Maybe conference expansion isn’t for the best
Pacific 10 Commissioner Larry Scott was back in his Walnut Creek, Calif., office Tuesday, plotting his next move after almost moving a mountain.
The Harvard graduate and former women’s tennis commissioner won’t celebrate his first year on the job until July 1, yet his brazen play to create a 16-team conference — the largest league in major college sports —was a bombshell deal that nearly went off.
It was finally scuttled Monday when Texas decided to stay in the Big 12.
The Pac-10’s failure to execute, in a fallout twist, may have been the best thing that could have happened.
Not for the Pac-10, maybe, but for college football.
Imagine if Scott had succeeded. The creation of the Pac-16 would have triggered a chain reaction that probably would have caused conferences to crumble.
The Southeastern Conference was not going to idly watch a super conference rise in the West. The SEC made that clear by making a late play for Texas A&M, a move that may have spike-stripped Texas’ package deal plans to join the Pac-10.
To get even with the Pac-16, the SEC might have raided the Atlantic Coast, possibly of Florida State and Miami, Georgia Tech and Clemson. And the ACC might have countered by raiding the Big East.
The Big Ten might not have stopped not at Nebraska and moved to pick off three or four Big East schools.
The result could have been four 16-team conferences and tombstones for the Big 12 and the Big East. The gap between the haves and have-nots would have been greater than it is today.
But it didn’t happen.
Incredibly, though, once it was safe to uncover your eyes, there was remarkably little blood spilled.
And if greed and predatory interests can somehow be checked for a few hours — it’s a big “if” — most of the affected parties can count themselves winners.
Texas. The Longhorns worked the game brilliantly. Texas got two schools out of the league, leveraged the Pac-10 for a better deal in the Big 12, and will add millions to its coffers by forming its own television network.
The Pac 10. Scott must have read Robert Browning’s poem about how a man’s reach should always exceed his grasp, Scott didn’t hit a grand slam, but, he doubled to left.
The Pac-10, long perceived as weak and plodding, announced itself a player on the national scene. The addition of Colorado and another school ( Utah?) was not the mega-move Scott had in mind, but it is expansion, will add value, and was symbolically important.
The Big Ten. It didn’t land the “N” it was hoping for — Notre Dame — but Nebraska was a solid “get” and gives the league the 12th team necessary to stage a championship game.
The Big 12. The big news: It survives. Schools on the verge of getting orphaned — Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State — return to the fold with the expectation of getting richer.
Utah. Where’s your antitrust argument now? Failure of the Pac-16 plan opened Utah’s window to joining the Pac-10, a conference whose champion receives automatic qualifier status to a major bowl game.
Joining the Pac 10 would make Utah a member of what Senator Orrin Hatch has long called one of the “privileged” monopoly conferences.
Notre Dame. The formation of super conferences would have led to huge financial gains for everyone else while the Irish’s stand-alone value diminished.
The Big East. It wasn’t a player in these negotiations, but the result of minimal expansion has secured the league’s short-term future.
The Mountain West? Call it a push. The conference added Boise State but now might lose Utah. The formation of a Pac-16 could have sent the Mountain West reeling in either direction. It could have been raided beyond recognition by a dismantled Big 12, or expanded to 16 by adding Big 12 leftovers.
You could argue Colorado, which committed to the Pac-10 last week and might have left money on the Big 12 table. But Colorado was always an awkward fit in the Big 12 and is more geographically aligned with the Pac-10.
As for the Western Athletic Conference, it loses Boise State, with nothing comparable behind the Broncos. The good news is Boise State’s best shot to win a national title, this year, will be played as a WAC member.
Bottom line: The Big Ten started the internal panic among conferences when it announced expansion plans last December.
Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, though, was emphatic and prophetic at last week’s Big 12 meetings when he told the Kansas City Star: “If we need to finish it, we’ll finish it.”
And Texas did — at least for the moment.