Cal, Stanford could be turning point

Updated: October 12, 2010, 8:31 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The Bay Area schools, California and Stanford, appear to be the final hurdle before the Pac-10 unveils next week its two-division, 12-team setup for the 2011-12 football season.

Pac-10 athletic directors weren't able to arrive at a consensus during two days of meetings last week in San Francisco, but a compromise is in the works, according to multiple sources.

The conference would like to have a north-south split of two six-team divisions, instead of a "zipper format" that would divide the conference on an east-west alignment of every rivalry.

The schools in the Northwest will sign off on a north-south split, but want Stanford and Cal to be in their division instead of Colorado and Utah to ensure a foothold in recruiting-rich California.

However, the California schools would rather stay together, which would mean UCLA and USC being with Stanford and Cal. Add southern schools Arizona and Arizona State, and the South not only would have all of California, but also a historical competitive advantage, even if the current standings show the Oregon schools atop the conference.

One source said the league has to do what's best for the overall conference, not just for the individual interests of a few schools. And to a number of the members, splitting the four California schools is a must.

If a compromise is reached, Cal and Stanford would be placed in the North Division with Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. The South Division would be UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State and new members Utah and Colorado, formerly of the Mountain West and Big 12, respectively.

During a news conference at Oregon State two weeks ago, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said the league still would play nine games, with room for crossover games if rivalries are split up in divisions. UCLA and USC would have five games within the division, for instance, and still could play four of the North Division teams, meaning games against Cal and Stanford could survive a realignment.

Splitting the four California schools also means two of them could meet in a Pac-12 championship game.

The north-south division alignment is an easier sell for marketing purposes. Scott said he wanted the divisions to have "competitive balance," as well as be able to "market and promote our football season in a way that's easy and logical to follow."

The "zipper" split would take each rivalry -- USC and UCLA, for example -- and divide it along east-west lines to form two divisions, with the rivals still playing each other in a crossover game. But that format hasn't had as much momentum.

The presidents and chancellors are huddling with their respective athletic directors this week before their own meeting Oct. 21 in downtown San Francisco. Scott hopes to have a news conference following the meeting to announce the divisional alignment.

The Pac-10 men's basketball media day is the following week in Los Angeles, when the conference should know by then what it will do. The consensus in men's basketball is to keep its 18-game, round-robin setup. The rivals always would play each other home-and-home. The teams would play six others twice for a total of seven home-and-home games.

That would leave four, one-game meetings per team, with the goal of splitting those into two at home and two on road. For example, Arizona could go to Oregon and then Washington State on a Thursday-Saturday trip, and host Oregon State and Washington.

There would be a rotation set up so that each team gets to play on each other's home court in a six-year period.

The future of the Pac-12 tournament is still fluid. All 12 teams will be invited. The Pac-10 still is committed to Staples Center in Los Angeles for 2011 and 2012, as the tournament is tied to the conference's television deal with Fox Sports Net. The Pac-10 will look to open up the television negotiations next year.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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