The days of the Pac-12 are almost upon us. While the additions of Colorado and Utah excite me on almost every level, the one aspect of their addition that saddens me is that the round robin is dead, and in its stead will be a conference championship game. This, of course, means more money; but it also means that we are actually going to have to play in some of these.
The whole event strikes me as similar to a conference basketball tournament. Not often will it be used to actually determine the best team in the conference, but instead it serves as a way to keep interest in a greater number of teams until the end of the season. That said, with an automatic BCS berth on the line, the stakes will be big, very big. And with big stakes, you have to question the equity of the event. Also, with the event being one of the lynchpins of conference expansion, you have to question the profitability of it as well. The SEC and (soon to be defunt) Big XII title games have been financial boons to those leagues. However, the ACC title game has been a snoozer and a money loser. This should be a marquee event for the conference, but how do we make it equitable, exciting, and profitable?
Lets take a look at the Pac-10 basketball tournament. It has been held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles since its inception. Two things are clear: when USC or, especially, UCLA, has been good, those teams have had a decided advantage in crowd support. Also, when neither of those schools are particularly good, the tournament is a snoozefest, some games drawing crowds in the mere hundreds, and even championship games with the arena less than half full. Yet, when the contract renegotiations for the tournament came up, Tom Hansen kept the tournament in Los Angeles, despite an offer from the Rose Garden in Portland that would have given the conference more money. Why? Because Fox Sports liked being able to broadcast the tournament close to their LA offices (thank Heaven he's gone).
I've always thought that the tournament should be rotated every year between the Pac-10 markets. Every Pac-10 state (including our two new additions) has an NBA arena (or in the case of Seattle, one that is suitable enough). By rotating the tournament every year between five (or soon to be seven) cities, not only do you spread the home court advantage around the league, but you make the tournament an event. As a fan, you don't say "well, UCLA's no good this year, so we'll wait until next year," you say "this thing won't be in Portland/Oakland/Salt Lake City again for seven years, so lets watch some great ball." You can't depend on fan travel to fill these events, and that's even more true of a conference championship game due to the short notice fans will have in knowing if their team is gong to play (and this is even more true in a conference that isn't terribly drivable and plane travel is a must). You have to make it an event, something that the locals will pack the house for even if the local team is not playing. Admittedly, TV will pull in most of the revenue from this event, there is a lot of money to be made at the gate. TV can broadcast the game anywhere, but an empty stadium does not make for good TV.
With that said, I've heard two schools of thought on the Conference Championship Game. I've heard some say we should hold it in the Rose Bowl every year. This is a bad idea on two levels. The first is that it gives USC and UCLA a decided advantage. But the second is that nobody outside of LA will travel there if there is a chance their team will be playing a better game in the Rose Bowl a month later. I've also heard San Diego and Glendale, Ariz. thrown around as possible locations.
That said, I still favor the rotating the game between cities. Unlike with basketball, not every Pac-10 market has an NFL stadium to play the game in, but spreading it around Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area (who is building a new stadium very soon), Southern California (I like San Diego better than LA due to the Rose Bowl factor, but take your pick), Phoenix, and Denver not only spreads around the opportunity for home field advantage, but keeps the game an event and gives you a better chance at selling the place out on a regular basis.
Tom Hansen made the rest of the Pac-10 bow down to the whims of the LA schools and Fox Sports for far too long. I trust that Larry Scott will not make the same follies that have plagued the Pac-10 tournament under Hansen's leadership.