As college football fans sit groaning about the likely next salvo (Big 10 Expansion) in the seemingly never-ending realignment caravan, it occurs to me that the conference that should be developing an expansion plan is really the Pacific 12.
Like the Big 10, the PAC-12 has vulnerabilities that are likely to drive their expansion desires. Unlike the Big Ten, the PAC-12's problems are pretty apparent.
2/3's of the US population lives in the eastern half of the United States. For the Pac-12 to overcome this geographic limitation, they either need to expand to Chicago --- perhaps somewhat unlikely with their chummy relationship with the Big 10 --- or to Texas to capture large population bases to fuel their media payouts and help secure future research dollars.
I think you can break the list into categories.
At the top are schools who could potentially reach the national title game and maybe win, spiking the TV and marketing value of the school ...and the conference.
1. Notre Dame
3. Texas A&M (not coming)
5. Louisiana State (probably not coming)
7. Brigham Young (probably not going to be invited)
Notre Dame (when they are winning) may be the most popular brand in Chicago as well as New York City. Adding the Irish would solve a lot of problems for both parties. In TV terms, the Irish would solve the market issue for the PAC-12. Any other new schools added after that would be gravy.
Notre Dame has become a national brand because they play a nation-wide schedule. Tying Notre Dame to a regional conference football schedule threatens the underpinnings of that cash machine.
The elites in the PAC-12 understand, value, and respects Notre Dame's football independence stance far more than most conferences. (After all, their valuable games vs. ND are the ones constantly threatened!) One can imagine, ND continuing their series with USC and Stanford as well as two or three games with other PAC-12 bluebloods like UCLA, Washington, Cal, and Arizona --- in exchange for a home in the eastern division for other sports.
Notre Dame is the game changer. With ND on board, one would expect valuable schools like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri would be eager to talk to the PAC-12. such a football scheduling arrangement could also create a slot for a football-only member who may not make the cut as an all-sports member (I am looking at you Hawaii).
Sadly this scenario appears unlikely as it seems the Irish are a part of the Grant of Rights deal in the ACC.
The University of Texas is next on the PAC-12's reasonable want list. Their addition would bring media relevance in a state of 27 Million. Texas is bound by the Big 12 GOR deal, but that particular GOR deal seems less solid than the others due to the smaller size of the conference.
To join the Pac-12, UT would have to give up their role as vile despot ruling their kingdom with an iron fist. Would they do that in order to join a larger, much more lucrative republic as merely one of a few sweaty, dirty, corrupt, and incredibly rich Senators who run the show? One would think Dodds would not allow that. Adding UT could likely only occur if UT AD Deloss Dodds was out of the way. What's that? He's retired you say?
To say the least, recent events have blown this door wide open for the PAC-12 ...Should the PAC leadership chose to follow up with UT's president Bill Powers and offer the right deal.
Texas A&M would bring as much value (or more) than UT, but they aren't coming. I know the "or more" line will drive UT fans crazy as UT is a much more prestigious brand and has been a far superior athletic program for decades, but the thing about Aggies is that they are used to and largely content with mediocrity. They will watch any school in the conference play if that game affects whether or not the Aggies go to a bowl game. UT fans only watch UT games... and they tune out of those if UT is not in the title hunt! From a TV perspective A&M is as valuable and likely more valuable to a conference in terms of football viewership.
But the Aggies are as happy as pigs in slop in the SEC. They certainly don't understand that their chances of winning a national title are far better in the west than in the SEC. (After all, if they had joined the PAC-10 in the original PAC-16 offer, they would likely be the defending National champions today. Think about it. They beat Alabama. They likely would have smoked Notre Dame and no one in that proposed eastern PAC division would have beaten them. Its fun to drive my Aggie friends to tears with that argument.)
Anyhow.... Absolutely not coming unless LSU leaves first.
Oklahoma would love to move west. I suspect they would even be willing to try breaking the Big 12 GOR deal to leave. They might actually be able to pull it off as UT needs the UT/OU game (It is a huge lever for wrenching money out of UT alumni. It is not as important to OU financially.)
OU likely has to carry OSU with them to satisfy the Oklahoma state legislature and that appears to have (foolishly) been a deal breaker with the PAC last time. OSU may be a little behind what the PAC wants academically, but the Oklahoma legislature will likely do whatever the PAC requires to fix any deficiencies if it means a long term home in an elite conference for both of their major football programs.
LSU would be a great addition. They are a dominant program in football as well as in baseball. (They are actually the strongest draw in collegiate baseball in the nation.) They are located right next to one of the great athletic recruiting areas in the country.
On the surface this would seem like a "no", but...The SEC doesn't have a GOR deal. If it looked like UT, OU, and some other powers were heading west, LSU might actually listen. Now the SEC vs. a Pac-20 might be an athletics wash, but academics and money (athletic and research dollars) would be much better in the Pac... Mark it down as just "unlikely".
Nebraska is a similar case. On one hand they are in the Big 10 which not only has a license to print money, they have the best license to print money among the contract conferences. On the other hand, that money is build on a cable model and that cable model appears to be vanishing into history.
Plus they are the only school in the Big 10 that is not in the AAU and given the Big 10's position on AAU status, they may always be that. Does the university want the identity of being the worst school in the Big 10... for all time?
Additionally, Nebraska is not dominating the conference. This may be a recruiting issue. Nebraska used to pull talent from the west (California) and south (Texas and Florida)... That may be going away.
It's a two way street. A "meh" Nebraska does little more for the Big 10 than say Missouri would. The Big 10 might be willing to let Nebraska jump west to prop up the Pac-12, their conference partner. The Big 10 has a lot of expansion options.
Jumping to the PAC could fix all of those issues for Nebraka. What would the PAC think of a package of Nebraska, OU, OSU, and Kansas?
Nebraska's leadership could get a great kick out of "stealing" OU and the Big 8 elites back from UT.
BYU has elite value (very strong and well supported revenue sports in particular) and is a great draw in the PAC footprint, but the school's decision to follow the private school minimal research model hurts their candidacy, as does their religious views interfering with students' academic pursuits. It seems very, very unlikely that the PAC academic backbone (Cal and Stanford) will ever tolerate adding a school that would not (for example) allow unfettered stem cell research.
Additionally, a lot of Californians have ill will towards the LDS church over their role in voting down proposition 8, which would have allowed same sex marriage in California. The LDS Church (and Mormons in general) are credited with supplying $30M of the staggering $42M spent to defeat that proposition. It is widely argued that the LDS Church took the position they did in an out of state vote opportunistically, to ingratiate themselves with the wider Christian right. They likely assumed there would be no fallout from their actions. (Given that in the year leading up to Mitt Romney's run for the presidency, the LDS Church did not meddle in other state's same sex marriage affairs, I can buy the argument. It does seems to strongly suggest the LDS community weighing positive benefits vs. negative ramifications before taking action. I think they just blew it for BYU in California.) I would not be surprised if some leaders in the PAC-10 took it personally and will never vote for BYU for this reason.
And BYU does not like competing on Sundays. Some fans treat this as a bottom line reason to reject BYU, but I think that is nuts. This could be an issue from time to time, but if you owned the PAC rights with BYU and you needed a game for a Sunday, it isn't like you wouldn't have plenty of acceptable options. I think this hurdle is one of BYU's hurdles that is relatively minor.
Next are schools slightly below that threshold who could bring a lot of extra value to the conference.
11. Arkansas (probably not coming/ not going to be invited)
12. New Mexico
13. Texas Tech
Kansas is one of the five elite national brands in basketball (along with Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky). That is gold for a conference with a network. Basketball eats a lot of broadcast hours. Kansas is also an AAU school.
On the downside, the state would likely try everything in it's power to try to tie KSU to KU. There are some recent comments by state politicians that suggest that the two are not linked at the hip, but one would have to see what would happen when the rubber hits the road. If Kanas is invited to the Pac-12 and KSU is looking at falling out of an emerging "D4" would the Kansas state legislature sit idly by?
Hawaii is an overlooked gem to me, but sadly it looks like they are on the wrong side of an "either/or" proposition with Texas. The PAC can either invite UH and some other western schools or they can use their eight remaining slots (I am assuming 20 is the max number of football teams the PAC would expand to) to break and raid the Big 12 in order to land UT. Even if the PAC only had to use seven of their slots on Big 12 teams, 10 team divisions would mean the old PAC-10 would be a division. Adding UH would force a PAC-10 school into a SW division --- I cannot think that would happen. Far more likely a central school became school 20.
Hawaii is a liberal state. Hawaii residents love the PAC. That combination could have a lot of PAC principles looking at UH less critically than other candidates. The University does a lot of research and given Hawaii's unique attributes they could help the PAC-12 attract more collaborative research dollars far better than most candidate universities.
Hawaii is football crazy and would likely draw northward of 43K per game in the PAC. They would recruit far better in the PAC and as such would likely be an annual bowl team in the PAC. UH's women's Volleyball team is a national power and legitimate draw. Even as an associate member program, that would be a great get for a conference with a network.
In TV terms, Hawaii is interesting. Hawaii has a lot of Islanders living in Reno and Las Vegas, so adding Hawaii would give the PAC a measurable bump in Nevada, a state with no PAC schools, in addition to the admittedly small population state of Hawaii.
The PAC has made it a goal to open up revenue streams by selling the PAC brand(s) in Asia. Hawaii has been pushing their athletic brand in Japan for a while now. Hawaii offer a lot of synergy with what the PAC is trying to do in Asia.
Missouri is an AAU school in the SEC. They wanted to join the academically superior Big 10, but were not tendered an offer. The PAC was also going to pass on the Tigers in a push to 16 members. The SEC added Missouri, but if you read between the lines during the Tigers' departure from the Big 12, the Tigers' fans and administration aren't doe-eyed about being in the SEC.
Missouri is pretty good in basketball and pretty good in football. They bring a state of over 5 million. If the PAC (a far superior academic conference) offered to bring in Missouri with Kansas, et al., I think Missouri would strongly consider it.
Arkansas is an interesting school. They were UT's chief rival in the last days of the Southwest Conference. Arkansas had no interest in joining the Big 8 or Big 12 because the SEC had the more stable league and the better long term position, but if UT should join the PAC-12, all of those measurables change.
Arkansas had top five to top 10 programs in football and basketball in the last days of the SWC because of Dallas/Fort Worth recruiting supplementing Arkansas's normal recruiting territory. As a member of a PAC-20, they would again be able to properly open those recruiting lines and would likely become a football peer of UT and OU as an annual National Title contender. Additionally, playing schools like UT, OU, OSU, and Kansas in conference could allow Arkansas to build and fill a larger stadium. Several of those schools are a lot closer than their SEC foes and might draw better crowds in Fayetteville.
Razorback fans have become SEC true belivers, but there is a point when the potential gains are just too much to ignore.
The Razorbacks have a strong baseball program, with attendance that falls in the top 2-4 in the nation. Imagine adding UT, OU, Arkansas, and LSU to the PAC...
New Mexico is a lower tier basketball power. They have one of the elite home courts in the nation and draw huge crowds. UNM is usually a tourney level team. In a better conference with PAC money, I think they would likely evolve into a peer to Kansas. They form a great bridge to the state of Texas and would be a natural rivals to Texas Tech, Arizona State, and Arizona (All former members of the "border conference" with UNM) as well as Utah and Colorado.
If UT were in the PAC with UNM, UNM would be able to recruit Phoenix and Texas far better for football and like Hawaii they would likely evolve into an annual bowl-level team.
UNM has a fairly strong baseball program with solid support.
As an undergraduate university, UNM is likely not at the perceived level the PAC prefers. Perhaps the state could increase student selectivity to make the addition more tolerable to the PAC? Perhaps the state could readjust admission requirements at UNM and NMSU to effectively funnel 6000-7000 less serious students to New Mexico State instead? NMSU could really use a larger student body to help ease their financial woes anyway. Modifying university enrollments is admittedly a messy idea that would be difficult to make happen, but UNM is a fairly large university, so perhaps an accord could be reached that would benefit both schools.
UNM moving to the PAC would open the door for NMSU to join the MWC --- a good scenario for the state.
UNM does research at a level where they might interest the PAC.
Finally the addition of UNM to Arizona, ASU, USC, and UCLA could open a new market for the PAC in terms of merchandise sales and broadcast revenue --- Mexico. UNM is a great brand to sell south of the border.
I moved Texas Tech into this Tier after much deliberation. Tech is not going to deliver a national football brand for the PAC-12 like Arkansas could potentially do or a national basketball brand like Kansas or UNM could.
What Tech would bring to the table is the state of Texas ...albeit in a much smaller way than UT or A&M. Tech is a very strong brand in west Texas. Their largest alumnibase is in Dallas/Fort Worth. Tech has also demonstrated strong ratings and fan support in Houston and the Austin/San Antonio regions. What else is there of note in Texas?
Now that said, from a sports perspective Tech is not a brand name. For the Big 12, the Red Raiders are a slightly above average brand. They carry more value for where their fans are located than for the Red Raider brand itself.
Tech fans like the Big 12, but recognize that potentially the Big 12 could end sometime soon with Tech out in the cold. From a practical standpoint, more than any other Texas school, Tech fans would quickly embrace joining the PAC. If the Big 12 is not on the table or seems at risk, the PAC would be an easy first choice.
Additionally, it could be a clean add. The PAC could add Tech tomorrow and have a pathway into the state of Texas. The loss of Tech's home broadcast revenue could be worked around. Tech could play the five worst PAC central teams at home each year and then play their best matchup as a showcase "away game" in the Jerry Dome in Dallas. USC v. Tech at the Jerry Dome? Oregon v. Tech?
Tech is not up to PAC standards as an undergraduate or research institution, but they have been cleverly adding facilities to their university for years. As such Tech could see dramatic changes in stature --- especially in research terms --- very quickly in a conference that values collaborative research.
The state let A&M leave UT. Could they really force Tech to stay... especially if Tech concedes their TV value to the Big 12? Pandora's box has already been opened.
If Tech left, it would compromise Big 12 Texas viewership further. If the Red Raiders left, would UT follow up by trying to implode the conference? Recall UT's leadership blessed Arkansas's departure from the SWC as it was likely to destabilize the league and allow UT to shed its SWC barnacles. This is a strategy UT knows well.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if UNM and Tech were invited in an effort to both lay the groundwork for a controlled implosion of the Big 12 and set up a Texas friendly identity for the PAC in order to land UT in the future.
The next group are schools that would be very solid members (the Utahs of this expansion list), but do not have the "extra value".
14. Colorado State
15. Oklahoma State
16. Texas Christian
Colorado State is an interesting option. They actually would compliment Colorado surprisingly well. CSU as an undergraduate school is viewed as a peer to Arizona State --- basically the ground floor of what the PAC has shown they would accept --- but CSU does a notable amount of research annually.
The University of Colorado's TV credentials were that they brought the Denver media market, but also that their alumni tend to move westward after graduation. That trend was not helpful to the Big 12, but is very useful to the PAC -12. I think it is much less the case with CSU's alums. Their Alumni tend to stay in state --- or at least within the Denver DMA. I think there would be enough value added there to add Colorado's second school.
CSU is trying to build a new, PAC-level, on campus stadium and they currently have a tournament proven basketball coach who is building good basketball teams. It is not the sexiest add, but they would fit the conference well.
Oklahoma State is likely the cost of adding OU. They are a little below what the PAC would seem to prefer as an undergraduate program. Their research levels fall short as well.
Their basketball is competitive and would fit, but the reason to really look favorably on OSU is their top level football facilities. OSU will compete (but not dominate) the PAC in football, which is just what schools like USC want from a non-UT addition.
TCU is a small private school located in Fort Worth. One might think they are a poor fit for the PAC, but you have to understand why they are in the Big 12.
UT, A&M, Tech, and Baylor gave the Big 12 media domination over the state. When A&M left, it not only pulled a huge chunk of the Big 12 Texas fan base out, it also opened the door for much greater SEC coverage. UT and OU likely felt they had to add another Texas school to protect their media turf. They also probably feared that TCU would be the 14th school the SEC added, further opening the DFW recruiting area that UT and OU dominate to SEC schools.
There is a real chance that OU and UT (not to mention Tech and OSU) feel that TCU is now a required addition in order to keep the DFW recruiting territory sown up.
TCU is a great private undergraduate university with some religious affiliation. Like other private universities on that model, TCU does not do a lot of research. The PAC has taken a lot of heat from religious groups for passing on BYU and snubbing Baylor. TCU is different in character from those universities in that the founders of TCU felt their students' education should not be limited by religious beliefs. In that, TCU is EXACTLY the kind of religious school that might get real consideration from the PAC elites. There is a unique value there for the PAC.
Finally, TCU can offer the PAC an added showcase game vs. one of their western powers (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC) in the Jerry Dome, one of the nation's great stadiums, each year.
Many will scoff at the inclusion of Rice on this list. As a candidate for other D4 conferences, I agree. In the case of the PAC, not so much.
Academically, Rice is a national brand. They are the best university in Texas. For the size of their university they do a lot of research. If they were a larger university, I suspect they would probably be acknowledged as a near peer of Stanford. That kind of university is the kind of school Cal and Stanford would embrace.
Rice has horrible football attendance numbers and a forgettable basketball program. These are very fixable problems.
Rice only has 44,000 living alumni. If their football team is great, they draw around 20,000 per game. If they are not, they draw about 11,000 playing in a sub-D4 conference.
If UT, OU, and others were in a SW division with Rice, Rice would have a number of home football games that pulled 40,000+ based on those school's fans. That would likely pull Rice's average attendance into the mid 30's...respectable enough in the PAC.
In the PAC, Rice would have more than enough free money to hire a top coach to get their basketball program to the tourney bubble or better level. Houston is a recruiting hotbed in basketball (and football). If the money was there, a LOT of top basketball coaches would look favorably on being Rice's coach.
Finally Rice is a strong baseball school like UNM, Arkansas, and LSU. The PAC in California and Arizona takes baseball VERY seriously. The idea of landing UT, OU, and Rice would be very appealing to those PAC constituencies.
Houston is, on the surface, a much stronger athletic addition than Rice, but I think at the end of the day it would be a wash athletically in terms of what either school could achieve in the PAC. . Houston is a school that has a large Texas alumni base. That has a nice TV value. Their leadership is aggressively working to improve their brand. They recently financed a new stadium. Their leadership is actively trying to build it's stature academically and as a research university.
While I cannot see UH getting in with or instead of Rice, should the PAC somehow lose out on UT, adding Houston with Texas Tech could make some sense in TV terms.
Up next are schools that do not have FBS programs currently, but with 30 Million TV dollars annually coming into their university as a member of the PAC-12, any of the three could quickly surpass most of the schools on this list ahead of them.
19. UC San Diego
20. UC Davis
21. University of Illinois - Chicago
The PAC already effectively owns all of southern California, but USC and UCLA are LA schools. Adding a San Diego school could turn out to make media sense. San Diego is a top 30 market. UCSD would have to do a major upgrade athletically, but having a 20M+ check coming in each year would allow them to catch up pretty quickly.
Southern California produces a ton of football recruits each year and could easily support another top 25 program.
UCSD and UC Davis are academic elites with strong research programs.
Davis would bring in Sacramento --- a largely forgotten top 25 market. Again they would likely more than pay for their addition even though they are technically in PAC territory. Davis is a strong baseball school.
UIC is probably a laughable option to some, but you have to think TV strategy. If the PAC lands Texas schools with Kansas then it makes a world of sense to plant their eastern flag in Chicago, creating a nice box of top markets from LA to DFW (and/or Houston) to Chicago to Seattle.
UIC is a decent undergraduate school that fits in the bottom echelon of the PAC and they do a good amount of research. They are a large public located just down the street from Soldier Field. If they did start playing football, that would give PAC-12 powers USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Oregon as well as newly invited powers like UT or OU a showcase in the heart of Chicago.
Finally the list ends with 2 schools who could legitimately bring some value into the conference, but would have very little upside.
22. San Diego State
23. Iowa State
24. Kansas State
San Diego State will likely never gain admittance due to UC schools not wanting to include Cal State schools. The UC system is all about research and for the most part their undergraduate programs are significantly more appreciated than most Cal State schools.
SDSU is solid or better in a variety of sports.
Iowa State is not high on the list of schools the PAC might want in the Big 12, but they do bring AAU status and solid support in Iowa (an unrepresented state) which might put them higher on the list than the last of the PAC candidates, Kansas State.
Kansas State could be a better Washington State. The Wilcats are good, not great in football and basketball. Academically they are not a very appealing candidate. Kansas is a small state and just adding the University of Kansas alone is far more appealing. I think KSU would only get in if the PAC wanted Kansas and had to bring KSU along for the ride.
Hey but what about...?
Now some may argue that I have mistakenly (or even foolishly) made a mistake in leaving several schools off this list like Boise State, Nevada Las Vegas, Nevada Reno, Fresno State, and Tulane.
I don't think so.
Every one of those schools has a major red flag that would almost certainly prevent their inclusion.
Boise State was a junior college not that long ago. As a university they have little credibility in the kinds of snooty academic circles where the top half of the Pac-12 live. They don't draw that well, are in a small population state, and almost all of their appeal comes from the fact that they aren't a member of a power conference.
UNLV and UNR both lack the academic chops to pass the Stanford/Cal sniff test. When you consider all 12 schools, there are already a lot of Pac-12 alumni in Nevada.
Fresno State is also a Cal State school that falls short academically of PAC standards. Fresno is not a large enough market to change any opinions.
Tulane is simply a state too far east. If they were in the PAC, Tulane would not be able to sell their games to the SEC crowd in New Orleans.
One could add LSU and Tulane and then Tulane could draw well, but if you add LSU --- just up the road --- do you need Tulane? I don't think so.
To me, that is the list.