Pac-10 executives will hold their annual meetings in San Francisco this weekend with a packed agenda that includes reports on television ratings, marketing initiatives, the NCAA's concussion-management plans and — yes — expansion.
Should the conference add two teams ... or six? Or should it maintain the current structure, in place since the late 1970s, of five natural rivalries?
While a vote on expansion is unlikely this weekend, expansion will dominate the meetings.
Here's a primer:
The league's annual revenue of approximately $100 million is less than half that of the Big Ten, which not only has negotiated a major television contract in recent years but also formed its own network.
Each Big Ten school receives $22 million annually in television and bowl revenue.
Each Pac-10 school receives $8 million to $10 million annually.
The central question is whether adding two schools — and two television markets — would increase the revenue enough to justify the expansion.
In other words: Would a one-twelfth split be greater than a one-tenth split? Commissioner Larry Scott has hired Creative Artists Agency — a global marketing and entertainment firm whose clients include the New York Yankees and FC Barcelona — to find the answer.
The Pac-10's contract with Fox Sports expires after the 2011-12 academic year, which means negotiations for a new deal — with FSN, ESPN or a third broadcast entity — will heat up next winter. The league must know its future structure by then in order to maximize its leverage at the bargaining table.
A decision will come before the end of the calendar year, Scott said.
Scott won't discuss specific schools, but the logical options are Colorado and Utah because of their proximity to the West Coast and size of their television markets (Denver is the 16th largest in the country, Salt Lake City the 31st largest). Both schools also offer broad-based athletic programs and are major research institutions.
Boise State, Nevada, UNLV, Fresno State and San Diego State are lacking in either academic clout or TV markets — or both.
"A lot of factors go into compatibility," Scott said. "There's a pretty high bar for the types of schools that are viable academically."
The Cougars are not under consideration, according to sources, for three reasons: The secular institutions in the Pac-10 are wary of aligning with a church-affiliated school; BYU isn't viewed as a good fit academically, because it isn't a major research institution; and for religious reasons, the Cougars don't play Sundays, which restricts scheduling options.
And it makes no sense for the Pac-10 to invite two schools (Utah and Brigham Young) from the same television market.
"They are not expecting, in any way, to end up in the Pac-10," said a source close to BYU officials.
The Pac-10 would love to have Texas, which generates more revenue ($130 million annually) than any other athletic department in the nation.
But at this point, Texas has no reason to leave the Big 12, where the revenue-distribution model is largely based on football success and TV appearances — criteria that favor the Longhorns. (In the Pac-10, the revenue is split equally among the 10 schools.)
If the Big Ten adds either one or three teams — none of them named Notre Dame — then the existing conference landscape probably will remain intact, sources said.
But if the Big Ten adds Notre Dame or expands to a 16-team league, it could set off a chain reaction that devastates the current structure.
The 12-team Southeastern Conference might feel compelled to add four schools, shattering the Atlantic Coast Conference and potentially forcing Texas to leave the Big 12.
At that point, the Longhorns could jump to the SEC, where the revenue is greatest, or the Pac-10, where the academic mission is loftier.
Yet another option would be for Texas to cut its own television deal along the lines of what Notre Dame has with NBC.
Scott has said repeatedly that he believes the Pac-10, home to four of the top 13 television markets in the nation, is undervalued.
Whether or not the league expands, he plans to increase the league's presence on television — perhaps in partnership with the Big 12. (Between Texas and USC, the leagues have two of the most valuable commodities in college football.)
Another option is a conference football championship game. NCAA rules require conferences to have 12 members in order to host a title game, which would generate at least $10 million annually.
But the Pac-10 could request the NCAA amend the requirement. Sources believe the NCAA would comply, especially if helps prevent the current landscape from blowing up.