On Dec. 21, the Kansas Jayhawks will visit the CU Events Center for a much-anticipated basketball showdown.
It will be the renewal of a long-standing rivalry and the Buffaloes’ 165th matchup against KU — an opponent CU has faced on the basketball court more than any other foe. Yet only three of those matchups have occurred since Colorado left the Big 12 Conference for the Pac-12 a decade ago amid a major upheaval of college conference realignment.
The next wave of conference realignment is upon us. And just maybe that Winter Solstice battle at the Events Center will offer a preview of a conference rivalry set to be rekindled in the near future.
As most college sports fans likely know by now, the Houston Chronicle reported this past week that Oklahoma and Texas are ready and more than willing to join the SEC. Numerous reports in the days since have only cemented the reality their defection from the Big 12 is a matter of when not if.
That Texas, with its own macroeconomy and television network, and Oklahoma are willing to trade slightly less odds at reaching the reformatted 12-team College Football Playoff (there are no Kansas and Kansas States to beat up on as a matter of routine in the SEC) for extra dollars and a more secure home speaks volumes during a time of unprecedented change in college athletics.
Ten years after CU and Utah joined the Pac-12, what will the league look like 10 years from now? Or even two? That’s impossible to say at this juncture, but what a joy it is to speculate.
First off, the loss of Texas and Oklahoma will all but decimate the Big 12. How that league responds seemingly would be the first domino to fall in what surely will be a wild chain reaction. Assuming the Big 12 doesn’t fold completely, the league will need to add at least two more teams (Boise State? BYU?). And that’s only under the assumption that a geographic outlier like West Virginia doesn’t take the initiative to find a new home with Texas and Oklahoma no longer in the Big 12 equation.
The addition of Boise State would help keep the Big 12 a viable football power with Baylor and Oklahoma State still in the mix. But if not, the Power Five will become the Power Four, and a feeding frenzy will ensue for the Big 12’s remnants.
New Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told the Pac-12 hotline at the San Jose Mercury News this week that expansion isn’t necessarily imminent. A stellar run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has breathed fresh life into a league that was lagging in the pillar sports of football and men’s hoops, and a new commissioner with a wealth of media experience has provided reason for optimism when the bargaining begins for the Pac-12’s new media rights deal.
The Pac-12 doesn’t “have” to expand. But, as Kliavkoff noted, it would be unwise to completely ignore the sudden, new possibilities.
“I consider the Pac-12 an exclusive club with a high barrier to entry,’’ Kliavkoff told the Mercury News. “I love the schools and the teams we have today. We are not actively seeking to poach any teams from any conferences. But we’d be foolish not to listen if schools call us.”
If there is a free agent frenzy for the remaining Big 12 schools, count me as a fan of the idea of bringing Kansas into the Pac-12 strictly for the basketball acumen. A home-and-home between UCLA/Oregon and KU almost every year? Yes, please. Of course, if additions arrive the Pac-12 likely will look to add two schools, not just one, and finding the proper fit for the league’s geographic and academic profile might require some massaging.
The Big Ten likely will play a role in rescuing orphaned Big 12 programs as well, while others might be forced to abandon their power conference status (Welcome to Conference USA, Kansas State). How it all plays out is impossible to guess. Yet it sure will be fun to watch.