Question For Pac-10 Officials: How About Pac-14?

Presidents and athletic directors of the Pac-10 schools will spend next week at the Whatcom County resort of Semiahmoo. If it rains and they can't play golf, well, there will be more time to consider conference expansion.

Expansion? Yes, expansion.

Only one institution, San Diego State, has inquired about joining the conference, but the shock of what has happened in the Big Ten _ the addition of Penn State _ and what might happen in the Southeastern Conference _ the possible addition of Miami, Florida State and perhaps even Texas and Arkansas _ has the Pac-10's attention.

Tom Hansen, the league's executive director, admitted the topic is on next week's agenda, and never far from the league's mind.

Dick Schultz, executive director of the NCAA, was quoted this week as saying, ``We could see expansion to conferences of 14 or 16 teams. With two eight-team divisions, you could have a playoff and a more attractive TV package.''

NCAA rules allow for a playoff game _ a 12th regular-season game, if you will _ for any conference that has 12 or more members and decides to play divisions. The championship game could help sell a TV contract, and TV is the motor running the college football machine.

So what are we talking about?

There are three strong conferences right now _ the Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC _ and a couple that are not so strong _ the Southwest and Big Eight.

They are judged so based on television numbers.

Once Notre Dame bolted to cut its own deal with NBC and the Federal Trade Commission began investigating the legality of the College Football Association's contract with ABC, the individual conferences sensed a need to solidify and, if possible, strengthen their basis on which to negotiate a TV contract.

By adding Penn State, the Big Ten will inflate its number of available TV sets to nearly 25 million. By comparison, the Pac-10 has 18.5 million TVs in the areas of its 10 teams. The SEC is next at 17 million; the Big Eight and Southwest Conference have about 8 million each.

There are reasons to think the Big Ten might keep going beyond Penn State, trying, for example, to add the power and prestige of Nebraska and Oklahoma to form a league that would have unprecedented size and bargaining power.

At the same time, the SEC could attempt to draw in independents Miami and Florida State, but also move west to add Texas, Arkansas and Texas A&M for a second super conference.

Rumors are as rampant among athletic directors this time of year as are golf games. Anything seems possible, and a few changes seem likely.

The Pac-10 doesn't really know what to do, although it can't get lost entirely in a TV derby that would put the Big Ten and the SEC clearly on a higher level.

But where could the Pacific-10 Conference expand?

Many of its members believe that it already controls enough of the California market that to consider adding San Diego State and its big-time stadium and significant number of TV sets is unnecessary.

Indeed, the league acts already as if it owns the entire West Coast whether it has teams in San Diego, Fresno or Sacramento.

The Pac-10 also has a tradition of academic snobbery, an elitism that suggests a president from Stanford wants little to do with one from Fresno State or Nevada-Las Vegas.

To the west, there is only the University of Hawaii, which represents colossal travel problems, a relatively undesirable TV market and something less than the academic image of Harvard or Stanford.

But to the east, and closer than Seattle is to Tucson, are Denver and Salt Lake City and four universities worth considering: Colorado, Utah, BYU and the Air Force Academy.

There is a sense that once realignment begins, it will be open season, perhaps to the extent that the Big Eight and Southwest Conference might be out of business as we know them.

If the Big Ten were to gobble up Nebraska and Oklahoma, Colorado might look west for its future where it seems better aligned anyway, as an area and school having more in common with Arizona or Southern Cal or even Washington than with Kansas State and Iowa State.

The Air Force Academy is strong academically, is situated in the burgeoning market of Colorado Springs and has a national following. BYU has enviable facilities and its own kind of national following. Utah is located in Salt Lake City and would give BYU a kind of natural rivalry.

How would it work? Well, for the Huskies, not well, I'm afraid. Any significant realignment would force Pac-10 divisions, probably north and south. In any event, divisions likely would split the Huskies from what have been their biggest football rivals, USC and UCLA.

A seven-team division could include Washington, WSU, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, BYU and Colorado. Air Force could play in a division with Arizona, ASU, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal.

The two Utah schools would bring to the league outstanding basketball facilities as well, but would the schools be included for basketball? Would they also be included for women's basketball, and volleyball and the various other sports?

Or would we have a super West conference for football and then regional conferences _ like the NorPac baseball league _ for all other sports?

The Pac-10 hasn't resolved any of these questions, but all decisions will be based first on football and always on money.

The Pac-10 doesn't want to expand, not the way it did in 1978 when it reached out to pluck Arizona and Arizona State out of the Western Athletic Conference.

On the other hand, it can't be left at the starting gate in the rush to be bigger and more attractive to TV.

Unlike the Big Ten, which needed only seven of its 10 members to OK expansion into Pennsylvania, the Pac-10 requires a unanimous vote. Any school could block expansion, but which could deny its need? Penn State won't be alone in realigning; the Big Ten won't be simply the Big Eleven.

Pac-10 officials know that as they gather at Semiahmoo.

laine Newnham's column usually is published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the Sports section of The Times.