Pac-10 expansion. Why? When?… and WHO will be invited?

It’s been about a month now since word got around that the Pac-10 conference was thinking about adding a couple more teams.

Since then, there has been rampant speculation about whether it’s a good idea, when it might actually happen, and which schools are being considered to help the conference grow to the Pac-12.

Some of the college sports gurus figure it will never happen.  Others believe just as strongly that it will, but can’t put a clock on it.

First, understand that this is a radical idea for a rather stodgy old institution.  The last time the conference expanded was about 32 years ago when it added Arizona State and the University of Arizona, snatching them from the Western Athletic Conference.

But now the Pac-10 has a new commissioner and there’s one train of thought that says Larry Scott was hired to shake things up and, in marketing terms,  expand and grow the brand.  In order to get it done, he will have to get 10 university presidents and chancellors on board with his vision.  Scott will have his work cut out for him as he tries to get everyone to agree on two teams.

Here’s the Why.

The Pac-10 wants a presence that will get wider recognition, reaching out to new markets and a wider audience of fans.  But, just like everything else in college sports these days, it’s all about the money.  The primary reason driving the idea of expansion is to bring in more revenue, which means involving big markets and establishing a lucrative league television network.

Which brings us to the When.

The conference’s current television contract expires soon and the Pac-10 line-up will be an important factor in the negotiations for a new contract.   Those negotiations begin next year, so the membership has to be in place before that time.  Which means there needs to be some major decisions made by the end of this year.

The spring and summer will find numerous opportunities for college athletic directors and other administrators to get together.  One takes place right here in the desert, when a bunch of them get together for the Fiesta Frolic, an annual weekend golf retreat for college football officials, held at one of our plosh resorts.

You can bet that the expansion will be a hot topic, giving them a chance to chat face-to-face and exchange viewpoints.  After all, it’s no secret that football will be the determining factor in most decisions regarding the move, so who better to chew on it than football people?

And that takes us right up to the big question on everyone’s mind… the Who.

Here are the names that have popped up at one time or another, as sports scribes tried to get a handle on where things might go:  Utah, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Fresno State, Texas Christian, New Mexico, Boise State, Southern Methodist, Hawaii, San Diego State, UNLV, Nevada, Texas, Texas A&M, Memphis, Missouri… even a mention of Notre Dame.

Interestingly, ASU and the University of Missouri just announced an agreement to have a future home/home series in football, picking early-season dates in 2011 and 2012.  But there’s no point reading anything into the arrangement.  Missouri is way down the list of potential invitees.

Conference officials evidently are looking for schools with strong academic credentials, in addition to strong programs in the major sports.  They also reportedly want schools with tradition and an established rivalry, which would require bringing in the rivals as the two new schools.

And, of course, economics are a big consideration.  That’s why the scales would tip to schools coming from a larger metropolitan area and, preferably, with a large national following.

While schools like Texas and Texas A&M are extremely attractive, the reality is more aligned with schools like Colorado, Utah, and BYU.  Or, if you want to skew it toward a couple of schools with established rivalries, consider Colorado and Colorado State, Texas Christian and Southern Methodist, or Utah and Boise State.

But Colorado brings the big-market value of the Denver area and Utah and BYU bring with them a large Mormon following, as well as another big market in Salt Lake City.   Utah and BYU would give the Pac-12 the rivalry game it wants included in the deal. All three work geographically and are great academic institutions.

If we get a Texas school, it would more likely be TCU rather than the Longhorns or Aggies, but TCU is probably located too far away to make the logistics work.

A final note… I really like the idea thrown out by a writer for the American Catholic online newsletter.  He had a great name for the new conference, if they do add two more teams.  It has immediate marketing cache.

Let’s call it the 12 Pac.