The first opening Saturday of the Pac-12 Conference has come and gone. It might be the last.
The latest scenario has Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech joining the 12 existing teams to form the Pac-16 — in a league that not so long ago had 10 teams.
And if all of this is moving so fast that it makes your head spin, look at it this way: At least it makes more sense than a Big 10 Conference that has 12 teams, or a Big 12 Conference that has 10.
Yet lost in this revived talk of Larry Scott’s ever-expanding empire is this question: Can one league possibly be big enough for Phil Knight and T. Boone Pickens?
Knight is the patron of the University of Oregon athletic department. Pickens serves the same function for Oklahoma State. They are the nation’s most obvious examples of how money can influence college sports, and it’s no coincidence that their largesse has resulted in football programs that are fixtures in the Top 10.
Pickens even weighed in on the latest rumors Saturday, saying he thinks Oklahoma State eventually will wind up in the Pac-however-many.
“Don’t rush the monkey and you’ll see a better show,” he said. “We don’t have to decide this weekend.”
No word yet on what monkeys have to do with anything. But the situation is turning into a circus.
The reason for the Pac-12’s blitzkrieg to seize new lands is obvious. The conference added the Denver and Salt Lake City markets this year; it can stretch its tentacles into Dallas and Oklahoma City with the next move.
That would give the Pac-16 a foothold in eight states, schools in five of the 15 largest media markets in the country, and influence in 12 of the 25 largest. All while making Scott the most powerful person in college sports.
There’s no doubt that adding Texas, et al., would be good for the conference. But would it be good for the Northwest schools?
Washington is secure in its position in college football society, a big-money school in a major media market. The Huskies will continue to yield influence.
So will Oregon, by virtue of its deep-pocketed benefactor and the national cachet it has built up.
Yet while the increased revenue would help the small-market schools of Oregon State and Washington State in relation to athletic programs in other leagues, it would move them further down the pecking order in their own conference.
The new Pac-12 Network is expected to add about $20 million a year to each of the school’s coffers. An expanded Pac-16 Network would add even more.
But it also might lead some to question what the Beavers and the Cougars bring to the conference. If the overriding ethos is a desire to make more money for the schools, the presence of OSU and WSU does little to help, say, Texas. Other than providing teams the Longhorns can beat in nearly every sport.
The Beavs and the Cougs suddenly would be the couple that keeps getting invited to the party by their upwardly mobile friends. And you have to wonder how long it will be before their new friends say, “Tell me again: What do they add to the party? Why do we keep inviting them?”
For generations, conferences have been bound by loyalty and geography and common interests. The world was a bigger place; spheres of influence were smaller. Those days are gone, swept away by the realities of easy travel and expansive media.
The result will be a handful of megaconferences, and if the Pac-12 doesn’t act now to grab the Oklahomas of the world, some other conference will. But it likely will further entrench Oregon State and Washington State as the embodiment of an old axiom: Somebody has to finish last.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached by 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “Like” his Facebook page, search for “Greg Jayne – The Columbian.”