Pac-12 Expansion: A Simple Solution to a Complicated Problem

pac-12-expansion

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Now that college football is just over the horizon, it seems only fitting to begin discussion on conference expansions once again. If you’re a regular Chairgatin’ reader then you might be use to me talking about a Big 12 expansion but you’ll be happy to hear that’s not what I’m going to discuss. No, instead I want to talk about the next dying conference, the Pac-12 expansion.

The Pac-12 always seemed like a fairly stable conference. After picking up Colorado and Utah in 2010, they completely dominated everything west of the Rocky Mountains. They are also the only P5 conference that isn’t in constant contention of controlling their own territory or having to share it with another conference. The ACC has to share with the Big Ten, The SEC has to share with the ACC, the Big 12 has to share with the SEC and so on. That also means the Pac-12 has full control over their talent rich recruiting territory of California. So why are they struggling?

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Timing

There are a few possible answers to the question of their struggle. One of the major issues the Pac-12 faces each year is the time zone. Although they dominate an entire region, it happens to be the region furthest from the most populated time zone. The U.S. time zones ranked by population percentage goes as followed; Eastern (47.1%), Central (29%), Pacific (16.6%) and Mountain (6.7%). This means that the Pac not only covers the two least populated time zones but more importantly, it’s inconvenient to watch any games for more than 3/4th of the entire US population. The 2017 Washington vs Cal game for instance began at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday. This means the game actually began at 10:45 p.m. for anyone living in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Atlanta or even Miami; all of which are among the top 10 most populated metro areas in the US.

The head coach of the Washington Huskies was frustrated with the lack of expositor his team was receiving and feared it could hurt their potential ranking as well limit fan support. At the time, Coach Chris Petersen told the AP;

“I just want to say something to our fans: we apologize for these late games and I’d also like to reiterate it has nothing to do with us or the administration. We want to play at 1 p.m. It hurts us tremendously in terms of national exposure. No one wants to watch our game on the east coast that late and we all know it. We haven’t had a kickoff before 5 p.m. this season and so it’s painful for our team, it’s painful for our administration and we know certainly the most important part is for our fans.”

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit took offense to this statement and chose to send a message back to the Huskies as well as the entire Pac-12, live on ESPN College GameDay in Fort Worth. He stated that the Pac-12 should be thanking ESPN for even playing their games and offering the conference the national exposure they bring. Both individuals have a fair point. For Petersen, it really hurts to play such late games but as Herbstreit mentioned, at least they are being aired. Regardless of who has the more valid point, the time zone’s the Pac-12 is limited to are not conducive for national exposure.

Competitiveness

There’s no arguing that the Pac-12 is one of the Power 5 conferences but they are consistently performing the worst among their peers. In certain cases, the Pac as a whole is even getting out-performed by G5 schools. Here is a list of the 15 schools that have sent teams to an FBS bowl game, NCAA Basketball Tournament and a baseball regional this school year.

  • ACC: Clemson, Duke, FSU, NC State
  • Big 12: Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech
  • Big Ten: Ohio State, Purdue
  • SEC: Auburn, Texas A&M
  • G5: Houston, New Mexico State, SDSU
  • Pac-12: UCLA*

The ACC seems to be the most all-around dominate with 4 teams included and the Big 12 closely behind with 3. The Big Ten and the SEC both have 2 teams included yet the Pac-12 only accounts for 1. There are even 3 G5 schools included in this list. The asterisk used for UCLA indicates that they were included in this list as a technicality.

Although they played in a football bowl game this year and were recently in a baseball regional, the Bruins lost their play-in basketball game to get into the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. In terms of football this year, there was only 1 Pac team to win a bowl game, Utah, out of the 8 Pac teams to play in one. Although the Pac-12 had 4 teams involved in the baseball regionals, as many as the G5 AAC, only 1 team advanced to a super-regional. For a P5 conference, the line between the Pac-12 and the AAC is starting to look a bit hazy. The conference needs to make a change quickly to solidify their P5 standing.

Expansion Solution

As a staunch expansionist advocate, I will gladly die on this hill when it comes to a solution for any conference that is being jeopardized. I loudly supported a Big 12 expansion and still believe they made a mistake that will eventually haunt them, regardless of their recent success. I even have a strong belief in a conspiracy behind their decision not to expand but will save that for another day. For now, I will stick to preaching why a Pac-12 expansion is tremendously important for their future success.

Based on the causes I have previously stated for the Pac-12 problem, we can limit the potential candidates for an expansion. The Pac-12 obviously needs to venture into a new time zone. While the Eastern time zone is a bit of a stretch in terms of distance between schools, the Central time zone is the most likely next step. The most obvious choice for a state in the Central time zone would have to be Texas or Oklahoma based on their proximity to the Pac-12.

The next criteria to look at is competitiveness. Thankfully, Oklahoma and Texas are full of talented schools in all three major sports. The Pac-12 could potentially bank on the instability of the Big 12 and try poaching a school away for the conference. Schools like Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU could be potential options but it’s hard to say if they would be willing to leave for another unstable conference. Not to mention the distance of their competition would suddenly double. Another option is to wait a few years and see if the Big 12 starts to dissolve, at which point the Pac could try taking a few Texas schools. The issue with this option is having to wait. Based on the criteria for an expansion and the current limitations, there is one clear option:

Houston

Yes, this blog is extremely biased but I will continue to say it until I’m proven right, the University of Houston is the most P5-ready school. The Cougars already have some of the best facilities among any G5 school and continue to expand. As if building a 40,000 capacity stadium in 2014 with the possibility of expanding to 60,000 wasn’t enough, they just completed an 80,000 square-foot indoor football practice facility as well as a state-of-the-art locker room. It even earned the praise of Bill Belichick during the Super Bowl as he claimed it was, “as good as any facility we have experienced in a Super Bowl.”

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The Coogs already claim the largest screen in college baseball and are currently building a 20,000 square-foot clubhouse that will include a locker room, training room, players’ lounge, video area, kitchen and a suit/lounge. In terms of basketball, UH recently completed a $25 million practice facility. The 53,000 square-foot complex includes a weight room, training room, player lounge, locker rooms, offices and practice courts. To keep up with their new practice facility, Houston is currently building a brand-new basketball arena where their historic area once stood. The $60 million area will help to continue the momentum the Cougars have mounted to restore their basketball program to their glory days. I dare you to find another school that is investing into their athletic programs at the rate that the University of Houston is.

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I understand money doesn’t always buy success but it appears to have for Houston. The Cougars were 1 of the 15 teams on the list of schools to make a bowl game, NCAA basketball tournament and baseball regional this year. They were the only team from the AAC on the list which has become the most all-around competitive conference among the G5. Size also isn’t an issue as they are the third largest university in Texas with over 45,000 students.

The University of Houston is clearly competitive enough and large enough for the Pac-12 but the biggest draw is its location. Not only is UH in the Central time zone but they are in the largest city in Texas. Houston is continuously the best recruiting territory in the world for every sport as well as the 8th largest TV market. UH would be a great immediate solution to the problem in the Pac-12 as well as a potential to bridge the gap by picking up more Texas pieces if the Big 12 becomes more unstable.

Claiming a piece of Texas could save the Pac-12 and the University of Houston is a prime candidate to do so. It’s a school that has been criminally over-looked by the Big 12 as well as a recruiting and TV market gold mine. I’m not claiming Houston would immediately impact the Pac-12 like Texas or Oklahoma would but it is a feasible option that would not only be a great temporary fix no other P5 seems to be considering but a great start at an eastern expansion the Pac-12 desperately needs.

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