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WSU responds to expansion


COUGARS

We’ve spent the afternoon getting Washington State reaction to the addition of Colorado to the Pac-10 Conference. We put together a couple stories for tomorrow’s paper, one on the overall news and the WSU response, the other on the financial bump the school may receive if the conference expands to 16 teams, as has been talked about all week. For both, read on.

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• Here’s the unedited version of the main story …

•••

PULLMAN – The first step in what could be a complete reshaping of the college sports landscape began Thursday, when the University of Colorado accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 Conference.

The announcement the Buffaloes would leave the Big 12 in 2012 and affiliate with the Pac-10 came amid reports of even more drastic change to the two conferences that span most of the western United States.

“It was clear to us that in any scenario we were going to consider for expansion, Colorado was a great fit,” said Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott, who has held that position for the past 11 months. “I said coming out of (the Pac-10) board meeting last weekend there are several different scenarios that could pan out.

“But in every single one of those scenarios, Colorado made sense for us (so) there was no reason to wait any further.”

Colorado, who Scott said was only officially invited Tuesday, becomes the first new school to join the Pac-10 since July 1, 1978, when Arizona State and Arizona were added.

But the Buffaloes might be only the first this month, with numerous reports surfacing that Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been contacted in hopes of creating a 16-team super conference.

“Anything is possible,” admitted Scott, who repeatedly sidestepped questions on a media call related to further expansion, only alluding to different “scenarios” the conference is discussing.

He did say, however, the authority given to him by the Pac-10 presidents last weekend allowed him to move forward quickly, though “no invitations have been issued.”

Just how much Thursday’s news and any possible seismic conference change will have on Washington State University is still unclear, even to those who will have to deal with it.

“It all balances out,” football coach Paul Wulff said. “Ultimately everybody is still going to play 12 football games. If anything, we could have less league games. … Financially, it could give us a lot more freedom to schedule a lot more home (non-conference) games. So there could be a lot of gain from it.”

“I’ve been around 14 months and it’s a big change, I know that,” men’s basketball coach Ken Bone said. “I never dreamed we would be adding a team or a few teams, possibly, when I was hired. I do think it makes our conference that much stronger.”

WSU athletic director Bill Moos vocally opposed expansion when he took the position in February. He’s changed his mind. In fact, he doesn’t want the conference to stop with Colorado.

Asked if a much larger Pac-10 would be good for Washington State, Moos answered, “I believe it is. I’m convinced of that now.”

Moos said his worries were based on losing a presence in Southern California and the Bay Area, fertile recruiting grounds for WSU sports. But the more the conference expands, the greater the chance the Cougars would be aligned with the California schools.

“Now that we’ve gone to 11, anything we can do … that can keep us with east/west type of divisions, so we can keep that California presence,” is crucial, he said. “If we start going north/south, we probably would not see that.”

If the Pac-10 expands to 11 or 12 schools, there might be a push for combining the California and Arizona schools. If it hits 16, there is a good chance the old Pac-8 members would stay together.

But those thoughts are for the future. Right now there is only one new Pac-10 member.

“I don’t know if it affects us a whole lot,” Wulff said of Colorado’s entry. “I don’t think one school will change anything. I do think a number of additional schools would, obviously.”

Colorado is not a stranger to Washington State in football. The Cougars are 2-4 against the school, though the Buffaloes have never played in Pullman.

The two WSU home games were contested in Spokane (a 14-10 WSU win in 1981) and Seattle (Colorado won 20-12 in 2004, the last time the teams met). Interestingly, the Buffs were scheduled to play in Martin Stadium on Sept. 15, 2001, but that game was canceled after 9/11.

WSU is 1-1 against Colorado in men’s basketball, last playing in 1969.

•••••

• And here is the short sidebar …

•••

A big part of the gain for Washington State associated with Pac-10 expansion is financial. The school has the leanest athletic budget in the conference at around $30 million.

The larger expansion scenarios – with Big 12 members Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M following Colorado’s lead – project a conference per school payout in the $20 million range each year –about what Big Ten and SEC members receive – most of that coming from television.

“The fact that we could be seeing a tremendous increase in television revenue, which would be extremely important for our program,” athletic director Bill Moos said.

As expansion moves forward and television contracts are negotiated – Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said those negotiations will begin next year as the current contract expires in 2012 – Moos hopes not only for a larger pot but also for a more equitable distribution of funds.

“A chance to add $20 million, that’s a pretty significant increase,” Moos said. “The other thing I like about the potential here is a different revenue-sharing formula. We do not share equally right now.”

In 2009-10, WSU is projected to receive $3.6 million in shared television revenue, part of a total conference payout projected at $6.32 million. The other conference schools receive more, with USC topping the list above $11 million.

“It’s my hope that we would have a model more structured like the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference,” Moos said, mentioning conferences that share equally in all league-related revenue.

“It was clear that the Pac-10 was undervalued from a monetary standpoint,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero told the Los Angeles Times. “The exploration of expansion made sense.”

Scott said financial considerations are playing a large role in the expansion scenarios, adding the conference’s recent hiring of the Creative Artist Agency was aimed at coming up with a market analysis.

“We have a good sense that any decisions we make are grounded in sound financial analysis and our members will be better off,” he said.

•••••

• Talk about an inauspicious beginning. The Pac-10 office and Colorado administrators attempted to hold a conference call at 10:30 and it fell apart due to “technical difficulties.” Actually, someone put together the wrong type of call. I’m surprised Colorado didn’t send out a release saying its reconsidered. If a conference can’t get a media call right, why would you want to join? Just kidding. Anyhow, the call was rescheduled for 1 p.m. and went off without a hitch. … One more thing for you WSU baseball fans. Shortstop Shea Vucinich signed with Milwaukee. And an incoming recruit, Jason Monda, said he is not signing.

•••••

• That’s all for now. We’ll be back as events warrant. Until then …


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