Greg Hansen: New division not easy, but has its worth

2010-10-22T00:00:00Z 2014-10-29T08:56:50Z Greg Hansen: New division not easy, but has its worthGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 22, 2010 12:00 am  • 

So you want to be in a football division with USC and UCLA? It is loaded with prestige, you say? It will mean more money, better recruiting and an identity that will make Arizona a regular on ESPN and a player on the national stage. Right?

In Arizona's first 32 years in the Pac-10, the Wildcats finished ahead of both USC and UCLA in the same season once: 2009. Yes, once.

Don't order those playoff tickets yet.

Not counting ties, Arizona has finished ahead of UCLA a mere eight times in 32 football seasons, and the Bruins haven't really had a compelling up-cycle since 1988.

Gulp.

The Wildcats are 19-35-1 against USC and UCLA dating to that glorious December day, 1976, that they were admitted to the Pac-10 and left behind those little-leaguers from Wyoming, UTEP and Colorado State.

Nobody said it would be easy.

Now the Wildcats will be paired against the Trojans and Bruins for football eternity, home and home, year after year after year. It's like Ole Miss getting put into the SEC Western Division with LSU and Alabama.

Every athletic director and football fan in the Pac-10, and those who soon will be, wishes to be coupled with UCLA and USC. On Thursday, when it became official, when Arizona was assigned to the South Division with UCLA, USC, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State, UA athletic director Greg Byrne termed it "a win … I think, coming out of this week, we are in about as good a position as anybody."

And he is right. Arizona will benefit more by its association with the Trojans and its link to SoCal than it could possibly gain by being matched with those in the Rain and Snow Division.

For Arizona, more than ever, the Road to the Rose Bowl runs through Los Angeles. It has never been easy and yet somehow Arizona survived, filling the old stadium regularly and, except for the John Mackovic years and the resulting reconstruction period, held its own and more.

As the Pac-10 begins an unprecedented cash grab, Arizona may soon be able to afford living in its upscale neighborhood.

If commissioner Larry Scott's TV-revenue estimations are accurate - and he has done nothing yet but hit home runs and deliver on pledges and promises - every Pac-10 team will soon be adding about $7 million annually to the plus side of its budget.

"Our coaches already have it spent," Byrne said with a chuckle. "It's going to allow us to solidify our financial foundation for many years to come. When you have other revenue streams coming in, you don't have to pass along those needs to the consumer sitting in the seats as much."

The expansion, realignment and general reorganization of the Pac-10 spins almost entirely on football. Revenue from men's basketball television is the other variable in the league's oft-stated goal of earning $170 million per year in media rights. Middle-tier schools such as Arizona hope to double their media revenue annually, from about $7 million to $14 million.

On Thursday, Scott talked in corporate-ese, tossing around rarely heard Pac-10 terms such as "permutations" and "global brand" and "over-arching objectives," but that was just CEO code for "we're all gonna get rich."

No wonder the voting was unanimous and that, after months of debate and worry, the Pac-10 presidents and their athletic directors presented a united front with, incredibly, no public squabbling.

"The changes are excellent," said UA softball coach Mike Candrea. "We needed a boost, and this will give it to us. It's about dollars and cents. This heads us in the right direction."

Arizona sponsors 19 varsity sports with about 500 scholarship athletes. Under Cedric Dempsey, Jim Livengood and financial clean-up hitter John Perrin, the Wildcats have balanced the athletic budget for 25 consecutive years, which, on a relative shoestring budget, borders on hard-to-believe territory.

Thus, for Arizona, Thursday's revelations about a conference football title game, divisional setups and scheduling were important, but, as with most Pac-10 schools, the decision to share media rights equally made it a most happy occasion.

Before Livengood left office, the UA paid more than $500,000 for a facilities analysis that concluded McKale Center soon needs a new roof and about $143 million in arena-wide renovations.

The 230-page analysis contained a troubled description of the infrastructure of Arizona Stadium; "several sections in the stadium have experienced water infiltration through cracks in joints in the concrete," it determined.

The ultimate cost to get the football stadium up to code - and something comparable to those in the Pac-10 - soars well past $100million.

Compared to those challenges, yearly football games against UCLA and USC are almost inviting.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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