For a few days this week it seemed inevitable that the Pac-12 Conference would add a minimum of two and a maximum of four new members. But on Tuesday night, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott officially squashed a potential Pac-16, explaining that conference presidents and chancellors are happy with the current league alignment.
“After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference,” said Scott, who did not preclude the Pac-12 adding more members at a later date.
Had Pac-12 presidents voted to expand, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State probably would have become the conference’s 13th and 14th members. Had Texas, the drama queen in this soap, been willing to fold the Longhorn Network into the Pac-12′s regional television structure and share revenue equally with all members of the conference, the Longhorns and Texas Tech would have given the conference its 15th and 16th teams.
According to the best available intelligence, a Pac-16 would have been diced into four divisions, or “pods,” based principally on geography.
Washington would have been placed in a four-school, Northwest pod along with Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State. The schools in each pod would have (as now) played each other every year, and all Pac-16 members would have played nine league games per season.
The Longhorns wouldn’t — or couldn’t — fold their network, reportedly worth $300 million, into the Pac-12′s, or Pac-12 officials couldn’t abide the terms of the proposed absorption.
Such a consolidation would have been complicated in any event, given that the Longhorn Network essentially is a tangled financial partnership between the University of Texas, ESPN and IMG College, a conglomerate that holds licensing rights to more than 150 colleges and universities, nine collegiate conferences and 15 bowl games.
A bloated Pac-16 would certainly have ensured larger slices of a bigger financial pie for all conference members, who will have to content themselves with splitting $3 billion over a 12-year period beginning in 2012, when the Pac-12 Network makes its debut.
But the extra cash would have come at a price: a competitive setback for all conference schools (and their fans) not named USC, Texas or Oklahoma. The remaining 13 members, including Washington and Washington State, would, in our view, have been relegated to the equivalent of a doggie toy for the Trojans, Longhorns and Sooners.
In a league with nine other league members, Washington hasn’t won a conference football title since 2000, when the Huskies tied for first. UW hasn’t won a title outright since the last century, 1992, when Don James hovered in his practice tower.
Had Texas and Oklahoma joined USC in a souped-up Pac-16, the new league would bow down to Washington about as often as something smart emerges from the mouth of Pat Robertson.
Washington won its first league title, in the old Pacific Coast Conference, back in 1916, when Gil Dobie put the finishing touches on a 58-0-3 career deemed not good enough for him to retain his job. The Huskies didn’t win another league title until 1925.
UW fans had to languish another 11 years before a third, in 1936, and 23 more years until Jim Owens produced a fourth, in 1959. Fourteen more years elapsed between Owens’ last conference title (1963) and the first by James (1977).
Washington has won or tied for 15 conference titles in 121 years, meaning that the Huskies float to the top every 8.07 years. But three of the 15 titles occurred in a five-year burst under Owens and six others in a 15-year span under James.
Eliminate the James era and Washington has won nine titles in 103 years, or one every 11.4 seasons. With Texas and Oklahoma added to the mix, Washington might be looking at an outright championship every 111.4 seasons.
That’s not much of an incentive to tailgate, contribute to a stadium upgrade, or stock up on purple and gold face paint.
Had the Pac-16 become a reality, the league would have devolved into the modern equivalent of the old Big 10, in which Woody Hayes of Ohio State and Bo Schembechler of Michigan made sure almost annually that the remaining eight conference members amounted to little more than fodder.
In 2003, then-UW coach Rick Neuheisel, burdened with a team that couldn’t contend for a Pac-10 title, advanced the quaint idea that the Huskies would instead play for something he dubbed the “Northwest Championship.”
Most thought Neuheisel’s idea laughable. But with a Pac-16, a “Northwest Championship” wouldn’t be so funny. Most years, it would be all that Washington could realistically hope to win.