Pac-11: Could Colorado Be the "Penn State" of the Pac-10?

Scott WilsonCorrespondent IMay 22, 2010

The University of Colorado in Boulder has had a long flirtation with the Pac-10 Conference.  On December 23, 1994 it was reported that CU's Board of Regents formally rejected the invitation they had received from the conference by a 6-3 vote (5-4 according to some reports). 

The reason for the rejection was that CU had already invested a great amount of time in helping the new Big 12 Conference to form. It was widely reported that the university president and many Regents would have accepted the invite at earlier times, but the investment in the formation of the Big 12 obligated the Buffs to see it through.

For the Pac-10, the attention on CU in 1994 came after failed attempts to add the two Texas powerhouses: the Longhorns and Aggies.

Recently the courtship has resumed as the Pac-10 is engaged in a study of expansion once again.

The players have changed, as Larry Scott has replaced Tom Hansen as the conference commissioner. Judith Albino and Bill Marolt have been replaced by Bruce Benson and Mike Bohn as CU's president and athletic director, respectively.

Texas and Texas A&M would probably still figure as the Pac-10's top targets in expansion, but will the Longhorns and Texas politicians spurn their advances once again? Will UT be as elusive for the Pac-10 as Notre Dame is for the Big Ten?

Colorado is a great candidate by themselves for the Pac-10 to expand. The conference should take precedence in how to proceed from their Big Ten brethren by expanding with the only school that fits on all levels and also returns their affection.


The Penn State-Big Ten Example

In 1980, then Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke was introduced by Ohio State's president Harold Enarson to Penn State's outgoing president Jack Oswald. The Buckeyes were getting ready to play the Nittany Lions in the Fiesta Bowl that year and the meeting was arranged in Tempe.

Oswald was interested in discussing Big Ten membership, and the correspondence went on for several weeks afterward.

But the impending revolution in college football television rights put everything on hold. The College Football Alliance had divided the landscape and eventually led to the landmark NCAA vs Board of Regents Supreme Court decision that ended the NCAA's centralized control over media rights.

10 years later, under the guidance of a new commissioner (Jim Delany), the formal invitation was finally extended to Penn State, but implementation was held up by the athletic directors of the Big Ten until 1993.

Penn State was added because they fit the academic profile that the conference was looking to be associated with. It also didn't hurt that the Nittany Lions added a market footprint of multi-millions of fans, and a storied athletic program.


Follow the Big Ten's Lead

The Pac-10 has always been a "follower" of the Big Ten in their conference decision making.  The "Conference of Champions" certainly stands on its own merits on the field, but in bowl contracts, television contracts, and NCAA politics, it usually aligns itself with the Big Ten.

This is another time that the Pac-10 should follow their older brother's path.

Invite Colorado.

Just Colorado.

The Big Ten has proven that an 11-team conference can thrive without a conference championship game. If the 11th team is a strong enough candidate across the board, it will be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

"Looking at it from a business perspective, first and foremost, what's going to add value: TV, a football championship game," Larry Scott said in a phone interview with The Denver Post . "But there does need to be compatibility to our conference, and of paramount importance is academic compatibility. But there are other important issues such as athletic compatibility and geographic compatibility when you look at costs.

"This isn't just football."

Colorado measures very favorably in undergraduate and graduate criteria from an academic perspective. They are members of the Association of American Universities, rank extremely high in performing federal research (especially in NASA funded research), and as CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano puts it:

"The academics factor is absolute important to us," said DiStefano, who added he has not talked to anyone from the Pac-10 but has done some research. "There are very good schools in the Big 12. There's no doubt about it. But when the faculty looks at the Pac-10, they see places where our faculty and their faculty do interact and where we compete for students, both undergraduate and graduate."

CU faculty also has more joint research projects with Pac-10 schools than its does with Big 12 schools.


Logistics and Dollars

Adding Colorado would certainly be parallel to the Big Ten adding Penn State as the most distant eastern team in the footprint. However, Denver has a very accessible international airport that would be fairly inexpensive for teams to fly in and out of without having to take additionally long bus rides after landing.

Boulder is closer to Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tucson than Seattle and Spokane, and about the same as Portland, Oregon. With ease of access and similar travel times, adding the Buffs would not significantly alter the "normal" travel times for most teams.

The Buffaloes have the greatest number of their out-of-state alumni in Pac-10 country. There are between 35 and 45,000 living alumni in the four Pac-10 states. Compare that to only 10,000 to 15,000 in the six Big 12 states.

That means greater fundraising opportunities for the school to connect with valuable alumni, as well as get in touch with where their potential students are most likely coming from.

That also means increased attendance for Pac-10 members at home games. Higher attendance at games and higher TV ratings in all the Pac-10 markets means more opportunity to "monetize" the addition of CU.

The University of Colorado is the flagship school for the state and by far are the most marketable collegiate team in a fast growing region. The Denver TV market is the 16th largest in the nation with over 1.5 million households, while the state totals over 2.0 million.

For CU to leave the Big 12, it would cost a hefty penalty of at least 50 percent of two years' conference distributions. At the minimum, that would be in the ballpark of $9 million.

In a tight economy that is a steep price, to be sure, but the long-term payoff would be much greater than that.

The Pac-10 membership would gain via increased attendance for their home games, increased ratings for their TV market, and a much larger TV market footprint. The Buffs would not only more than pull their weight, but they would increase the pie for every other Pac-10 member.

Adding an eleventh member to the conference would still increase the conference's chances of placing a second team into a BCS bowl game, as evidence by the Big Ten's past.

Colorado would gain by aligning itself with the schools that it does the most research with, where its alumni base is located, and where the Buffs prospective students and athletes are coming from. Tapping into a sometimes "forgotten" group of alumni would help fund raising tremendously.


Why Now, Why Only CU?

By adding CU, the Pac-10(11) would help solidify their financial success, while leaving the door open for future expansion possibilities (such as we are seeing the Big Ten exercise now).

To not expand with CU at this point could risk that door being closed forever. To expand with a 12th member that isn't as great of a fit could risk the success of the league as a whole.

With potential targets such as Utah, Hawaii, and New Mexico being natural geographic "fits," however they all have some further growth necessary in academic research, athletic programs, or in population demographics to warrant immediate placement in the Pac-10.

While the Utah Utes are certainly very close to fitting all of the criteria, there are some legitimate political concerns about their ability to accept an invitation at this time.

While the Salt Lake City market is growing, it isn't large enough yet to be a net gain for all the other members of the conference, let alone the fact that BYU is still a dominant team in that market.

If the Pac-10 hopes to gain an exponentially larger media rights package they will need to break out of their historically conservative stance. The new leadership for the conference speak volumes to this change in style.

The Pac-10 deputy commissioner Kevin Weiberg was also the deputy commissioner for the Big Ten from 1989 to 1998 and was "was instrumental in the integration of Penn State into the conference."

He was also the Big 12 commissioner from 1998 to 2007, where he worked closely with the CU administration.

This isn't about "the imminent demise of the Big 12" or "matching what the Big Ten does," this is a common sense and very profitable partnership for all parties involved.

Colorado would add a lot to the Pac-10, and the Pac-10 would benefit Colorado.

Let Texas continue to play "hard-to-get" while the Longhorns continue to play "conference-wrecker" with their self-centered approach to what it means to be a partner in athletics.

Colorado leaving the Big 12 wouldn't destroy the conference, in fact the rest of the Big 12 might feel they can find a more than suitable replacement very easily. Maybe BYU becomes the top target for the Big 12, and that creates a much easier situation politically for the Pac to invite Utah.

Regardless of the future ramifications, however, CU and the Pac-10 look like a match made in heaven. Let's announce the engagement and the wedding date, so we can plan out the seating arrangements.


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