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Pac-10 football: 12th game provides profits, challenges
Seattle Times staff reporter
The multi-dimensional job responsibilities of a Pac-10 athletic director just got a little more varied.
Recent approval by the NCAA board of directors of an annual 12-game football schedule will mean not only a full round-robin in the Pac-10, but some reassessment on intersectional opponents and television opportunities.
"It's purely about money," conceded Bob DeCarolis, the athletic director at Oregon State, referring to the NCAA's decision — not entirely unexpected — to give the go-ahead to 12-game schedules starting in 2006.
Among other things, the extra game means the model changes for most big-bucks schools like Washington. With an 11-game schedule, the Huskies usually played six home games, but now the norm will be seven, adding roughly a $2 million gross gate to a strapped budget.
For players and fans, there's a sharper change: Assuming ratification by the Pac-10 CEOs early this month, the league schedules that were in place starting in 2006 will be torn up and replaced by a full, nine-game round-robin. The two-year cycle of "misses" — Oregon, for instance, missed USC in the last two seasons of Troy national championships — will be a thing of the past.
The other big change will be timing, and possibly television.
In 2006, the Apple Cup is scheduled to be the only one of the five traditional-rivalry games played before Thanksgiving, which means no bye week for either Washington or Washington State. In 2007, Cal-Stanford joins the Apple Cup the Saturday before Thanksgiving, but the other three will come after.
In fact, in reference to the Civil War meeting and Thanksgiving weekend, DeCarolis says, "I'm of the assumption that game moves [to the post-Thanksgiving slot] permanently."
"I'm totally opposed to playing after Thanksgiving," said Mike Bellotti, the Oregon coach. "I feel that's the one holiday parents, coaches and players can look forward to. With bowl games, we often don't have the Christmas holiday."
Starting in 2006, it's a choice. Either play 12 weeks in a row and finish before Thanksgiving, or take a bye and finish after.
The 12-game schedule also means another change: No more "exempt" games like the Kickoff Classic. Now the first possible starting line is the Thursday night before Labor Day weekend. ESPN, anyone?
Twelve-game regular seasons were allowed nationally in 2002-03 because the calendar provided for an additional weekend between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. They were scheduled to be restored in 2008 because of the same timetable, but a general money crunch brought about a full-time allowance of the expanded schedule.
In the Pac-10, there has always been some support to end the systematic "misses" and go to a full round-robin. Only by luck has the league managed to avoid a situation in which two teams not playing each other tied for the league championship.
But there have been instances in which "misses" could have changed the champion. In 2001, league champ Oregon (11-1 overall, 7-1 in Pac-10 games) didn't play Washington (8-4, 6-2). In 1999, Stanford, under new Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, actually had a lesser overall record than Oregon (8-4 to 9-3), but won the league at 7-1 to the Ducks' 6-2.
"We're for it," said Washington athletic director Todd Turner of the change. "It's a good thing for a couple of reasons. No. 1, it brings another quality game to our stadium, which I think our fans will like. And it gives us a chance to determine the champion completely on the field."
True enough. But it also means that every other year, each team will play five Pac-10 road games. So in theory, a team that might be league champion under the old format — helped by missing, say, a nationally ranked team — now might have to face that team as one of five road games.
"I'm excited about it," said Jim Sterk, the Washington State athletic director. "It makes the schedule more challenging, but it gives us the opportunity, every other year, to have a good game" that might not come about otherwise.
Which leads to another possible ramification. The Pac-10 thus would become the only league among the six Bowl Championship Series conferences to play a full round-robin. Until USC played Oklahoma in January, the league hadn't had a representative in the BCS title game, and it's possible adding a competitive game will hurt in cracking that top two.
That could lead to a retrenching in nonleague scheduling. Along with the move to 12-game schedules, the NCAA also decreed that a game against I-AA competition can count toward the required seven victories (which may become six under certain conditions). In the past, those games could be counted only every four years.
"I don't think our people will deviate too much," said Duane Lindberg, Pac-10 assistant commissioner for electronic communications.
With more Pac-10 teams playing post-Thanksgiving league games, television changes are likely in the wind. For instance, given the number of times the Apple Cup result has weighed on the Rose Bowl race, UW and WSU could be asked to take a bye on the Saturday the game is now played and meet on Thanksgiving day, night or later that weekend.
What might prevent a network from dangling that in front of the Huskies and Cougars?
"The answer to that is, absolutely nothing," said Jim Livengood, the Arizona athletic director. "I would be shocked if several entities don't come and present exactly that scenario."
Said Turner, "We probably should explore all that."
Meanwhile, both Turner and Sterk are trying to change nonleague schedules in the near future.
Turner would like to break up the hellish two-game stretch Sept. 8 and 15, 2007, in which the Huskies are due to host Oklahoma and Ohio State. He says he wants to schedule the two but not back-to-back.
Sterk has an opening for WSU's first game of 2006 on Sept. 2. He's close to a date at Brigham Young, but BYU's return obligation is still to be worked out.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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