Pac-12 divisions split Calif. schools

Updated: October 21, 2010, 11:44 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SAN FRANCISCO -- The new Pac-12 conference approved football divisions that will split the California schools and adopted an equal revenue-sharing plan Thursday as the league presidents and chancellors hashed out the important issues that arose because of recent expansion.

Colorado and Utah recently accepted invitations to join the Pac-10 in the conference's first expansion since 1978, necessitating many changes for when the league becomes a 12-team conference next July 1.

"There was robust, spirited dialogue about all of these things," commissioner Larry Scott said. "These are very important matters that we were dealing with. I'm just really pleased with the way everyone came together and realized we're building an enterprise that's about to scale in a way these schools have never been part of. It wasn't hard to get people to agree. The fact they agreed unanimously was a very strong statement."

The most anticipated decision was the division alignment. The league decided to split the California schools, with Stanford and Cal playing in the North Division with Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. UCLA and Southern California will be in the South with Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado.

"If you were just looking at a map, you'd look at something that makes complete sense," Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love said. "You have a group of schools that fit naturally into a southern section and schools that fit naturally into a northern section. If you were watching the divisions from, say, New York City, you'd have an idea of what that southern division looks like, so it's as it should be and an excellent split for the league."

The conference did vote to keep the historic California rivalries. The Bay Area schools have played the Los Angeles schools every year since 1946 in rivalries that started long before that. Cal and Stanford will each play UCLA and USC every year in football.

"It was something all four of the California schools from minute one stated as essential to us," Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said. "We would not have been in favor of any deal or ultimate resolution that did not provide that as an opportunity."

USC athletic director Pat Haden had been vocal in advocating that the Los Angeles schools still play the other California rivals.

"When you think about the history of the games, we've played Cal for nearly 100 years, Stanford for 80-some. They've been historic games, great memories, memorable moments in those games," Haden said. "At the end of the day, the presidents did a great job because they were able to preserve the rivalries -- not only from USC's perspective, as I understand it, but Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and all those schools."

The other cross-divisional games in the nine-game conference schedule will rotate, with the Oregon and Washington schools playing in Los Angeles every other year as opposed to the current annual trips. The Northwest schools would either play both Los Angeles schools every other year or one LA school each year.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said he talked with coach Steve Sarkisian about losing the annual trip to Los Angeles.

"We like being in LA, but like coach said they'll be sick of seeing him in LA in January when he's living down there recruiting his tail off," Woodward said. "What the CEOs did as a conference eclipses any small nuances."

The more important decision came in regards to revenue sharing. The conference will switch from an appearance-based model where the Los Angeles schools traditionally earned more money to an equal sharing of football television revenues when a new TV deal kicks in starting in September 2012.

USC and UCLA got some protection as both schools will get a $2 million bonus if the conference media revenues fall below $170 million. The conference currently generates about $60 million a year in television revenues, but that is expected to rise significantly when a new television deal is negotiated.

Haden said USC is happy with the new arrangement.

"That's fine with us because we think the pie will get bigger with a Pac-12 and a championship game," he said. "The pie will get bigger. Everybody's going to benefit."

The conference will also control all television and Internet rights for its schools for the first time.

"There was a lot of pushing and shoving during the course of these negotiations," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said. "We were all trying to do what was best for the conference but also represent our individual institutions. Our perspectives weren't always exactly the same but we worked our way through the issues."

Scott said the CEOs received a report on the possibility of starting a television network like the Big Ten did when the current media deals expire. He said there's significant interest in it, in part because of the exposure it could give to non-revenue sports.

The conference also formally approved a football championship game with the start of division play. NCAA rules require 12 teams and two divisions to stage a lucrative championship game. The Pac-12 will hold its game at the campus site of the division champion with the best conference record.

Scott said the conference chose a campus site over a neutral location to create a superior environment and to reward the better team. He said he was not concerned about bad weather in December, saying it's something the NFL deals with in its playoffs.

"I think we also said this is football. That was part of the answer also," said Arizona State President Michael Crow, the chairman of the Pac-10 CEO Group.

These changes will be in place next season instead of 2012-13 because Colorado was able to negotiate an approximately $6.8 million deal to leave the Big 12 a year earlier than originally planned.

"I think that's why it was important for us to join in 2011 because it allows the Big 12 Conference to make positive moves for their league and allows the Pac-12 to be the Pac-12," Colorado AD Mike Bohn said.

There will be no divisions in other sports. In basketball, instead of playing a home-and-home round robin, teams will play their traditional rival twice each season. They will also play six other teams in a home-and-home each season with one game against the other four teams. Those will rotate to guarantee an even distribution of games. Utah and Colorado will be considered rivals for that purpose.

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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