With the announcement for Pac-12 expansion set for this week at 11:30 am PT, both the California Golden Bears and Stanford Cardinal seem to be only the two teams of the original ten that are floating between potential divisions. The Washington Huskies, Washington St. Cougars, Oregon Ducks and Oregon St. Beavers are headed for the North; the USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St. Sun Devils headed for the South. What's still up for debate is where the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes will end up and where Cal and Stanford would go as a result.
The current proposals being floated around have Cal and Stanford going up to the North Division, which would on face value seem to compromise the traditional rivalries we've had with UCLA and USC for over a century. But that might not be the case. Ted Miller of ESPN reports:
It's been widely reported that the Pac-12 will be divided into North and South divisions with the USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado in the South and California, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North.
It's also likely Bay Area schools, which wanted to be in the South division, will get guaranteed annual games with the L.A. schools. The popular perception is not having an annual game in Southern California will hurt the Northwest schools' recruiting.
There are some serious disadvantages to this approach. I discussed them in an earlier post on the subject on the California Golden Blogs.
The Oregon schools and Washington schools would rotate into them every few years, but beating mighty Troy or an always dangerous UCLA squad is no longer needed, and becomes a huge advantage when trying to win close division races. There could be significant asymmetry if the Northwest squads beat up on the relatively easier Rocky Mountain and Arizona schools (it could be argued Arizona is the best of the bunch these days, but who knows how long it'll last), while USC and UCLA give Cal all they can handle. The LA schools generally have the best records and the most talented teams--taking wins from there require a much bigger effort from the opposition.
Moreover, the Northwest division instantly becomes the toughest division in the conference, perhaps in all of college football. All these teams have legitimately contended for the Pac-10 title in the past decade, even currently hapless Wazzu. For Cal to have to deal with potential road-trips to Autzen and Husky Stadium every season (two places that are generally houses of horror for any Pac-10 to deal with), while their cousins to the south get nice warm trips to the Arizona schools, a rebuilding Colorado and an adjusting Utah just seems heavily unfair to the Golden Bears. It seems incredibly unfair that USC and UCLA get the easier road to the conference title game and Colorado and Utah manage to draw these games every year over the old Pac-8 squads.
CGB's assessment of this scenario is worth a full read, but one of their main contentions is that such an arrangement would put the Cardinal and Bears at a competitive disadvantage. I think that argument puts a little too much stock in the Bruins' and Trojans' past success. It's not that I don't expect the Los Angeles schools to rise again, but I imagine there will be years, such as this one, when playing out-of-division games against UCLA and USC would offer an easier path to playing in the Pac-10 Championship than games against Utah and Arizona.
What does it all mean? Nothing, in fact. In 2011, USC and UCLA will get their $2 million payoff while the rest of the conference shares revenue equally. In 2012, when the new TV contract goes into effect, the entire conference will share revenue equally. Larry Scott set the threshold for equal revenue sharing knowing full-well that he could hit the number in contract negotiations.
So we seem to have the tougher road at first glance. Both Cal and Stanford need to beat USC and UCLA every year for sure, while no one else has to deal with that problem. Not that Utah and Arizona are pushovers, but Oregon and Oregon State have been the two most consistent programs in the conference outside of USC. That isn't likely to change in the near future.
On the other hand, having to only worry about head-to-head matchups with only half the conference as opposed to all of it could be advantageous. Cal and Stanford could lose to USC, but they could easily make it up within their division by beating the Oregon schools and hold the tiebreaker against them. While it does provide the unenviable prospect of facing a USC-caliber team twice, there are other things to like.
Do you think Cal and Stanford are at a disadvantage in this alignment?