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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

The Pac-12′s Simple, Perfect Idea

A month of frenzied expansion — or talk of expansion, it turned out — was ended with the simplest term possible: no. That’s all it took for Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to pull potential offers to Texas and Oklahoma off the table, and it wasn’t even a true no; it was more like a gentle reminder that things are working out pretty well here, thank you, and let’s not rock the boat by changing for change’s sake. The reminder came from the Pac-12 presidents, who informed Scott via a conference call Tuesday afternoon that a 12-team league suited the conference’s established revenue sharing model, not to mention that the current divisional setup worked well in terms of numbers, rivalries and geographic location.

A simple nudge, really, based on the simplest of reasons: don’t mess with success. The logic behind the presidents’ consensus is so simple, in fact, that I wonder why the decision wasn’t reached sooner — like a month ago, before this latest expansion go-round even kicked off.

What we have works, said the Pac-12. We have a revenue sharing model that works tremendously well with 12 schools. Would Texas and Oklahoma bring more money to the table? Perhaps. But equal revenue sharing works like this: you have a pie, and the more slices the smaller the portions.

Not only would Texas and Oklahoma have agreed to step in line with the Pac-12′s equal revenue contract — the operative word being equal – but each would have needed to bring a significant amount of money to the relationship for each of the current Pac-12 schools to receive the same amount they’re currently getting.

Perhaps it took the Pac-12 some time to crunch the numbers, which would explain why the conference’s prolonged dalliance with the two Big 12 powers — and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, which would have presumably come along for the ride. This idea that the conference is happy with the current divisional setup, on the other hand, should have been reason enough for the Pac-12 to retain the status quo long before conversations with O.U. and Texas got this far.

The league has 12 teams, six teams in each division, and the new layout — christened only earlier this month, we should remember — is a perfect fit for what the Pac-12 wants to accomplish. The rivalries are intact. In terms of geography, everything fits; maybe Colorado is a bit lost in the South, but I think we can live with that.

The Pac-12 wants to play nine conference games. The current setup allows each team to play its five divisional brethren and four teams from across the league: in 2011, Stanford plays California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State from the North and Colorado, U.C.L.A., Arizona and U.S.C. from the South. You see your divisional foes and are still able to retain the sense of rivalry; Stanford gets Oregon and also U.S.C., playing the Trojans despite the divisional split.

Larry Scott has hit home run after home run since taking over a year ago, and the Pac-12 in its current formation is his greatest feat. It’s a perfect league, one that has talent, rivalries and geographic meaning — the hallmark of any great conference — while encapsulating an entire region of the country. It’s perfect.

Which begs the question: why even consider tinkering with such a perfect league? Because of money, of course, but it’s my perception that once the Pac-12 presidents crunched the numbers, got down to brass tacks and really considered the financial benefits and drawbacks of adding four teams from the Big 12, the league’s administration decided that the addition might end up being a subtraction.

That was a wise move. And the ramifications of the Pac-12′s decision will be felt from coast to coast — and all in a positive way, in my mind.

The Big 12 will survive, albeit without commissioner Dan Beebe. That’s addition by subtraction. Oklahoma will need a few additional assurances, most notably from Texas and its network’s broadcast rights, but the league will soon see eye-to-eye. The Big 12 will add a 10th team to get back to a more normal layout, with B.Y.U. the leading option.

The Big East will survive, though Pittsburgh, Syracuse and potentially one or two others will depart for the A.C.C., to be replaced by lesser programs. The Big East needs to survive, as the A.C.C. will never have the Northeast footprint it desires even if the conference adds Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Connecticut. The Big East will move forward with West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida, with U.C.F., Houston, Navy and Florida International added to replenish the ranks.

The SEC will survive, of course.

The weaker leagues will suffer, but not to the degree that most believed possible should super conferences sprout up on both coasts. The Sun Belt might lose a burgeoning power like F.I.U., but the Sun Belt won’t really go anywhere: the league isn’t strong now, wasn’t strong in the past and won’t ever be truly strong, as any program that takes a step forward will always become fodder for a B.C.S. league.

College football as we currently know it will survive, in essence. Few thought that was a possibility given the turmoil of the last month, not to mention the last year. And you know what? The status quo is good; the status quo is safe; there’s nothing wrong with the status quo. College football isn’t broken, even if I admit that there are some issues that need to be addressed.

Some leagues need to be rejiggered. It’s clear that the Big 12 needed to reevaluate its priorities: it can’t just be Texas and then the rest, but rather a league with a democratic mindset — the idea that there are no haves, no have-nots, but rather equality.

The Big East needs to make moves, but the league survives. The A.C.C. might add another four teams, but I don’t think that taking four teams from the Big East is going to drastically alter the power structure in college football, and doing so won’t lead other conferences to jump right back into additional expansion.

I think we can breathe deep, exhale, relax and return to football. You know: football. What happens on Saturday, on Thursday nights, Friday nights, sometimes on Tuesdays. That’s why we watch, after all, and it’s why we care so much when expansion rears its ugly head. Let’s get back to football. I think we can relax.

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  1. Burnt Orange says:

    But before we go back to football, BYU, TCU and Boise St. to the Big 12 for reasons previously stated. Don’t tell me Boise isn’t a mix for academic reasons – there is little about any of this that has anything to do with academics. However, if we must pretend that academics matters, then substitute AFA for Boise. Don’t want 12 teams for Dave’s well stated reasons, then take TCU to get to 10. Next, every Big 12 AD get on the phone TODAY and call these SEC schools and schedule home and homes. You are not going to challenge this SEC superiority unless you take them on and beat them. By the way, any argument that through three weeks, the Big 12 is the second best conference ?

    Paul: I think Air Force gets in ahead of Boise for a few reasons, with one of the lesser reasons being academics. You know what? According to this week’s 1-120 re-ranking, the Big 12 is the best conference in the country. It’s close enough to the SEC that it’s a bit up for debate, but in terms of average ranking the Big 12 comes out on top.

  2. Lee says:

    If the Big 12 was smart they would bring those three in the fold BUT they aren’t so don’t hold your breathe. The Big East should lose it’s automatic qualifier status after the BCS contract expires.

  3. Uberd says:

    Larry Scott can say no to power presidents and ad’s and Dan Beebe can’t. One plays with a full set and the other plays with, well…bee-bees. Equality is something that unfortunately Texas doesn’t understand. They have their own universe now and nothing can penetrate it.

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    Is the Texas administation looking out for number one ? Have they identified every conceivable profit center associated with a college football program ? ( many of which are now being replicated by other programs in the country ) Did they run roughshod over a weak commissioner ? Do they generate more revenue than any other football program ? Do they generate more net profit than any other program ? The answer to every question is “yes.”

    But, Texas is not the only program looking ouf for number one- only the most visible and villified. Here are a few things to chew on. As I understand it, the SEC does not share Third Tier broadcast rights (rights to non marquee games and the foudation of LHN programming) equally either, so the most successful conference in America is not entirely equal about sharing. Also, Texas A&M was invited to explore a Lone Star Network with Texas a few years ago and declined. ( Rumor was they wanted to do their own network) It was only after the LHN obtained the 300M contract that A&M got all up in arms over the situation. Third, Kansas generated roughly 10M of third tier revenue through basketball broadcasts two seasons ago televisng games and Texas did not bitch about that. Fourth, Texas is funnelling a lot of the profit back into academics- anyone have a real issue with that? Finally, how is it that Texas came to “dominate” a conference when it was a part of four schools joining a bloc of eight ? And one of the four (A&M) is a sworn enemy of Texas.

    If you are all about “sharing the wealth” (and I actually am to a degree) Texas deserves plenty of criticism but I think they were pretty straight foward about what they were doing and they are not alone- just more successful at it. The real question we need to be thinking about, is how long is it till the handful of programs that can generate Texas sort of revenue say to heck with sharing equally with Washington State or Indiana – 15to20 schools bring 90% of the tv value so let’s do our own thing – now that would be a super conference and a a bad day for college football.

  5. Eksynyt says:

    The Pac may have looked out for its monetary needs, but it’s still a weak football league and that will most definitely never change now.

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