Pac-10 commissioner’s comments stir frenzy

As is usually the case with such events, the conflagration began with a single spark.

In a recent conversation with the San Jose Mercury, new Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was asked about the subject of expanding the Pac-10 conference. “We’re looking at it very seriously,” was the reply. The reason that the discussion is being resurrected is that the Pac-10’s television contracts are coming to an end in 2012. If moves are to be made, they need to be made soon. “There’s a value proposition associated with (expansion),” said Scott. “It makes sense that if you’re going to do it, do it when you can monetize it.”

“Monetize it”? Now there’s a great phrase. Translation: college football is all about the dollar, and the Pac-10 doesn’t want to be left behind. The Big 12 and SEC make huge dollars with their conference championships, and the SEC has a mind-boggling $3 billion contract with CBS and ESPN. The conference title game concept has been so lucrative that even the stodgy Big Ten has taken notice, and is seriously considering inviting a 12th team to its league.

Pac-10 commissioner Scott seems to see the writing on the wall. Kevin Weiberg, whose resume includes stints as the Big 12 commissioner and well as a tour as deputy to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, is Scott’s new right hand man. Weiberg had this to say about Big Ten expansion: “I do know Jim (Delany) well enough to know that when he takes a serious look at something,” said Weiberg, “there’s a good probability some action will come from it.” It’s no small coincidence that Weiberg was instrumental in taking the Big Ten Network from 17 million homes to 75 million homes in one year. If the Pac-10 expands, a conference network would likely be part of the new network deal.

What are the arguments for Colorado making the move to the Pac-12?

Where to begin? Let’s start with geography. Yes, Colorado is a good distance from the other schools of the Pac-10, but travel is not as much an issue as it once was, and, if you take out a map, it’s not any more difficult to get from Boulder to Berkeley than it is to get from Boulder to Waco. Plus, the largest out-of-state CU alumni base is in California. Buff fans, notorious for not traveling well, will finally have an in-town presence to bolster road attendance.

Then there is the obvious. Go ahead, Buff fans, make your choice: Would you rather travel to Ames or Seattle? Lubbock or Portland? Stillwater or San Francisco? Lawrence or Los Angeles? Waco or Phoenix? Puh-lease. As an alumnus who travels to watch the Buffs, I can’t tell you how excited I would be to have Pac-10 travel destinations from which to choose. I have been to three hostile Big 12 venues (Lincoln, College Station, and Austin), and, with the exception of Norman, really don’t have much interest in travelling to any of the others. A long weekend in Seattle, the Bay area, L.A., or Phoenix? Now you’re talking!

Recruiting would also benefit. The Buffs used to have a presence in Texas, but the combination of Colorado losses on the field, coupled with the rise of its competitors, has had an impact on recruiting in the Lone Star state. The present roster shows only six Texans on the team. By contrast, Colorado has 24 players who came to Boulder from California. Colorado is already focused on California recruits – the pipeline from the Golden State to the Flatirons would only be enhanced if recruits were assured of playing before their family and friends every season.

Next, there is academic and cultural compatibility. “I know that (culture and academics) are of paramount importance to our presidents and chancellors,” said Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott. Colorado, much more so than many of the other potential candidates for expansion, fits that bill. Colorado is much more aligned with Eugene and Berkeley in terms of academics and campus life than it is with Lincoln or Norman. What’s more, Colorado can’t compete in the areas most important to other schools in the Big 12. Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk noted, in his discussion of the topic, “what’s becoming increasingly clear is that the Big 12 is turning into an arms race for the mega-rich. Forbes Magazine’s recent list of the 20 most valuable programs in America included five Big 12 teams. Only one from the Pac-10 – Southern Cal – made the list. Colorado fits the Pac-10 profile in that regard.” Woelk was also correct in pointing out that “Big 12 schools ‘sell’ their schools via facilities. Bigger locker rooms, stadium scoreboards, indoor practice facilities — wherever money can be spent in order to gloss over less-than-ideal locations … Pac-10 schools are more inclined to sell the campus, the location, and academics. Again, CU fits the Pac-10 profile.”

Colorado looks, and has always looked, like a Pac-10 school. The transition would be an easy one.

Colorado/Utah is actually a good fit. If, as the speculation is looking now, the Buffs and the Utes are invited to join the Pac-10, it is actually a better fit than some imagine. In addition to gaining the No. 16 and No. 31 television markets (again, it is ultimately about the dollars), Colorado and Utah are already natural rivals. Quick: name the team, outside of Colorado State and several Big 12 North rivals, which Colorado has played the most in its history? Of course, it’s Utah. Fans will be surprised to learn that the Buffs have played Utah more times than they have played Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Iowa State. Will Colorado miss its “rivals” from the Big 12 South? Hardly. Colorado has played Utah more times than it has played all four of the Texas schools in the Big 12 South – combined. Granted, Colorado has not played Utah since 1962, but Buff fans would undoubtedly be regaled with numerous stories about the “old days” if the rivalry were to be renewed (for the record, Colorado leads the all-time series against Utah, 30-24-3).

Money. Money. Money. After all, this is what it all boils down to, isn’t it? What does Colorado have to offer the Pac-10? Well, it’s Denver. More precisely, the Denver television market, the No. 16 market in the nation. Again, I refer you to former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who made the Big Ten Network profitable before heading to the Pac-10 front offices. “Clearly, for a (Pac-10) network to be successful, you want it to be distributed as broadly as possible,” said Weiberg. “Not only in the region, but hopefully to have distribution that is national in scope … It’ s fundamental to the economic success of such a network.” When put up head-to-head against other potential candidates, Colorado comes out the clear choice.

What are the arguments against Colorado moving to the Pac-10?

Rivalries. The Pac-10 is very proud of the way its conference lines up geographically. There are two rivals in each state (with California divided into the North – Cal and Stanford – and the South – USC and UCLA). Colorado and its new partner (Utah?) would disrupt the harmony in more ways than one. Twelve teams would call for the division of the conference into two divisions. Most likely, Colorado and its new partner would be placed in the North, with the Washington and Oregon schools. How would the Pacific northwest schools react to not being able to play as often in the recruiting paradise of Southern California? How would the Arizona schools react to having to play USC every fall, but not getting to play Washington State each season?

There is also the Pac-10 bias to having a “true champion” of its conference. Presently, Pac-10 teams play all of the other nine schools in the conference. With a 12-team conference, that would no longer be possible, with an eight-game conference schedule, like the ones played by the SEC and Big 12, to become the norm.

Money. Money. Money. Again, the bottom line is dollars, and this door swings both ways. While the Pac-10 is looking for new television contracts for 2012, the Big 12’s television deals are staggered, creating contractual issues. This is not to mention the fact that Colorado receives more revenue from the Big 12 than it would be slated to from the Pac-10 (this could be mitigated if the new television contracts were large enough).

Further, Colorado would not be able to “just leave” the Big 12. Conference by-laws require institutions to give a two-year notice of withdrawal. The by-laws also call for the departing school to lose up to 50 percent of its conference revenue. For an athletic department already seeing red, walking away has some very real monetary limitations.

Finally, there is the reality check – will it actually happen? The Pac-10 commissioner, Larry Scott, certainly wields significant authority. Still, at the end of the day, it will be the league presidents and chancellors who will make the decision. Will there be consensus amongst the current members of the Pac-10 that expansion is necessary? Will Colorado be one of the teams on the short list of candidates? Will the CU administration be willing to pull the trigger if asked?

The answer to this final question is not completely certain. Remember Colorado was asked, along with Texas, to become members of the Pac-10 back in 1994. At the time, the Southwest Conference was imploding, with Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M leaving their old conference for the newly forming Big 12. The Colorado Board of Regents, on a 5-4 vote, went with its commitment to the new Big 12, opting not to join what would be the new Pac-12.

If given a second chance … and who knows whether the Buffs will be afforded the chance … it says here that Colorado should jump at the opportunity to join the new Pac-12.

[Note: There have been numerous articles concerning the possibility of expansion of the Pac-10 and Big Ten. Rather than bury them at the end of this article, I will be creating an entire article devoted just to the speculation about which teams might be moving, and where. That article will be updated more frequently, as new informatin becomes available.]

9 Replies to “Colorado to the “Pac-12”?”

  1. CU 1983 grad says DO the PAC12 ASAP! I’ve stayed in the Denver area since then, and have never been interested in a road trip to Ames, Lubbock, or Waco. But count me in for west coast road games. Bohn – are you listening to your alums? More importantly, the cultural and academic fit with Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Eugene makes better sense. Austin aside, Boulder has never mixed with the Big 12 college towns.

  2. I am just a little old fashioned, and don’t like change. I like the Big XII and hope the Buffs stay put. If not, I’ll get used to it, but it will take some time. Plus, I live in the Big XII North country(near Ames, IA), so away games are closer for me now. If the change happens, I’ll really have to move to Boulder, which would be nice anyway.

  3. I loved that comment by Woelk about the Big 12 teams selling recruits on facilities: “Welcome to Lincoln. That`s not the end of the world out there … it just looks like it. Hey, want to see our weight room?”

    I think the Pac 12 is a much better fit for us. I know a ton of alums that live on the West Coast now, but maybe only 1 or 2 in the other Big 12 states.

  4. I agree. Colorado will always be at a certain disadvantage in the Big-12. With stringent entrance standards and facilities that are lacking. I do believe that CU would be a better institutional match for the PAC-10 and travel for fans would be much easier and more attractive. I think another issue that seems to be more prevalent every coaching change is the inability (for CU) to pay the coaches competitively compared to the rest of the Big-12. the source of the earlier comment was an interview with Gary Barnett on a Denver sports radio show (I think am1510 Armstrong and Shapiro) within the past 6mos or so. Interesting, even if not true.

  5. Eric,
    I’ve never heard that. With television contracts, and the two-year notice provision for withdrawal from the Big 12, I think it would be hard to give any team a standing invitation. There would also be the issue of there having to have been a second (12th) team locked in to join at the same time.

    The invitation was certainly there in 1994, but I’ve never read that it was extended after 1994. If the invitation had been there, CU should have taken advantage of it years ago.

  6. Is there any truth to the statement made by Barnett that Colorado has had a standing invitation to join the PAC-10 since 1994?

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