SHORTLY AFTER Larry Scott unveiled the particulars of the new Pac-12, CF.C placed a call to former Washington State -- and current San Diego State -- athletic director Jim Sterk. The question we wanted to ask was succinct: Is your phone ringing off the hook with calls from the 509, 206 and 503 area codes? The fact Jim hadn’t called back by the time this column was filed hints at the likely answer.
With the conference’s north-south divisional structure, WSU, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State won’t play football games in Los Angeles every year. That’s the only downside to the new league alignment. Instead of getting to this rich recruiting area annually, it’s now going to be on an every-other-year basis because the two L.A. schools are in the southern division.
That’s why Sterk figures to be getting speed dialed these days from his friends up north. San Diego is just 120 miles from downtown Los Angeles and the Aztecs happen to be the only other Division I-A team in southern California besides the Bruins and Trojans.
It stands to reason then that the four Northwest schools will be working hard to get themselves down to San Diego in those years when they’re not scheduled to play USC or UCLA in L.A.
Fresno State, which is about 3 1/2 hours by car from Los Angeles, could be another school that starts getting a little extra love from the Cougars, Huskies, Beavers and Ducks. UNLV, which is four hours from downtown L.A., could draw a little more interest as well. And even Division I-AA Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, might suddenly look more attractive than a Portland State or a Montana State.
But there is no disputing this: The San Diego State Aztecs now stand out in a crowd. They’re geographically well positioned, they play in a great stadium (71,000-seat Qualcomm), and they’re solid but not daunting competition.
The incentive for the Northwest schools to get down there is powerful, given the recruiting benefits and alumni connections the region offers. That means the usual home-and-home deals that schools like to strike wouldn’t be an issue.
So for San Diego State, it’s chop-licking time. The Aztecs stand to be a large, accidental beneficiary of the Pac-10’s expansion. They no longer will have to hit the road to Missouri, UCLA, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, WSU (in Seattle) and Arizona State as they have done in recent years, or to Michigan and Cincinnati, where they’re scheduled to go in coming years. They can now fill those road contests against name schools with home games at Qualcomm against name schools. And the simple rule of supply and demand would suggest that Mr. Sterk holds all the cards.
If I’m Washington AD Scott Woodward, who directed some highly unprofessional remarks at Sterk when he was at WSU, I wouldn’t even bother picking up the phone. If I did, I’d open by asking how many zeroes Sterk would like at the end of the personal check I’m about to write him.
If I’m Bill Moos, Oregon’s Rob Mullen’s or Oregon State’s Bob De Carolis, I’m wooing Jim like there’s no tomorrow, because right now San Diego State looks like the perfect ad hoc member of the Pac-12’s northern division.
The Cougars could have a head start on the competition for two reasons. Foremost, of course, is that Sterk has deep crimson roots and his relationship with Moos is believed to be very friendly. Second, the Cougs and Azetcs are already used to doing business with each other; they will wrap up a home-and-home agreement this fall when the Cougs take the field at Qualcomm on Sept. 17.
Jim Sterk thought he left the Pac-10. By my calculations he has a chance to effectively rejoin it.