The college sports landscape began a much-anticipated shift Thursday with the University of Colorado accepting an invitation to join the Pac-10.
The Buffaloes might not be the only team bolting from the Big 12. Nebraska could become part of the Big 10 as soon as Friday, and speculation is heavy that Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State may also jump to the Pac-10 to possibly form a 16-team super conference.
"This is the dawning of a new day for the Pac-10," commissioner Larry Scott said shortly after announcing Colorado as the conference’s 11th member.
Reports have run rampant all week about the fate of the individual Big 12 schools. The latest comes from KCTV in Kansas City, which cites "high level sources in multiple conferences" saying that Texas and Texas A&M "have petitioned for membership" into the Big Ten while Oklahoma is planning on petitioning the SEC. TMZ reported that Oklahoma State is likely to go to the Pac-10, though the school has since denied that report.
This just might be the demise of the Big 12, the highly successful conference that was formed in 1994 when the Big Eight invited in the four Texas schools.
If the Big 12 is further raided as expected, that would leave Missouri — also hoping for Big Ten inclusion — Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State out in the cold.
Any of these schools could be targets for the Mountain West Conference, which this week held off on inviting rising football power Boise State after speculation swirled about the possible unraveling of the Big 12.
"I continue to work through the process that was agreed upon last week by our board of directors to address membership issues, and am working tirelessly towards the long-term viability of the Big 12," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said in a statement.
Colorado jumped at the chance to switch to a new conference once chats with the Pac-10 turned more formal a few days ago.
To wait may have meant missing the boat.
"It’s one of those things where if you’re not in, you’re out. People are saying, ‘We can’t wait,"’ said UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel, who was in charge at Colorado from 1995-98 and was "thrilled" to have the Buffaloes as a member of the league. "I don’t know if there’s any legitimacy to what’s being reported about Nebraska, but if that’s happening, it’s going to create a chain reaction."
As for whether any other schools might be coming on board, Scott couldn’t elaborate.
"No invitations have been issued," he said. "There are still several different scenarios that we may or may not pursue."
Scott had no timetable for when this process of possibly adding more schools may play out or an answer for whether the Pac-10 would stop at just 11 teams.
"I’m authorized to pursue several different scenarios," he said. "What direction it goes in from this point, I can’t say because I don’t know."
The conference has given some preliminary thoughts to possibly changing the name after bringing in Colorado.
But that’s down the road.
"From my perspective, the name of the conference, the brand – what it stands for – ought to reflect the membership," Scott said. "Until our deliberations are concluded about what is the constitution of our membership, we won’t go about the process of thinking about the logo or the name."
One area the league wants to take a long look at is scheduling.
More specifically, ways to reduce travel to minimize missed classes. That could mean two divisions based on geographic location.
"We are determined in whatever scenario we wind up with, through the use of divisions and creative scheduling, to make sure that any of these expansion scenarios — including the most extreme that you’ve heard of — do not result in significantly greater travel distances nor more missed class time," Scott said. "I’m confident that in any of the scenarios we’re contemplating, that will not be the case."
The Pac-10 expanded for the first time since 1978, when the conference brought in Arizona and Arizona State.
When word surfaced that the Pac-10 might be interested in as many as six Big 12 schools, Baylor alumni began lobbying for the Waco, Texas, school to supplant Colorado on the list of invitees. The Bears were concerned about losing traditional in-state rivals in any conference realignment.
Now the Bears, like several of their Big 12 brethren, are in a precarious situation.
"We don’t like leaving people behind," Colorado president Bruce Benson said. "This is a better fit for us. I wish the people in the Big 12, the remaining members, a lot of luck in the future."
Scott announced in February that the Pac-10 was exploring possible expansion. He was given the authority last weekend to offer invitations to potential new members.
Buffaloes athletic director Mike Bohn didn’t return a message Thursday, but is scheduled to be at a news conference Friday at Folsom Field.
Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne wasn’t at all surprised by the Buffaloes’ move into the West Coast-based league.
"That’s something we thought might happen," he said.