Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

Saturday, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott reportedly presented a handful of options to conference presidents, chancellors and athletic directors for pursuing expansion. Today, Scott said he'd been granted authority by the membership to pursue any and all of them:

Scott spoke following the conclusion of the conference meetings in San Francisco on Sunday. Earlier in the day, he addressed the chancellors and presidents about possible expansion and was given authority to move ahead without having to go back to the board for approval.
[...]
The conference will decide its future plans by the end of the year before negotiating a new television contract for the 2012-13 academic year.

All hail the devoted accuracy of the Associated Press: While "by the end of the year" is certainly technically correct, and in keeping with the conference's initial 6-to-12-month timeline for considering expansion options, every indication over the last 72 hours suggests the strike is bound to come by the end of the month, if not by the end of the week.

To recap, according to both ESPN Los Angeles and Orangebloods.com, the four options Scott laid on the table on Saturday ran as follows, from least to most dramatic:

• Retaining the current 10-team structure, unchanged since Arizona and Arizona State joined the Pac-8 in 1978;
 • Adding Colorado and Utah to form a 12-team conference with two six-team divisions and a championship game, a la the SEC, Big 12 and ACC;
 •  Brokering a merger with six Big 12 schools, as reported by Orangebloods on Thursday, as long as one of those schools is Texas; or
 • Brokering a full merger with the entire Big 12, creating an unwieldy, 22-team behemoth that would completely redefine the concept of a "conference" in college sports.

Scott reportedly prefers the third option, a merger with six Big 12 schools – specifically, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and either Colorado or Baylor, depending on whether Texas legislators get their way – to create a 16-team super conference spanning the entire Western half of the continent and encompassing seven of the nation's 20 largest television markets. Under any circumstances, Scott seems hell-bent on a Pac-10 television network in the Big Ten mold, which was clear from the moment he hired ex-Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who allegedly left the Big 12 over his support of a conference television network in 2007 and went on to help launch the Big Ten Network.

They now have free reign from the conference to make it happen – though, in the end, it will still come down to a unanimous vote by presidents and chancellors, any one of whom could grind everything to a screeching halt. If Scott expands the conference and installs a Pac-10 network, he'll deserve to be considered a heavy hitter on par with his counterparts in the Big Ten and SEC barely a year into the job.

The rapid acceleration of the Pac-10's plans – and the potentially devastating effects on the future of the Big 12 – have certainly caught the attention of the Big Ten, which may no longer be as securely in the driver's seat as suspected since it announced its own expansion plans in December. The Big Ten, like the Pac-10, is intensely interested in Texas, and very likely in Missouri and Nebraska, as well.

Until now, it hasn't been in any hurry, apparently content to let the wheels spin until every every avenue has been explored and every 'i' dotted later this year. With the sudden likelihood that Nebraska and Missouri will be driven to make a decision by the end of the week, and that their decision could directly influence what happens to Texas, the Big Ten could be forced to move quickly or find itself left in the cold with all three of its Big 12 targets.

Commissioner Jim Delany conceded as much today when he said "the timeline could be affected." Which means, of course, that it will be affected.

To exactly what extent may be impossible to tell – there is, after all, the not-so-tiny matter of attempting to lure Notre Dame, which may very well still be the Big Ten's first priority (even above Texas), and may be far more likely if the dominoes topple as dramatically as they've been set up to fall over the last few days. A wholesale collapse of the Big 12, along with a targeted raid of the Big East, could be precisely the vastly restructured landscape that sends the Irish scurrying into the Big Ten's arms at long last. Either way, here's guessing that it won't take till the end of the year to find out.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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