Over the next six to 12 months, the Pacific-10 Conference will consider two issues that could dramatically change the face of the league: expansion and creation of its own television network.
The issues are related, because the larger the league’s geographic reach, the more potential viewers could be delivered either to existing networks or to a new network created by the conference.
“The logic is if the Pac-10 is going to think about expanding, now is our window,” commissioner Larry Scott said Tuesday in a conference call. “The reason being, if you’re going to consider a reconstruction of the conference, there’s a value proposition associated with that. Given that we’re about to have negotiations regarding our media rights, it makes sense that if you’re going to do it, to do it when you can monetize it and get value from it commercially.”
Scott did not name any schools that might be added to the conference, and he said no “serious discussions” have been held with any potential members. However, he said any candidate schools would have to be academically and culturally compatible with the current 10 universities.
“I know that’s of paramount importance to our presidents and chancellors,” Scott said. “There are other economic and athletic considerations such as increased costs that would be involved, increased travel that would be involved, splitting the pie in more ways. You would look at how that is offset against potentially greater revenue, potentially greater exposure into new markets, possible recruiting opportunities, the impact on media negotiations generally.”
Speculation is that schools such as Colorado of the Big 12 and Utah of the Mountain West are possible expansion targets. Texas and Texas A&M were once thought to be close to joining the Pac-10 before pressure from the Texas Legislature sent them to the Big 12 instead.
The league’s last expansion came in 1978, when Arizona and Arizona State joined what was previously the Pac-8.
However, the Pac-10 is the smallest of what are generally considered the major conferences. The Big East has 16 members (although only eight play football). The SEC, ACC and Big 12 all have 12 members. The Big Ten added Penn State as its 11th member in 1990 and recently announced that it is investigating adding one more.
Scott said the Big Ten’s interest in expansion rekindled the attention of Pac-10 presidents and chancellors.
The issue also comes up now because negotiations are about to begin on Pac-10 media contracts, which expire after the 2011-12 athletic seasons.
Scott seemed to have that in mind when he hired Kevin Weiberg into the newly created position of deputy commissioner and chief operating officer.
Weiberg had been involved in integrating Penn State into the Big Ten, and in planning and developing the Big Ten Network, a full-time network created in 1997. It broadcasts approximately 350 live Big Ten athletic events annually and is available in about 73 million homes, including 19 of the 20 largest markets in the country.
Weiberg’s job is to help Scott decide if the Pac-10 would be better served with a similar network or by negotiating better deals with existing sports broadcasters such as Fox and ESPN.
“Clearly, for a network to be successful, you want it to be distributed as broadly as possible, not only in the region but hopefully to have distribution that is national in scope,” Weiberg said in the conference call. “One has to think carefully about how to achieve that. It’s fundamental to the economic success.”
To increase value to its own network or to broadcast partners, Scott said the Pac-10 would consider altering its current Thursday-Saturday schedule for basketball.
He also said the postseason basketball tournament, currently operated and broadcast by Fox, will continue even if Fox does not retain its rights beyond the 2012 tournament. Fox is the main reason the tournament is played annually at Staples Center in Los Angeles. A change of network could free the tournament to rotate around the league.
Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said that would be a good thing. However, as coach of St. Louis when it was a member of 12-team Conference USA, he was less excited about the unbalanced schedule that would likely be used in a larger league.
“Am I opposed to expansion? No,” Romar said. “But I do like the way it is now. But you know, at one time it was the Pac-8, and maybe back then I would have said, ‘No, let’s keep it the way it is.’ But the Pac-10 has worked out fine, and Arizona and Arizona State have been great additions.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808