By now, every coach at every Pac-10 school has been asked (ordered, perhaps) not to make public comment on the league's possible expansion to Stillwater, Okla., and, good Lord, Lubbock, Texas.

It would not look good if the national championship gymnastics people at UCLA, or those who run the tennis dynasty at Stanford, insisted "we don't wanna do it."

Mike Candrea was one of the few who spoke before the gag order was established. The Arizona softball coach said, "I love this conference. I wouldn't want to be in any other conference. The schools, the trips we have to go on, are quality places."

What Candrea didn't say is that if Arizona is doomed to play in a division with ASU, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Colorado and Texas Tech, it would mean fewer games in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and maybe no games in Oregon or Washington.

It would mean more games in Stillwater and Lubbock and, say it ain't so, College Station, Texas.

"The travel would eat you up," he said.

Actually, travel wouldn't be a factor for Arizona and ASU. Do you realize Tucson is much closer to Texas A&M (987 miles) and Oklahoma State (1,076 miles) than it is to Oregon State (1,342 miles), Washington State (1,333 miles) and Washington (1,524 miles).

According to the NCAA mileage chart, a flight to Cal-Stanford (858 miles) is almost a push with a flight to Texas (899 miles).

What would "eat you up" is the diminished presence in Southern California, which is Arizona's No. 1 recruiting turf in football, basketball, baseball, track, volleyball and, especially, softball.

Such is the trade-off in what is a coup of such financial gain that the Pac-10 and its schools must yield to the inevitable changes in routine and rivalry.

Yet if there is one potential loser, it is Arizona. The Wildcats have more to lose than their colleagues in California, Oregon and Washington.

I would like to hear Sean Miller's unedited opinion on the possibility that his basketball team won't play home-and-home against UCLA and USC every year. Under a possible Big 12/Pac-10 union, you can more realistically imagine Arizona and ASU playing home-and-home with Texas Tech, and maybe Baylor or Colorado.

There would possibly be no annual homecoming weekend for the SoCal Wildcats, no Pauley Pavilion showdown the way it was for Sean Rooks, Anthony Cook, Miles Simon, Chris Mills and on and on.

Wasn't that a significant part of the attractiveness to being a Wildcat?

Since 1978, the California recruiting market is what made it possible for Arizona's athletic department to become a player on the national level.

Because of its geographical location, the Wildcats and Sun Devils would have the most to sacrifice in a conference realignment that stretches east and includes fewer appearances in California.

With the exception of his standout players from Tucson and Phoenix, Candrea has built his softball empire in Southern California: Lovie Jung, Jennie Finch, Nancy Evans, Jenny Dalton, Leah O'Brien, Amy Chellevold, and now Brittany Lastrapes and Lini Koria.

It's impossible to put a value on Arizona's connection, California cool, to UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal.

What's next, Texas toast?

Speaking to the Daily Oklahoman last weekend, UA football coach Mike Stoops added the other imposing piece to a Big 12/Pac-10 merger: "You have to make some serious adjustments to play at that level," he said. "You'd like to be on an even playing field."

Arizona cannot play on an even field financially. The UA had revenues of $51.8 million in the last fiscal year.

In the same period, Texas' revenues were $138 million. Oklahoma earned $81.4 million, Texas A&M $72.8 million and Oklahoma State $71.8 million.

Imagine if Arizona and the finance-squeezed Sun Devils go into a division with that type of money. It would be like playing against a division of opponents with Phil Knight-Nike resources.

Therefore, this season is likely to be Arizona's last best chance to get to the Rose Bowl.

The potential expansion of the Pac-10 and breakup of its perfect symmetry is based on two variables: football money and television money. They are one and the same. Most of the realistic estimates suggest that each school would realize about $22 million to $25 million in TV money. That would be more than double each Pac-10 school's current TV booty.

That's why the Pac-10's best hoops rivalry, UCLA vs. Arizona, its top rivalry in softball, Arizona vs. UCLA, and its most anticipated showdowns in swimming (Arizona vs. Cal/Stanford) and baseball (ASU vs. Stanford) are in peril.

In the end, it might be a small price to pay for the future financial health of the Wildcats and Sun Devils.