Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott laid out the plans for the new Pac-12 during a press conference on Thursday afternoon, and after watching it I have to say that things look a lot better for Stanford than I had hoped. There had been lots of hand wringing in Northern and Southern California during the past few weeks that the traditional intrastate rivalries would be severed as the conference was split into two divisions. Earlier this week I wrote about my hope that Stanford would be able to negotiate an assurance that they would play one of the Los Angeles schools each year, but the scheduling plan announced is even better than that.
As expected, the Pac-10 North will be comprised of the four Northwest schools plus Stanford and Cal, and the Pac-10 South will have the Los Angeles schools, the Arizona schools, plus newcomers Utah and Colorado. Looking at things from Stanford's point of view, the Cardinal will play the other five teams in the North, plus four of the six teams in the South. The good news, though, is that both Bay Area teams will play both L.A. teams each year. As he discussed this aspect of the schedule, Commissioner Scott noted that USC has actually played Cal and Stanford more times than it's played UCLA, and he made it clear that he saw these rivalries as integral to the history and identity of the conference. In order to respect this history, the decision makers unanimously agreed to extend the rivalries between the California schools.
In the long run, this couldn't have worked out better for Stanford. The Cardinal will still make yearly trips to the fertile recruiting ground of Southern California, but they won't have to compete against either UCLA or USC in the conference standings.
The sole purpose of the divisional split, of course, is the creation of a conference championship game. Beginning in December of 2011, the championship game will be played in the stadium of the team with the best overall conference record. The SEC holds its championship game in a neutral site, but there are two reasons this wouldn't work for the Pac-12. In a sprawling conference the size of the Pac-12, it would be difficult to expect Washington fans, for example, to travel more than a thousand miles on a week's notice. Also, as difficult as it may be to believe, there are exactly three football-only neutral sites within the Pac-12 region: Qwest Field in Seattle, Invesco Field in Denver, and Glendale Stadium outside of Phoenix. All three are on distant outposts of the Pac-12, and wouldn't make sense.
So now it's finally all clear. The Mighty Card will be in Los Angeles to play the Trojans in the fall, and then host the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game in December. Make your travel plans now!