In a series of moves that likely will set in motion conference realignment that significantly could alter the college sports landscape, Colorado on Thursday accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 and Nebraska reportedly is prepared to join the Big Ten.
Texas and Texas A&M officials met Thursday to discuss their next move, given the now-tenuous foundation of the Big 12. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said he would prefer to keep the Big 12 intact, though that seems increasingly unlikely.
According to reports from several media outlets, the Pac-10 is interested in acquiring Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, in addition to Colorado, to form a 16-team conference.
Several outlets reported that a 16-team Pac-10 would seek two BCS automatic bids since the Big 12 would lose its bid.
Should the Big 12 implode, Baylor and Texas Tech officials have said they would like to remain united in conference affiliation with Texas and Texas A&M.
"No assurances, no invitations have been issued," Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said, adding that he had no timetable. "I'm authorized to pursue several different scenarios. We're evaluating different options and having various conversations and waiting to see what may develop nationally."
It might not take long to see how things play out. Conferences are striving to maximize their television network contracts, and that motivation may lead to a complete overhaul of the current alignment structure. Negotiations on a new television contract for the Pac-10 will begin next year.
A massive realignment could further concentrate the power to the biggest and richest schools. Some schools in BCS conferences will be left out in the cold. Long-standing rivalries may be mothballed, traditions cast aside in the name of money.
"The motivation for all this always has been football television dollars," said Tom Hansen, the Pac-10 commissioner from 1983 to 2009. "Expand the number of homes you have for the sale of football television rights. This is one of the few places where you can enhance your revenue stream. It has happened before and it will probably happen again in the future."
Said David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, a marketing firm: "These conferences have seen the success of the Big Ten Network. They have seen the success and revenue brought about by conference championship games like the SEC's. They see these and think about how it can extend their revenues and footprint. And now is the time."
Hansen said the Pac-10 considered adding Colorado and Texas in the mid 1990s, but that the plan died when Texas politicians made it clear that if Texas could leave the Big Eight for the Pac-10 only if Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor also were included.
The Big 12 faces its most tumultuous time since the conference's inception in 1996. Should as many as seven of its members leave in the coming weeks, programs at Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor could be left scrambling to secure conference affiliations.
With Nebraska expected to join the Big Ten today, athletic director Tom Osborne addressed Colorado's decision: "It doesn't say anything. I really have no comment on this. I'm not saying we're gone or not gone. Until we have a definite decision, I'm not saying anything else."
Missouri has expressed interest in joining the Big Ten and seemed to be a good fit with its proximity and heated rivalry with Illinois. But Missouri apparently became a less-popular choice for the conference in recent weeks and the university's curator said Thursday the school had not been invited to join the Big Ten.
Even if Missouri decides to stay in the Big 12, the school could be left to forage amid the scraps of the Big 12 or searching for another, lower-profile, less-profitable conference.
The Big Ten, which ignited conference-realignment talk months ago, has been open about its desire to expand its 11-team composition. Notre Dame (an independent in football), Missouri, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and even Maryland have been speculated to be Big Ten targets.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Thursday that the school's position hasn't changed and wouldn't comment on realignment.
The Big Ten might also be looking to add Big East schools.
"College sports, a lot of it is about traditions and rivalries and things like that, and there'll definitely be some changes," said Joel Maxcey, sports economist at the University of Georgia. "In general, college sports moves kind of slow and I think some of those changes will disappoint some fans of college sports."
SEC in fray: Signs began to emerge that the SEC has tried to make a play in the conference expansion game. Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told the Tulsa World that his school had been contacted by the SEC. CNNSI.com reported that Texas A&M was contacted by the league. Castiglione said his school would stick with whatever decision Texas makes, which is probably the Aggies' stance too.