I know that I said that I would have a Stats Corner every other week, but I have my own suggestion for conference realignment and since multiple articles have discussed the topic, I will add my two cents.
My idea is that the PAC 12 and MWC create a merger of the conferences. How it would work is that the top 12 ranked teams from the previous season would be in the PAC 12 and the bottom 12 teams would be the Mountain West. It is a variation of the relegation of European Soccer where the top 3 teams move up to the next league and the bottom three move down a league. In this version, there is no limit to the number of teams who can move, if you are a top 12 team you are in the top league. One advantage is that the geographical area is the same as the two conference cover the Western part of the country so travel would not increase for the teams. If two rivals happened to be in different conferences they could be scheduled as out of conference games Oregon/Oregon State, Washington/Washington State, or Utah State/Wyoming as the battle for Bridger’s Rifle needs to happen. The conferences could also set up a similar system for basketball and baseball to maximize the number of teams and seeding in March Madness and the College World Series.
How it helps the PAC 12
The PAC 12 has a playoff problem, which they sort of acknowledge creating the “alliance” with the Big 10 and ACC. With the bigger and stronger SEC, the other conferences need to counter it and the alliance is not going to be enough for the PAC12 . The last time a PAC 12 team made the playoffs was Washington in 2016-17 and the last time a PAC 12 team won a playoff game was 2014-15 when Oregon beat Florida State before losing badly to Ohio State. PAC 12 teams which were left out 11-2 #6 Stanford in 2015-16, 11-2 #8 USC in 2017-18, #9 10-3 Washington in 2018-19, 11-2 #6 Oregon in 2019-20, and #17 5-1 USC in 2020-21. The top PAC 12 teams need to strengthen their resume if they want to make the playoffs. For example, if Oregon who is ranked 4th at this time, were to lose a PAC 12 game would they still be ranked ahead of a one loss Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson, Penn State, Florida, Notre Dame, or even a one loss Ohio State. By removing some lower ranked teams for higher ranked the status of the conference would increase compared to the other Power 5 conferences.
If the PAC 12 were to expand to 14 or 16 teams they are going to lose revenue due to splitting the money into more shares. In this model the revenue is still split between 12 teams, with a slight increase to those in the Mountain West. It would also provide an incentive for schools to put a solid product on the field. The PAC 12 TV rights will be negotiated again for 2024 and this system would allow the conference to place an attractive product on the table.
How it helps the Mountain West
First, it gives an incentive for Boise State to stay. If the rumors of Boise State to the Big 12 are true, they are going to be doing a lot of traveling with BYU being the closest team and then skipping a couple state to the next closest destination before having making other trips to Florida. Boise State and other solid MWC schools would have the option of moving up as a reward for a successful season. It would also give other schools a reason to stay should other conferences come calling.
The schools in the conference would receive more money. Even if some of the current PAC 12 schools were to move down, their home crowds will still be massive. The home crowds for the current MWC schools would increase. How many more people would be in attendance to see Nevada/Oregon or Arizona/San Jose St? There would also need to be an increase in TV deal between the conferences.
How it would look
Using the end of season rankings from Athlon’s Sports here is how the conferences would look for the past 3 years. I realize that if a team moves in to a more or less difficult conference their win totals are going to change and hence their rankings, but we are working with what we have.
Based on the final rankings of 2018 the PAC 12 conference would be
Washington #11, Washington #13, Utah #18, Fresno State #20, Boise State #22, Utah State #26, Stanford #27, Oregon #28, California #35, Arizona State #38, San Diego State #64 and USC #65.
The Mountain West would be
UCLA #74, Nevada #80, Arizona #81, Hawaii #84, Wyoming #94, Air Force #95, Colorado #96, Oregon St #104, UNLV #108, Colorado State #111, New Mexico #116, and San Jose #121.
Would Oregon have made the playoffs that year if instead of Colorado (who they beat 45-3) or Arizona (a 34-6 win), they had played Boise State? A 24-10 win over Oregon State only moved them from 14th to 13th in the rankings, would a victory of San Diego State have provided a better resume?
Based on the final 2019 ranking the PAC 12 conference would have been
Oregon #6, Utah #13, Boise State #19, Air Force #24, USC 25th, Arizona State 37th, California #38, Washington #39, Hawaii #45, San Diego State #46, Washington State #48, and Oregon State #55.
The Mountain West would be
USU #59, Wyoming #60, Colorado #67, UCLA #72, Stanford #74, Nevada #77, Arizona #87. San Jose State #99, Colorado State #104, Fresno State #110, UNLV #112, and New Mexico #124.
Granted 2020 was a weird season, but USC beat 4 PAC 12 schools in a row and did not move from their #20 ranking. Would that have been the case if they had played Boise State instead of Arizona (a close 34-30 win).
This year the PAC 12 would be
USC #24, Washington #26, Utah #27, Oregon #28, Colorado #30, Stanford #31, UCLA #32, Arizona State #35, San Jose State #47, Boise State #49, Oregon State #51, and Nevada #57.
The Mountain West would be
California #72, San Diego State #73, Hawaii #74, Washington State #76, Air Force #80, Wyoming #85, Arizona #90, New Mexico #95, Fresno State #96, Colorado State #100, Utah State #114, and UNLV #120.
The season has just started and already the PAC 12 has a image problem. There currently have the fewest number of undefeated team of the P5 at 3, the ACC has 5, the Big 12 has 6, the Big 10 has 7, and the SEC has 10. Even the Independents have more, 4, along with AAC 4 and the MWC with 6. The PAC 12 has 3 ranked schools with only 1, Oregon, with a legitimate chance to make the playoff, The ACC has 4 ranked, the Big 10 has 5, the SEC has 7 and the P5 conference with less ranked teams is the Big 12 with 2.
The PAC 12 needs to improve their image without increasing the number of schools and decreasing their revenue shares. The Mountain West needs to keep Boise State from bolting to the Big 12 or any school leaving for another conference. The play of wait and hope no one leaves is not feasible with the AAC needing to add members to replace their lost 3 and Conference USA and the Sunbelt looking to improve their standing to hold off any AAC moves. By combining the 2 conferences the western U.S. is firmly in the grasp of the conferences, schools will have an incentive to produce a better product, an attractive offer for the TV deal in a few years, an annual spot in the playoff is a realistic goal and even though the Mountain West would lose their good schools for a few years, getting a California, Oregon State, or Arizona for a year or two to boost the conference would be a fair compensation with the option to schedule rivalry games as an out of conference week. It could also be implemented for basketball and baseball.