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Originally published July 17, 2010 at 8:03 PM | Page modified July 18, 2010 at 1:58 AM

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Bud Withers

Equal revenue sharing hot potato for Pac-10

However they slice it, it's going to lead the conference fathers into another debate. And though it might not take place right away, it's probably going to be more explosive than the talks about divisions. It's revenue sharing, and it might be the only subject that gets USC as fired up as the NCAA infractions committee.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Once the collegiate Earth was done shaking in June, and the Pac-10 was denied the biggest annexation since the Louisiana Purchase, the landscape cleaved neatly and gave the league Colorado and Utah.

Even if it wasn't the Big One — that would have been Texas — it was headline news for a conference with one of the oldest constituencies in the nation. The Pac-10 hadn't changed membership since 1978, and even as critics called it stodgy, it was also stable.

There has been a prevailing calm to the league, a sense that these august Western institutions will find a way to work things out.

That could be about to change.

On July 30 in Pasadena, Pac-10 athletic directors are due to get about the business of how to place the two new members. To play a moneymaking league-championship football game, you need divisions, and that's an apt term in this discussion.

However they slice it, it's going to lead the conference fathers into another debate. And though it might not take place right away, it's probably going to be more explosive than the talks about divisions.

It's revenue sharing, and it might be the only subject that gets USC as fired up as the NCAA infractions committee.

"That'll be a great drama to watch unfold," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos.

"It's the elephant in the room," Washington AD Scott Woodward said.

When Washington meets Nebraska on Sept. 18 on ABC television, the Huskies will reap about $600,000 for the appearance. Everybody else in the Pac-10 will get a small fraction of that.

Since 1986, the participants in a televised Pac-10 football game divide 55 percent of the TV booty. The 10 schools share equally in the other 45 percent. There have been occasional challenges to the agreement, but mostly just a series of tweaks over the years to reflect new TV partnerships.

It's the way of the world in the Pac-10, where the imbalance in shared TV revenue, and TV's tilt toward the booming market in Los Angeles, creates an annual gap of as much as $4 million to $5 million between USC and a have-not school like Washington State.

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Why is it an issue now? Assuming Washington and WSU end up in a division separate from USC and UCLA, they're going to meet those schools less frequently in football. When that happens, by definition they're going to be disadvantaged monetarily, because of the TV appeal of the L.A. schools.

Elsewhere, it's mostly a stark contrast to the Pac-10. In the Big Ten, ACC and Big East, they share all football TV revenue equally. The SEC parallels those leagues closely.

But in the Big 12, they have a TV participants pool and a non-participants pool. Texas, the straw that stirs the drink, dips heavily from both, and the inequities there are one reason Nebraska said arrivederci in June and left for the Big Ten, a move that helped almost take down an entire league.

In the past, whenever equal revenue sharing has been discussed in the Pac-10, USC athletic director Mike Garrett has said the Trojans are out of here if it ever happens. But the Troy Boys are staying after school right now, knuckles rapped by the NCAA, and it might be a good time to catch them on the subject.

Turns out Washington is a key player. It takes an 8-2 vote in the Pac-10 to implement financial policy, and the L.A. schools form a coalition. Moos remembers a steady stream of "no" votes to revenue sharing through the 1990s and beyond from UW athletic director Barbara Hedges, killing the notion.

"They were a pretty good 'have' in those days," Moos said.

But times changed, football turned bleak at the UW and shared money began looking good. Woodward favors revenue sharing, if the league will also do away with an archaic policy of traditional rivals sharing their football gate, which hurts the Huskies more than anybody.

"Essentially, I subsidize Wazzu to the tune of about 400 grand a year," Woodward said. "If we're going to share revenue with them, I want that to go away."

Now, with the expanded Pac-10, there are two new sheriffs in town. Well, deputies anyway. They have immediate voting rights on this issue, and presumably, they'll be of the equal-share persuasion. As always, it will take a 75 percent, 9-3 vote to change the formula, but that means the L.A. schools need to find not one, but two allies.

Why share, you ask. If you're sitting on oil in the Middle East, you don't funnel it to the sheikh across the border. Well, at some level, USC needs Washington State, if only for things like scheduling volleyball games and having somebody it can count on pounding in football.

"It's obvious revenue sharing works," said Woodward. "The Big Ten and the SEC are the two most successful leagues in the country financially."

Before they ever get this far, the Pac-10 fathers have to figure out a way to align the league members. None of it — divisions, revenue sharing, deciding on the lunch menu around the meeting table — is going to be easy. As they say, the devil is in the details.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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