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Originally published Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 8:56 PM

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Pac-10 gives expansion the go-ahead

Conference commissioner Larry Scott was given approval Sunday by conference presidents and chancellors to pursue expansion. Speculation has centered on the possibility of the conference inviting six Big 12 teams — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado — to join the Pac-10.

Seattle Times staff reporter

In a move that could herald a historic change in the makeup of the Pac-10, conference commissioner Larry Scott was given approval Sunday to pursue expansion.

The approval, given by conference presidents and chancellors on the final day of Pac-10 meetings in San Francisco, means Scott can proceed with expansion plans without returning to the board for further consent.

"It's exciting that we are being very proactive," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said Sunday night. "And Larry can continue to do his due diligence and look at various scenarios. It could be status quo or it could be a super-conference — you just don't know what could happen. But everyone's feeling is very good."

And while, as Woodward notes, there are many options that expansion could take, most of the speculation has centered on the possibility of the conference inviting six Big 12 teams — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado — to join the Pac-10. That would create two eight-team divisions: Washington and Washington State in what would essentially be the old Pac-8, along with USC, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, California and Stanford; and the six Big 12 teams with Arizona and Arizona State in the other division. That would set up a potentially lucrative football conference title game, the site of which potentially could alternate between the Rose Bowl and the new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

Scott told The Associated Press that "what direction (expansion) takes still could go in different directions. Everything from remaining as we are as a Pac-10 that has some very bright days ahead of it, to a bigger conference footprint. I have the authority to take it different directions, depending on various scenarios and discussions we will have."

Scott has said he hoped to settle the expansion issue by the end of the year (with ESPN.com reporting Sunday it could happen as early as Pac-10 media day in July). That would allow the conference to have its remade lineup in place when it goes to negotiate new TV deals for the 2012-13 academic year — the year when a new alignment would likely take effect. It has been estimated that expansion could be worth more than $20 million per school per year, what some have called "game-changing money" for schools like UW (with a yearly athletics budget of about $60 million) and, even more so, Washington State (roughly $30 million).

"I think the money thing is very important, because it allows us to compete and allows our student-athletes the ability to compete in those higher levels," Woodward said.

The Pac-10's move came amid a flurry of expansion speculation throughout the country. Impacting the Pac-10 most are reports that the Big 12 has given Nebraska and Missouri a Friday deadline to commit to staying or leaving for the Big Ten. Should those schools bolt, it could start a domino effect that might result in the Pac-10 quickly extending invites to the six Big 12 schools it is said to be targeting.

Should Nebraska and Missouri stay put, it's conceivable the Big 12 could still stay together. But that wouldn't mean Pac-10 expansion would be dead, as it's thought that the conference would consider a smaller addition such as Utah and Colorado.

Woodward said the Pac-10 schools did not have qualms giving Scott such wide-ranging authority to make deals on expansion.

"It's the way it should be," Woodward said. "He's doing what he should for his membership, and that's advocate and working the best deals for them and making sure that we remain in the elite."

The consent comes as Scott nears the end of his first year as conference commissioner — he took over last July 1 — and also indicates a further change in the way the Pac-10 does business. Under former commissioner Tom Hansen, the conference was long regarded as being resistant to change. Instead, this weekend's moves put the Pac-10 at the forefront of what could a massive sea change in college athletics. The Pac-10 has not expanded since adding Arizona and Arizona State in 1978.

"We like the situation that we are in," Woodward said. "We are in a position of strength to negotiate a good TV contract in the next 18 months, and I think we believe as athletic directors throughout the conference that the future looks very bright for the Pac-10."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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