What’s So Special About Expansion to 16 Anyways?


The college sports world continues to rumble with the impending doom of conference realignment and the formation of the “mega-conferences”. Why is everyone so keen on expanding to 16? What’s so special about 16 anyways? And, what really would happen if the Pac-12 decided to stand pat and stick with 12 instead of joining in on the game…

Why would the Pac-12 expand to 16? Ultimately it is all about money and TV reach. I get that… But, is it necessary? Let’s evaluate the advantages of sticking with 12 and what there would be to gain or lose by expanding beyond that. First of all, let’s start with the premise that the Pac-12 already has what it needs;

a) It got to 12 teams so they could have a football championship game at the end of the year.

b) They managed to acquire the two best major college academic institutions available in the western U.S. when they brought in Colorado and Utah.

c) They expanded their reach to the major media market of Denver and the growing market of Salt Lake City. They also expanded their appeal within the natural geographic zone of the Pac-12 with so many Colorado and Utah alumni in California, Arizona, and Washington.

d) They were able to negotiate that mega-media contract for $3 billion dollars over 12 years. So, no one will be hurting for money for a while.

e) The Pac-12 network will be a reality, allowing fans from across the country to view ALL football and basketball games on TV or the internet.

So, with all of that, one has to ask, what does the Pac-12 gain by adding Oklahoma and Oklahoma State only? I just don’t see how going to 14 teams helps the conference.

a) The state only adds around 3.7 million more people (barely bigger than San Diego County). Granted, Oklahoma does have additional national appeal for football, but Oklahoma State? Not so much…

b) They would have to split the money up two more ways. I honestly don’t see the TV networks clamouring to renegotiate that deal with the addition of those teams. With Texas, sure. But, it can’t make more sense financially with just those two on its own.

c) Travel would be more expensive and time consuming for teams to head that far east (with or without Texas).

d) Neither universities are anywhere near the academic levels of the major Pac-12 schools (Oregon, Oregon State, and WSU excluded – call it the grandfather clause).

e) If you went to two 7-team divisions, which natural Pac-8 rivalry do you split up? Would you send Utah west and send both L.A. teams east?

So, why would they go to 14? I suspect the ONLY reason they would agree to it would be to add leverage to acquiring the Texas Longhorns. But, it’s a gamble that might not work out. Texas wants the power and they are loathe to give up the Longhorn Network. THEY want to be able to call the shots at least in their part of the country. They are already having discussions with the Big Ten, ACC, and even considering going independent so they can build leverage in any negotiations they might have with the Pac-12/14.

That being said, even if Texas comes over, the Pac-1X would then need to add a 16th team and let’s be honest, there are not many obvious choices. None of the other available schools from the State of Texas or anywhere west of that bring much in terms of market reach, academic respect, and athletic performance. The most likely one would be Texas Tech, but they would be considered a throw-in and not something people out west would be that excited about. How many Husky fans would plan to make that annual trip to Lubbock for the games? Honestly, I’d rather add Hawaii. They would be better academically, add just as many people within the Pac-12 sphere, and would be a better place for fans to travel and for football recruiting.

So, what would a Pac-16 gain then over the Pac-12? More TV sets? Sure…More national press and prestige? Maybe… More money? Probably…

But, beyond the issues we listed above, there would be the risks associated with internal strife and dissatisfaction. It was the lack of coherance and internal squabbling about money and travel that lead to the break up of the 16-team WAC after a short time together. A Pac-10/12 that seems to be all on the same page might start to look quite different with an eastern sphere of influence around Austin and Norman. Would Texas and Oklahoma jump ship for another conference with a better “deal” a few years later anyways?

Colorado joined the Pac-10 because their natural recruiting and fan base was in California. They are totally against expansion. They wanted to come west… not just be thrown back into an “eastern” division that includes many of their old Big 12 bretheren. Why would they want to give up annual trips to California to return to games in Oklahoma and Texas?

The Arizona schools would also lose out on their decades old afilliation with the Pacific coast. Instead of annual trips to recruiting hot-spots like Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Seattle, they would be off to Stillwater and Lubbock. That’s not something I would be excited about as an Arizona resident.

But, would life end if the Pac-12 decided it wasn’t worth chasing the almighty dollar and decided to stick with its “Pacific” focus at 12 teams? No, I think the Pac-12 would be absolutely fine. Even if every other mega-conference had 16 teams, the Pac-12 would hold its own just as it always has.

They would still control the western half of the country in terms of media markets and geographic reach. They would still have their conference championship game, their automatic BCS berth and Rose Bowl affiliation. They would still have their automatic NCAA tournament berth. They would still have their TV deal for the next 12 years. And, due to both geography and academic similarities in the conference, no one is coming to poach their schools.

For many of the conferences back east, including the Big East, ACC, SEC, Big-12, and even Conference USA, much of this realignment activity is about preventing themselves from being poached by other conferences seeking to expand their influence and media reach and much of it comes from schools worried about being left behind in the dust (Baylor anyone?). But, no one is coming to raid the Pac-12 and no one ever will. It will continue to survive quite nicely at 12 for the foreseeable future!

So, stay put Pac-12 and let all the other conferences back east battle it out for #16!