When all of this Pac-10 expansion talk first started bubbling up, all of the Northwest schools were in agreement: Whatever happened, they absolutely, positively, had to maintain a presence in California.
The state is talent rich in all sports -- but most importantly football -- and virtually every school in the conference recruits that area heavily, so it's paramount for Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State to continue to play games in California annually. (They all currently play one road game in Southern California and the Bay Area each year.) Most assumed the request would be solved by the Northwest schools ending up in divisions with California schools.
What the Northwest schools didn't anticipate was the four California schools making such a stink about maintaining their annual rivalries with each other. This has led to some not-so-good news for your local Pac-10 universities.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News -- one of the most trusted and well-connected Pac-10 writers out there -- says the conference is leaning right now toward a north-south alignment in which the Northwest schools would be left out of California completely:
According to (my) sources, the current "lean" — and that’s all it is right now — is to split the league in a North/South manner with all four California schools together in the South with the Arizonas.
Wilner knows the deal. So he followed up:
When I expressed mild surprise ("The Northwest schools are OK with that?"), the response I got was: Expect to see major scheduling concessions for schools in the North and perhaps even changes in the TV revenue distribution.
Major concessions or not -- and, as a Coug, I do not quickly dismiss the prospect of more money heading into our budget -- this would be an absolutely awful arrangement for the Northwest schools.
Everything comes down to recruiting, because it's obviously the lifeblood of any program. While proponents of this alignment would argue that the "major scheduling concessions" would guarantee a similar presence in California to what already exists, I would argue that such an arrangement isn't good enough.
Among California recruits, this north-south alignment will undoubtedly create an environment where the "home" division would be seen as superior -- whether because of contant exposure or the fact that any California recruit would play in California multiple times a year -- with the north division being seen as "those guys up there." It happened in the Big 12, and you can see where that led. If the Northwest schools aren't able to effectively recruit California, monetary concessions are useless.
To be clear: An alignment such as this will create a second-class division that will become inferior in quality. And that's just bad for the Pac-12.
The California schools have controlled the Pac-10 for decades (see: Pac-10 Basketball Tournament in a 3/4-empty Staples Center every freaking year), so it's unsurprising that they'd be making a power play. And unfortunately, if they want to play hardball, there's probably little that the Northwest schools can do about it, other than demand the aforementioned major concessions.
I just find it sad that an endeavor that started with such an "all for one, and one for all" mentality has denigrated to petty, self-serving lobbying and strong-arming. The best thing for the conference is for every school to be as strong as possible. The SEC gets this. The Big Ten gets this. The Pac-10/12 doesn't, and will continue to pay for it until it does.
Wake up guys. Take care of each other, lest you become the west coast version of the Big 12.
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