Pac-10 takes Colorado, possibly setting in motion massive conference realignment

By Josh Barr and Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 11, 2010; D03

In a series of moves that likely will set in motion conference realignment that significantly could alter the college sports landscape, Colorado on Thursday accepted an invitation to join the Pacific-10 and Nebraska reportedly is prepared to join the Big Ten.

Meantime, Texas and Texas A&M officials reportedly were to meet Thursday to discuss their next move, given the now-tenuous foundation of the Big 12. Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds has said he would prefer to keep the Big 12 intact, though that proposition seems increasingly unlikely.

According to reports from several media outlets, the Pac-10 is interested in acquiring Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, in addition to Colorado, for the purposes of forming a 16-team conference.

Baylor and Texas Tech officials have said they would like to remain united in conference affiliation with Texas and Texas A&M, should the Big 12 implode.

"No assurances, no invitations have been issued," Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said Thursday in a teleconference, adding that he had no timetable. "I'm authorized to pursue several different scenarios. . . . We're evaluating different options and having various conversations and waiting to see what may develop nationally before we decide what to do next."

It might not take long to see how things play out, though. Asked about a potential buyout penalty from the Big 12, Colorado President Bruce D. Benson said he was unsure what it might cost.

"I don't think we can comment on that until we see what happens in the next few days," he said.

Conferences are striving to maximize their television network contracts, and that motivation may lead to a complete overhaul of the current alignment structure.

Negotiations on a new television contract for the Pac-10 will begin next year.

"The motivation for all this always has been football television dollars," said Tom Hansen, the Pac-10 commissioner from 1983 to 2009. "Expand the number of homes you have for the sale of football television rights. This is one of the few places where you can enhance your revenue stream. It has happened before and it will probably happen again in the future when conferences are forced to juggle membership to handle these TV demands."

Said David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, a marketing firm: "These conferences have seen the success of the Big Ten Network. They have seen the success and revenue brought about by conference championship games like the SEC's. They see these and think about how it can extend their revenues and footprint. And now is the time."

Hansen said the Pac-10 considered adding Colorado and Texas in the mid-1990s, but that the plan died when Texas politicians made it clear that if Texas could only leave the Big 8 for the Pac-10 if Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor also were included.

"As a result it was four or nothing and the Pac-10 was not interested in going to 14," Hansen said. "Without Texas, expansion wasn't that attractive so the decision was made not to expand."

While Hansen intentionally has steered clear of current expansion talk, he thinks plenty more moves could take place.

"If Missouri and Nebraska go to the Big Ten, you wouldn't expect the Big Ten to stop at 13. I always thought they would take somebody from the New York area to get in that market more. I think the SEC will respond. Then I think the Big Ten might get some more Big 12 members. Then the Big East and the ACC and Eastern seaboard schools would have to think about things."

The Nebraska Board of Regents will meet Friday to discuss the possibility of changing conference affiliation. An announcement could come as early as Friday.

The Big 12 faces its most tumultuous time since the conference's inception in 1996. Should as many as seven of its members leave in the coming weeks, programs at Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor could be left scrambling to secure conference affiliations.

The Big Ten -- the conference that ignited conference-realignment talk months ago -- has been open about its desire to expand its current 11-team composition. Notre Dame, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and even Maryland have been speculated to be Big Ten targets.

While multiple high-ranking Maryland officials acknowledged Thursday they are well aware of the changing conference landscape and its potential impact, no formal consideration has been made regarding a move to the Big Ten. Those officials also noted they have not been asked to consider joining the Big Ten.

Decisions on conference affiliation ultimately are made at the university presidential level, which places Maryland in a precarious position over the coming months as realignment talks continue. Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr., 73, will resign on Aug. 31, and his successor has yet to be named.

And though several of its schools have been speculated to be of interest to other conferences in possible re-alignment scenarios, ACC officials said they have not discussed initiating pre-emptive expansion. The ACC elected to add three schools in 2003 to reach its current 12-team configuration.

Scott, however, was not surprised with how quickly things have moved this week, noting the Big 12's ultimatum that its schools declare their intentions.

Said Carter: "It doesn't take many of these moves [to start the dominoes]. It really only takes Colorado and Nebraska to open the floodgates."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company