By David K.
With Texas A&M all but gone from the Big XII and Oklahoma threatening movement, the possibility of a Pac-16 is alive again, a lot sooner than most expected. Although the Pac-12 has publicly stated that they’d prefer to stay at 12, it would almost assuredly move to expand if the Big XII fell apart as a result of SEC accepting the Aggies. There is no guarantee that expansion would shake out that way, but the Pac-16 with Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State added is one of the more plausible scenarios.
Of course an expanded Pac would mean redoing the recently created divisions. So how would that shake out? There are a few options.
For reference keep in mind the four regional groupings of teams the Pac-16 would contain:
|Oregon||Oregon State||Arizona||Arizona State|
WEST vs EAST
The one most people assume would happen is a simple East/West split that would reunite the original Pac-8 schools in the West and the expansion teams in the East. It’s geographically logical, easy to remember, preserves the tradition of the west coast schools and competitively balanced with marquee schools like USC and Texas in each division.
Scheduling would be simple as well. Each year a team would play its seven division members and two cross division members. Likely you’d pair an east team with one California school and one Northwest school a year, and like wise the west with one Mountain and one Red River school.
Simple right? Well there is a hitch, the Arizona schools aren’t going to be thrilled with losing connections with the California schools, neither is Colorado for that matter, who also gets re-paired with four of the eleven schools it just left. So what other options are there for the Pac-16?
NORTH vs SOUTH
Still geographically based, a north south/split would alleviate the concerns of the Mountain schools by moving Colorado and Utah into the existing Pac-12 North, while the four Red River schools would move into the South. Everyone is paired with two California schools, Colorado isn’t paired with the Big XII schools. Everyone wins right?
Not so much. First, the California schools have made it absolutely clear that playing each other annually is top priority for them. Assuming you guaranteed that, then that would mean the four Northwest schools along with Colorado and Utah would NEVER play the L.A. teams, and the Arizona and Oklahoma and Texas schools would NEVER play the Bay Area teams. As if that weren’t enough of a deal breaker, think about the competitive and recruiting imbalance. USC AND Texas AND Oklahoma in the same division? Texas AND L.A. in the same division recruit wise? I can’t imagine the North schools being at all happy with that arrangement.
I was a big supporter of the zipper divisions for the Pac-12. It would have preserved the regional rivalries while providing more equal geographic access. Larry Scott however preferred simpler splits so people would know who was in what division, unlike the ACC’s Atlantic and Coastal divisions or the BigTen’s Legends and Leaders. Still we can consider how this would work. Eight team divisions with rivals split. But what would the divisions look like? Washington and Oregon would need to be paired, Texas and Oklahoma, USC and Stanford, UCLA and Cal. So perhaps?
Division X: Washington, Oregon, USC, Stanford, Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
Division O: Washington State, Oregon State, UCLA, Cal, Utah, ASU, Oklahoma, Texas
Assuming you pair rivals at the end of the season, thats 8 games decided (division + protected cross-over). If the California schools all play each other your back to the same problem described above, where no cross-over games would involve California and non-California schools. Maybe you can talk them out of it, they are still getting 2 of 3. Assuming that, that would mean you play each non-rival cross division team 1 out of 7 times. Assuming home/home games in pairs, thats 14 year cycles before you’d play a team from the other division again. Hardly seems an ideal way to build a conference. Add to that the confusing divisions and its a sloppy solution that creates more problems than it solves.
How about instead of two groupings, you go with four. Each team would play 3 teams from its own region and two each from the other three. It allows better rotation of opponents, but creates new sets of problems. First, would the NCAA and other conferences even allow it? Even if they did, how do you determine the champion? A two team championship game? A four team playoff? How often will you have multiple teams with the same “division” record of 3-1 or 2-2? Maybe the top two teams from different divisions based on total conference record? It’s creative, but likely too complicated to put in place.
WEST vs EAST POD SCHEDULED
This option takes the scheduling aspect of the four division option, but teams are still grouped into East and West divisions. The advantage here is no need to get special approval from the NCAA, you are still two divisions with a two team championship game, and you’d have more mixed scheduling among the two divisions, but you’d end up missing not one but TWO teams from your OWN division each year. It could easily happen that Washington and USC or Utah and Oklahoma both go undefeated in the same seasons. Who is the division champ? Isn’t the whole point of divisions to play the team IN your division? Ok, so the “divisions” are meaningless so why not…
So why go with divisions at all? Simply take the two teams with the best record at the end of the season and pair them off for a championship game. Pod scheduling like above to balance out the teams. It solves a lot of problems, but it would require a rule change that the NCAA and other conferences might not be willing to go with, and what happens when you end up with multiple teams with the same record at the end of the season? Lots of tiebreakers come into play and that can get ugly.
I still think East/West is the likely outcome of a Pac-16 super conference forming. The Mountain Schools might be a little miffed but it causes the least problems with the NCAA, is easy to follow and remember, makes travel sense, and is obvious. For other sports you’d have more flexible options with not all schools competing in all sports, and more games per season. Still maybe i’m wrong, maybe one of these other scenarios ends up being the preferred choice. Maybe the Northwest schools decide they are sick of California and pair with the Red River four. Maybe a giant earthquake swallows the California schools and the Pac-16 goes back to being 12. Maybe the world ends on December 21, 2012 and none of this matters. Or the Pac-12 stays the same and expansion fizzles. Maybe.