Pac-12 Expansion: Serious Divisional Realignment Issues In A 14-Team Conference

So let's say the Pac-12 decides to admit the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma St. Cowboys. Even if the Pac-12 member schools were able to set aside their reservations and stomach taking both schools on, there's one big issue remaining:

How to split them up?

The solution isn't as simple as the Pac-12, which was pretty tough to deal with already. You had four potential alignments: North/South, Northwest/Southeast, Zipper, Pod. The split of the California schools was met with a great deal of skepticism from the Golden State. Compromises had to be made (the preservation of the football rivalries that Cal/Stanford would play USC/UCLA every year) to ensure that the Pac-12 moved forward and the divisional split occurred along North/South boundaries.

A Pac-14 will be doubly difficult to configure. Here are the potential alignments for such a conference.

Pac-14 West & East

Seven team divisions will be a nightmare. Basically, you'd have to convince someone in the original Pac-8 to leave for the Pac-14. And I'm guessing about no one will want to do that. So let's just scratch this as a viable option.

Pac-14 North & South

Current divisions are as follows.

Pac-12 North: Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Washington State
Pac-12 South: Arizona, ASU, Colorado, UCLA, USC, Utah

So there are a few potential alignment possibilities.

Possibility I

Pac-14 North: Cal, Colorado or Utah, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, Washington State
Pac-14 South: Arizona, ASU, Colorado or Utah, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, UCLA, USC

I don't mind this too much, and it's probably the best of the available options. Colorado and Utah are the only teams that would be separated by division, but they're the only non-natural rivals and could easily work-in a yearly game into this divisional arrangement.

Jon Wilner says it's unpalatable to have Oklahoma and USC in the same division because of the long-term implications (basically, a Big 12 South situation where all the big-time programs are in one division). I agree that of all the Pac-14 potential teams, USC and Oklahoma are the schools that are likeliest to remain stable in winning football games, but that seems to be shortselling schools with traditions of winning like Oregon, Washington and Colorado. I don't think Possibility I is as bad as he makes it out to be, although I can see why there would be complaining if this is what the conference settles on for a 14-team conference.

However, that leaves us with...

Possibility II

Pac-14 North: Cal, Oklahoma, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, Washington State
Pac-14 South: Arizona, ASU, Colorado, Oklahoma State, UCLA, USC, Utah

Yuck. Oklahoma in the North? I doubt any of these schools would be up for making local road trips to the other Northern schools, then make a two time zone journey to Norman. The Sooners would probably be more friendly about the idea of three West Coast trips (including one to the rich Bay Area/Northern California recruiting grounds), but losing out on a trip to Los Angeles would not be an easy concession for them.

No, if these divisions are to go across Pac-12 regional boundaries, it'll have to be Possibility I. Nothing else comes close to working. The Big 12 North analogy will have to be risked.

Zipper

Split teams across rivalries. Here is a theoretical split of the two conferences.

Division #1 - Division #2

Arizona - Arizona State

California - Stanford

Colorado - Utah

Oklahoma - Oklahoma State

Oregon - Oregon State

UCLA - USC

Washington - Washington State

Messy, almost every way you put it. It's a geographical nightmare that could easily undo any positive momentum that original expansion gave the conference. It's almost a guarantee that either one division looks lopsided in terms of attractive matchups, or both divisions are muddled and no one is particularly happy where they end up.

Yes, teams would be guaranteed exposure the Los Angeles markets, but that's offset by almost everything else. Northwest rivalries could be broken up, as would the California rivalries. Expect a lot of resistance to any sort of zipper proposal without the Pac-12 making big scheduling concessions.

(And it's a marketing nightmare. Just look at the ACC. Can you name who's in the Atlantic and who's in the Coastal Division? The Big Ten is about to face the same situation with Legends and Leaders. No no no no no)

People who are wondering why Oklahoma and Oklahoma State might not get to the Pac-12 on their own. One of the biggest reasons lies above. Some other teams might need to drop in with those two, because a Pac-16 is much easier to figure out geographically. A Pac-14 is bound to leave everyone unhappy.

Two more teams will probably have to be found to keep the Pac-12 growing toward the super-conference model. Otherwise, conference realignment for Larry Scott could be put on the backburner.

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