Rather than scrape the bottom of the barrel in an endless expansion cycle out west, the Pac-12 should shore up its basketball prestige and focus on national domination through their existing football programs by adding two significant mid-major colleges.
Editor's note: the conjecture in this article is based on the idea that St. Mary's will not be punished severely for potential recruiting violations.
Conference realignment is a never-ending saga. What exactly does the Big Ten want Maryland and Rutgers for? It's not for their football prowess. Money is more important to these conferences than rivalries, history, tradition or anything else.
The Pac-12 is not immune to this greed, adding Utah and Colorado last year while launching their own television network to compete against established powers in the space.
Instead of replying to the conference realignment storm and inviting teams like UNLV and New Mexico into the conference as full members, the Pac-12 can improve their image by going a different route: adding basketball programs into the fold. And who better on the west coast to invite than Gonzaga and St. Mary's?
Both schools fit perfectly into the existing geographic footprint of the conference. Gonzaga is in Spokane, which is in eastern Washington. According to Google Maps, Pullman is only 75 miles away, by far the closest commute that Wazzu will ever have. St. Mary's is located in Moraga, California, a mere 14 miles away from Cal.
Both schools also offer the conference an opportunity to bolster their basketball prestige; Gonzaga has made the NCAA Tournament 13 consecutive times, while St. Mary's has won over 25 games in each of the past five seasons.
With a 14-team basketball conference, the conference could then even out their annual schedule. As a 12-team league with 18 games in conference play, each team plays seven opponents twice while playing the other four only once. This year, ASU plays Oregon and Oregon State on the road while hosting California and Stanford.
With 14 teams, the following travel schedule could be initiated, with all teams paired off with travel partners:
Gonzaga, Washington State
Washington, St. Mary's (this is the only unnatural combo, but Seattle is on an island in this scenario)
Oregon, Oregon State
Since there are no divisions in Pac-12 basketball, a true rotation could be implemented so that each team plays everybody at least once while saving money on travel costs. There could even be a "Pac-12 Week" where several teams play a three-game schedule in the Bay Area and in the state of Washington and conference hoopla is raised in the process.
This idea is obviously not bulletproof - Gonzaga and St. Mary's would be second-class citizens in a football-centric conference and disputes would arise as to their share of the football revenues. However, if anyone can iron out these details, build up the Pac-12 basketball image and fortify the conference for years to come, its Larry Scott.