Pac-10 rumors: New commish planning BIG expansion

Who woulda thunk? Larry Scott may be on the verge of accomplishing something beyond the expectations of his most ardent supporters when he was hired less than a year ago as the new Pac-10 commissioner.

Scott was hired last March, but didn’t officially take over as commish until July of ’09.  It was generally accepted that he was hired to shake things up and bring new and innovative marketing ideas to a conference that was mired in stodginess and clinging to the ways of the past.

And now he’s doing the shaking – in a big way!  Or at least that’s what the rumor mill is spreading this week.

According to a report on the Rivals.com Texas site called Orangebloods.com, the Pac-10 Conference is getting ready to carve up the Big 12 by inviting half of its teams to help it create a new mega-conference.  Pac-10 officials will be getting together this weekend at their scheduled meeting in San Francisco, but have so far denied any plans to cannibalize another conference.

The teams the Pac-10 is considering inviting, as the story goes, include Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado.  Up to now, most of the expansion talk has focused on just Colorado and Utah as the likely candidates for an expansion, enabling the conference to ease into the transition.

But the idea of adding six more teams has fanned the flames again – but in a much more volatile way.  It could start a mad scramble among the other conferences, with the result being ‘four super conferences’ that would have 16 or so teams apiece.

Scott got the job as commissioner, despite the fact that he wasn’t a ‘traditional’ hire.  That is, he wasn’t an active athletic director or a commissioner from another conference.  He came from his job as CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

BUT, what he did have going for him was his track record with the WTA of securing lucrative partnerships with corporate sponsors and the media and working to successfully turn around the sport of women’s tennis through shrewd marketing.

He is credited as the architect behind the largest-ever sponsorship in women’s sports, a six-year, $88 million title sponsorship agreement with Sony Erickson and led the development of the largest television agreements in women’s tennis history.

And money is what this expansion push is all about.

The universities continue to harp on the issue of travel as a prime consideration to joining a new conference.  If the Pac-10 were to complete the package of schools as rumored, for instance, the conference would stretch through three time zones.  That would mean players getting back to campus after games at some ungodly time in the morning, with classes the next day.

But money will trump travel inconvenience every time.

If the Pac-10 expanded to 16 teams, it is expected that it would start its own network, similar to the lucrative Big Ten Network.  Unofficial estimates show that the new network could pay each member school more than $20 million a year from the TV revenues – which would be more than twice what the schools in the Pac-10 get now.

Another downside would have to be the fact that some of the lesser programs would be under increased pressure to perform against the Big Boys, and there would be fewer chances to win conference championships, let alone a national title.

But, on the flipside, the Pac-10 would be exposed to a much larger section of the country, instead of just being a ‘Wet Coast conference’.  Pac-10 games would reach into homes in seven of the nation’s 20 largest television markets.

The Pac-10 Conference got its start back in 1915 with just four schools: University of California at Berkley, University of Washington, University of Oregon, and Oregon State College.  Today, it ranks first in the number of NCAA Championships and has earned titles in more than 26 different men’s and women’s sports.

But it’s been asleep for the past 32 years, which is when Arizona and Arizona State left the Western Athletic Conference and joined the Pac-10.

Now, it looks like Larry Scott may be trying to make up for three decades of standing-in-place by grabbing the money from the pot before the other conferences realize what he’s doing.

That great sports movie, Jerry McGuire, said it all:  Show me the money!