The next expansion bomb may have dropped as the Kansas City Star is reporting that the Pac-10 and Big 12 have met to discuss, according to the paper, "collaborating in a future sports landscape".
Nine of the Big 12's athletic directors met this week in Phoenix with Pac-10 officials at that conference's regularly scheduled meeting. It might be too early to attach the word "expansion" to the meeting but it's obvious the Big 12 may be taking the first steps toward being proactive in the shifting landscape.
The league knows it could be raided by the Big Ten which, according to many reports, has its eyes on Missouri and/or Nebraska. The Pac-10 is on the record as deeply exploring expansion but might have trouble finding partners that add value.
Utah and Colorado are the most widely mentioned Pac-10 additions but there is doubt whether the schools could add enough revenue to make expansion worthwhile.
"The conventional wisdom is Utah and Colorado doesn't get you enough eyeballs," one Pac-10 AD said referring to a potential television audience. "The home run is obviously Texas-Texas AM. "
There is little talk about Texas and Texas A&M to the Pac-10, for now. There was a standing offer by the Pac-10 to Texas and Colorado in the 1990s before the Big 12 formed. CBSSports.com reported on April 23 that BYU is likely out of Pac-10 expansion discussions for the moment, in part, because of academic issues.
There seem to be, then, further economic reasons for the leagues to get together. With the SEC and Big Ten basically controlling 50 percent of the nation's televisions, the chase is on for conferences to grab a share of the remaining 50 percent. A partnership between the Big 12 (16 percent of the TV sets) and Pac-10 (approxinately 23 percent) could present approximately 40 percent of the nation's TVs to potential rightsholders. The two conferences have cable deals with Fox that both expire in 2012 allowing a deal to be made fairly quickly.
"The main thing was the aggregation of our media rights," said Washington AD Scott Woodward who was at the Phoenix meetings, "whether it's a combined network that we do as a JV (joint venture) or anything in between. There's definite interest to go further instead of it being a one-and-done type thing."
The Pac-10 and Big 12 already play the Hardwood Series in men's basketball, a series of non-conference games. A similar cross-scheduling partnership could be developed in football where league teams play non-conference games against each other. The partnership could go beyond non-conference games if you think of it this way: The Big 12 plays 48 conference games per year. The Pac-10 plays 45. Combined, the two leagues could present an inventory of 93 conference games alone to a potential rights holder.
The schools already have a history of playing each other in football. The last team to beat USC in a non-conference game at home remains Kansas State in 2001. In 2010 alone, there are five games between Pac-10 and Big 12 schools. UCLA plays two Big 12 opponents (Kansas State and Texas). The other games are Colorado-Cal, Nebraska-Washington and Oklahoma State-Washington State.
"You could have a football series that would provide high level inventory in September," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said. "It's [partnership with Pac-10] something I've discussed and thought about since I got two months into the job in 2007."
The Big 12 has explored, and the Pac-10 is exploring, the possibility of a conference network similar to the Big Ten Network. There has been talk that the two leagues could even combine on a network (possibly with the ACC as an additional partner).
Former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg supported the idea of a conference network before he left the league in July 2007. However, he could not find agreement among the conference schools. Scott recently brought in Weiberg recently as a deputy commissioner, in part, because of his expertise while working with the Big Ten to launch that network.
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott has been in the Pac-10 job for less than a year after leaving the Women's Tennis Association as CEO. As that organization's leader, he helped the WTA sign a record TV contract and a $88 million sponsorship deal with Sony.
"I took this role because I sense it has tremendous potential given our geographic scope and our reach," Scott said. "It's going to require a novel approach. We're not copying anyone's playbook."
How much a cross-scheduling/network partnership between the two leagues would be worth is anyone's guess. Big 12 schools currently make $7 million and $12 million per year. Pac-10 teams reportedly make between $7 million and $11 million.
As mentioned, the Pac-10's current deals with ESPN and Fox run through 2012. Scott has said in the past the league will begin new negotiations early next year. The Big 12 deals are staggered. A deal with Fox has two years to run. The ESPN deal has five years to run.
Scott told CBSSports.com in March that his league was exploring staging a conference championship football game with less than the mandated 12 teams. That would involve the Pac-10 splitting into two five-team divisions. There is support among other Division I-A conferences to change the current NCAA legislation. Scott also said he explored the idea of the championship game being played at a team's home stadium. He also said that expansion for the Pac-10 was not tied to a championship game and/or a network.
While three of the Big 12 ADs missed the Phoenix meeting due to scheduling conflicts, according to the paper, (DeLoss Dodds of Texas, Tom Osborne of Nebraska, Lew Perkins of Kansas), it is significant that Missouri's Mike Alden did attend. Missouri is being mentioned prominently as a candidate for Big Ten expansion.