Now that we're all tired of discussing how to align the division, the other question that needs to be answered is how many conference games are played each year. Currently, the Pac-10 plays a nice and tidy 9 game round robin. Everyone plays each other and we can easily determine a champion. All of that goes out the window with expansion.
In order to answer the question, every school needs to prioritize what is important to them in a conference slate. Recruiting, national implications, revenue. and rivalries all are affected in some way by choosing either 8 or 9 games. Both choices have pros and cons in what may be a polarizing argument,
To me, there's little question what should be done. A quick look at every other conference with more than 10 teams shows that 8 games in the unanimous choice. The SEC, ACC, Big 10, and the former Big 12 all played 8 conference games last year. It's just the way things are done.
The advantages to playing 8 conference games come in the form of increased revenue, a better chance at being a player on the national level, and, for the Pac-12, the ability to schedule games in a neat and tidy way.
The revenue argument comes from being able to schedule 4 non-conference games. Schools can mitigate the risk of taking a "body bag" game for the money by scheduling a couple patsies at home, raking in the gate that comes with them. A school like WSU may have to travel to Auburn for revenue, but can also schedule a few smaller schools at home for easier wins and a paycheck.
This all ties back in to the Qwest Field game we've been discussing this week. The loss of a home conference game can be offset by an added non-conference game at home by using an 8 game schedule. It's a double win in this situation. The Qwest Field game could draw a high amount of revenue, and technically no home games are lost.
Nationally, conferences like the SEC continue to arrange their schedules in an effort to produce undefeated schools and maximize their chances for a BCS payday. Playing 8 conference games makes it more likely for schools to make it through the conference slate unscathed. The Pac-10, and its round robin 9 game schedule, lends itself to teams beating up on each other. While the conference as a whole may be very good, the standings show teams bunched together, racking up losses against each other. Playing 9 games in a competitive conference puts all the Pac-12 teams at a disadvantage nationally.
Assume for a minute that the conference decides on a geographical alignment with an 8 game slate. Together, these two decisions create a neat and tidy schedule. Teams play everyone in their division and one team each from the travel partners in the other division. Simple and straight forward.
It wouldn't be fair to ignore an 9 game schedule, which is still a distinct possibility. Play an extra game allows another inter-divisional game, perhaps helping recruiting. Instead of playing half of the other division, every school would play 2/3 of it. If the conference splits geographically, the Northwest schools will end up playing in Southern California with greater frequency than with an 8 game schedule, [perhaps appeasing the Northwest fans a little more.
On the rivalry side, a 9 game schedule helps preserve some of the rivalries outside of the traditional travel partners. The California schools can play each other frequently, the Northwest schools can continue their rivalry, and everyone benefits from another exciting conference game.
No matter what happens, the alignment decision and the choice between 8 or 9 games go hand in hand. The common theme between both arguments is that every school in the conference needs to make sacrifices for this all to work. Still, whether it's 8 or 9 games, we've added a conference championship and the revenue that goes with it, a good thing for all. The Pac-12 problems we're encountering are good ones to have.