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Rooney: Patience required in wait for possible CU Buffs conference realignment

No knee-jerk reaction from Pac-12 after loss of USC, UCLA

BEST 1 BOULDER, CO - FEBRUARY 12, 2020: University of Colorado Athletic Director, Rick George, addresses the media after Head Football Coach, Mel Tucker, announces he is leaving. 
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BEST 1 BOULDER, CO – FEBRUARY 12, 2020: University of Colorado Athletic Director, Rick George, addresses the media after Head Football Coach, Mel Tucker, announces he is leaving. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Week Two of what’s next for college football ended with a whimper.

That might be the norm for at least the next few weeks.

More than a week removed from the latest seismic shift of the college conference landscape, when USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, taking the Los Angeles media market with them, the chatter has far outweighed executive action.

Fans of athletic programs left to pick up the pieces, like the Colorado Buffaloes, have teetered between angst and anticipation. For the time being, folks might have to live with the uncertainty.

For CU athletic director Rick George, chancellor Phil DiStefano, and those in the same position at the nine other institutions trying to figure out what comes next within the Pac-12, the task at hand isn’t enviable. Not that anyone should feel sorry for George. He is paid handsomely ($1 million per year, just in base and supplemental salary) to find solutions to tough problems. That pretty much has been the daily drill for George for more than two years, since Mel Tucker bolted for Michigan State and the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic pushed athletic departments across the nation into a battle for survival.

Still, there is a heavy burden on those among the Pac-12’s survivors sorting through the possibilities for what comes next. No one wants to be left behind, and the need to secure one’s spot at the table for the gorging of football television dollars is akin to a great white shark feeding frenzy. Wait too long, and all that’s left is scraps. At the same time, these are decisions that will define athletic departments for decades and impact generations of student-athletes. Some measure of prudence, discipline and thoughtfulness would be applauded if this was almost any other big-money endeavor.

Patience and prudence, however, aren’t the typical traits of college football fans.

In the past week alone, the Buffs and other potential Pac-12 refugees have been linked with a number of scenarios. The week began with the so-called Four Corners schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and CU — linked to a possible move to the Big 12. As the days progressed, so too did the possibilities. A full merger with the Big 12. A sort of scheduling and media alliance with the ACC. Holding ground in the Pac-12 while interviewing prospects for a fresh round of expansion (the league announced on July 1 its Board of Directors approving the search for expansion options).

The most important detail of the week, however, was the Pac-12’s announcement it was moving ahead with negotiations for its next media rights agreement. The long-beleaguered deal brokered by former commissioner Larry Scott, widely blamed as the launch point of the eventual defection of the Los Angeles schools, expires in 2024.

This is the action that might cause the uncertainty to linger for at least a few more weeks. ESPN and Fox, current rights holders for the league, have a 30-day window to negotiate exclusively with the Pac-12. That clock already is ticking. Until the powers that be can sort through tangible numbers on the table, there is little reason to jump into any new or updated conference agreement.

The idea of standing pat in a restructured and possibly expanded Pac-12 should be nerve-racking to football fans. The league already was struggling, and now USC football (and UCLA basketball) will be gone in two years. Even if Oregon and Washington remained on board (certainly not a given), it’s difficult to picture the league adding enough football oomph (San Diego State? Boise State?) to keep pace with the expanded super leagues of the SEC and Big Ten.

An alliance with the ACC is intriguing, depending on what exactly that possible arrangement entails, but from this corner some sort of merger with the Big 12 — either the Four Corners schools jumping leagues, or a more expansive meshing of conferences — would provide much-needed stability and give a mostly-western collection of schools a power conference answer to the SEC and Big Ten.

Until the dust finally settles, it will be hurry up and wait.

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