notre Dame and Texas to help determine the Pac-10's future road-map. If Scott is right, and the time to grow is now, the Huskies - along with the rest of the conference - already have their seat at the table.

The question now is - who is going to join them?

Dawgman.com Top Stories