Neill Woelk
Neill Woelk
What has been mostly idle chatter and rumor for years has suddenly grown the legs of distinct possibility.

Don`t be surprised if Colorado is a member of the Pac-10 sometime within the next three years. The winds of change are simply too strong to believe it won`t happen.

I`m almost ready to bet it will.

Earlier this week, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said his conference is actively studying the possibility of expansion. Scott made those statements Tuesday during a teleconference that also included his new deputy commissioner, Kevin Weiberg.

That`s a wonderful coincidence. Weiberg, the former commissioner of the Big 12, is quite familiar with what Colorado would bring to the table as a conference member.

It`s not the first time CU has been connected to the Pac-10. In fact, Colorado came very close to joining the conference in 1994, the same time that CU and Texas were spearheading the formation of the Big 12.

Close enough, anyway, that a Pac-10 invitation was brought to a vote before the CU Board of Regents. By the narrowest of margins -- a 5-4 decision -- the regents voted to stay with the plans of forming the Big 12.

But ever since, CU has cast the occasional longing eye at the Pac-10, and the conference has reciprocated.

Those longing eyes appear ready to develop into a relationship.

Understand that Colorado is by no means unhappy with its current position in the Big 12.


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It`s a lucrative situation for CU, and athletic director Mike Bohn will be the first to say CU has benefited greatly from its membership. And, Bohn has repeatedly said no official contact has been made.

But it also might be time for a change -- and as I`ve written here before, a Colorado move to the Pac-10 makes too much sense to ignore:

CU`s largest and strongest out-of-state alumni base resides on the West Coast. A move to the Pac-10 would greatly enhance CU`s visibility there, and thus increase the school`s fundraising capabilities among an alumni base waiting to be courted. It`s a marketing bonanza begging to be fully tapped.

Colorado`s academic standards are much more in line with those of the Pac-10 than the Big 12. I`ve said for years that CU somehow needs to level the playing field in that regard. A move to the Pac-10 would be a huge step in that direction.

From a competitive financial standpoint, CU is a much better fit with the Pac-10. 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 football 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.

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. ("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?")

Pac-10 schools are more inclined to sell the campus, the location and academics. Again, CU fits the Pac-10 profile.

Ask yourself this: Seattle or Stillwater? Tempe or Ames? Los Angeles or Lincoln? Tucson or Waco? Bay Area or College Station?

`Nuff said.

In return, the Pac-10 would be gaining a valuable -- and growing -- television market.

The conference is studying expansion because it`s in the process of renegotiating its television contract. It`s also possible that the conference may consider starting its own network. Weiberg played a major role in helping the Big Ten do exactly that; there`s no doubt he`ll be studying the feasibility of a similar venture in Pac-10 territory.

The addition of the Colorado television market would be a huge boost to either a new television contract or a conference network. Utah -- the other school mentioned most prominently with Pac-10 expansion -- would give the conference a virtual Western monopoly from a television standpoint. 

Meanwhile, that new television contract could make it a financially viable move for CU. Currently, the Big 12`s annual payout is substantially more than the Pac-10`s. But a new TV deal might greatly reduce that difference. A substantial increase in West Coast fundraising might also help close that gap.

The nuts and bolts of such a move would be complicated. Big 12 bylaws require institutions to give a two-year notice of withdrawal. The bylaws also say the school that withdraws could lose up to 50 percent of its conference revenue.

Those are financial implications that CU would have to strongly consider.

Still, the feeling here is that a move to the Pac-10 would be the smart move for Colorado in the long run.

My guess is that there are plenty of others who see it the same way -- and it`s now much closer to reality than rumor.