Andy Staples is clueless

So, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples opined a piece where he states that the Pac-10 needs to expand to 12 teams in order to silence any remaining BCS bashers of the conference. He claims that the best way to do so is also the best way to make money.

His reasons are thus:
1. Bad TV deal puts Pac-10 behind the 8-ball when compared to the other major conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, etc.)
2. No championship game (no “gravy train”, he says).

His suggestions are ludicrous – besides the obvious point of having a championship game, he wants the Pac-10 to expand to include Boise State and Utah as members. He claims that “By inviting the two biggest thorns in the BCS’ side to sit at the big table, the Pac-10 could protect the BCS and its precious Rose Bowl matchup with the Big Ten.” He then goes on to say that Utah and Boise State would make “fine conference rivals”.

Now, by no means do I disagree that the Pac-10’s TV deal with Fox Sports is laughable. Fox Sports got a steal on this contract, but with the new commissioner coming in this year, Fox Sports will not get such a deal any more. In fact, no TV network will get that kind of deal. However, any new schools would have to be able to increase the league’s television market share, according to the outgoing Pac-10 commish. Boise State (121st biggest market) doesn’t quite make the cut. Utah (35th) might.

Second, a championship game depends on location, and the Pac-10 is one of the most geographically spread out conferences (aside from the Sun Belt). A championship “gravy train,” as Staples puts it, completely depends on ATTENDANCE. Assume for just a moment that the Pac-10 even considers expansion, they would have to place the championship game in the location that makes the most sense to get the most attendance – which would be Los Angeles. That’s great, but what if the two schools in the game are NOT from California? Say, Washington State and Arizona? Are you going to tell me that the place would be sold out? I don’t think so.

Third, all the conference rivals are geographically located in proximity to each other. Arizona/ASU. Cal/Stanford. UCLA/USC. Oregon/Oregon State. Washington/Washington State. All of these rivals are only a maximum of 90 minutes away from each other by car. Boise State and Utah is a 4.5 to 6 hr drive, depending on which interstate you take.

Fourth, the Pac-10 will not bring in two schools for athletics for football only. If they’re in, they’re in for ALL sports. Considering that football and basketball are the only money makers right now, Arizona facing Boise State in track and field or UCLA facing Utah in women’s softball, both several times a year, is not cost effective.

Fifth, the Pac-10 conference is also a HUGE research-oriented conference and has high standards for academics, grad school, and other non-athletic requirements. Unless the schools have valuable contributions in the areas of research and development, the Pac-10 would not consider those schools. Unfortunately, Boise State and Utah do not quite fit those categories.

Sixth, if two teams were considered, they also need to bring either a national presence or an extremely huge regional presence. Is Boise State a national presence east of the Mississippi? Unless you’re from Boise, the answer is no. Is Utah? Maybe.

Some good examples – Colorado/Colorado State fits the former, but then again we fall into the geography problem with competing with the remaining members of the conference. Utah/BYU would be a better fit, but would BYU want to leave the Mountain West where they are top dog every year to become second-, third-, or even fourth-fiddle in the Pac-10? Probably not.

If we considered major regional presence, then good fits might be San Diego State and UNLV. Aside from Fresno State there aren’t any other Univ of California at ____ or Cal State ____ schools that play Division I football. The University of Hawai’i also could be a team to consider, seeing as every major market in the Pac-10 has direct flights to Honolulu, and EVERYONE has heard of and knows of Hawai’i.

No, Staples obviously didn’t put any real thought into his piece, he was just spouting off the cuff.

However, the Pac-10 will be taking steps anyway to assure themselves a better BCS shot each year by getting rid of round-robin scheduling and going back to playing only 8 conference teams each season instead of nine. This means that the schools will be scheduling one more “gimme” every season, just like the ACC, the SEC, and the Big 12 do. That means that the Pac-10 schools will head into the meat of their season – ie. conference play – with more wins, making the conference more relevant on a national scale.

They’ll also string out the schedule a little more in the season to allow for final games to be played during “Championship Week” in order to make the conference relevant in BCS discussions – one of the problems currently is that the Pac-10 (along with the Big Ten) wraps up their season a week or two too early. Now, that won’t be an issue.

So, does the Pac-10 need to expand? No, not really. Is there a championship “gravy train”? Maybe on the East Coast (again with the East Coast bias, Mr. Staples?) but not out West. Can the Pac-10 bring themselves back into one of the premiere football conferences? Absolutely, and they can do it all without ANY of Mr. Staples suggestions.