Some Thoughts on the Additions of Colorado and Utah

Well, it appears all but official. We're going to have a Pac-12. Granted, it's not the Pac-16 most west coast football fans were hoping for, but it still remains an exciting time for the conference all in all. Just a week ago, the Pac-10 announced that Colorado would join the league, and this afternoon, it was reported by multiple media outlets, that Utah had received an official invitation as well. Per ESPN.com:

The Pac-10 invited Utah to become the 12th member of the conference Wednesday, two days after being turned down by Texas, Oklahoma and three other Big 12 schools.

Utah officials did not immediately say whether the invitation would be accepted. However, a source tells ESPN that Utah will join the Pac-10.

The school's board of trustees will meet Thursday to discuss the school's conference affiliation. Utah has been a member of the Mountain West Conference since the league was born in 1999, and one of its most successful in football and basketball.

Spokeswoman Liz Abel said the athletics department would not comment until Thursday, after the school's board of trustees meets to discuss the school's conference affiliation. A news conference was scheduled for 3 p.m. ET at the football stadium following the meeting.

Pac-10 officials are expected to attend Thursday's news conference in Utah.

As I've said before on here, as a fan, the idea of expansion, whether to 12 or 16 teams, is an exciting alternative for a conference, that for the past 20 years, has seemingly been a bastion of conservatism and rejected nearly every possible method of generating more revenue. Under the direction of former commissioner Tom Hansen, the league appeared content with being an after-thought in the college football world. (minus USC of course ;)

Now, under the watch of Larry Scott, that all seems to be changing. Just last week, the conference nearly added powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas to the fray, and today, it has essentially finalized the creation of a 12-team league coupled with a conference championship game. In short, Scott has accomplished more in one year than Hansen did during his entire tenure. Thus far, Scott has been proactive, aggressive, and more than willing to find ways to improve the conference as a hole.

But while many of us here are excited for the additions of Colorado and Utah, it doesn't appear as if those sentiments are universally expressed. Greg Hansen, hopefully no relation to Tom Hansen, of the Arizona Daily Star noted the following on the inclusions of Colorado and Utah.

Scott just completed his More-Wine-More-Everything Tour of the Big 12 and came away, gulp, with nothing more than the Colorado Buffaloes, a skiing power. In retrospect, it would've been better had Scott first completed his negotiations with Texas, anchoring the deal, before inviting Colorado and others.

Colorado brings little to the Pac-10. No baseball, no softball, no swimming, a basketball team that averaged 6,267 fans and almost no new money.

Utah would bring even less. The Utes wouldn't help to solve the raging financial crisis at Oregon State, Wazzu and ASU.

...

The Pac-10 can use a bump in glamour, and especially one at the bank, but I don't see how Colorado or Utah can help either. I'm aware of the negative variables and politics about adding BYU, but the Cougars have a history, a brand and a presence that neither Utah nor Colorado can touch.

The first argument against Colorado and Utah seems to be centered around the fact that neither program brings much to the table in terms of finances and on-the-field success. Personally, I find that to be a bit unfair to both programs.

From a television market perspective, Denver and Salt Lake City are ranked 18th and 35th respectfully nationwide, which are both higher than Oklahoma City (45th) and Austin, Texas (51st). Granted, the addition of Texas would have made the Dallas and Houston media markets available, but in terms of a city-by-city basis, Colorado and Utah can certainly hold their own against the big boys of the Big XII.

But it's the on-the-field results, that make both schools viable in a new Pac-12. Since 2003, Utah has gone 69-13 overall, reached two BCS bowls, posted two undefeated seasons, and finished with a 7-3 mark against Pac-10 teams. And you're going to tell me that Washington State or Arizona State is more of a "fit?"

Colorado has certainly had a tougher time under head coach Dan Hawkins in recent years, and does not feature a plethora of non-revenue sports programs, but remember this is all about football and academics. In the expansion game, nobody cares about your baseball team, your softball team, or your aquatic sports. Heck, men's basketball doesn't even count for much these days. Just ask Kansas. So I'm not sure why there are suddenly concerns about CU's other sports. They have a solid football program, and are one of the better public universities in the nation. Shouldn't that be adequate?

Granted, the Buffaloes haven't been top dogs on the gridiron recently, but their past success makes them a good enough fit within the league. It was just 2001, were they won the Big XII, finished with just two losses, and ended up playing a Joey Harrington-led Oregon team in the Fiesta Bowl. In school history, they have won 26 conference titles, nine more than UCLA, and hold an all-time winning percentage of .601, also higher than the Bruins.

Both appear to be more than reasonable additions, and as Chris Dufrense of the Los Angeles Times, points out, the symbolic significance of expansion certainly counts for something as well.

The Pac-10, long perceived as weak and plodding, announced itself a player on the national scene. The addition of Colorado and another school ( Utah?) was not the mega-move Scott had in mind, but it is expansion, will add value, and was symbolically important.

Still, one of the larger outcries among conference conservatives remains the fact that Colorado and Utah do not maintain the tradition of featuring pairs of geographical rivals (see: Cal/Stanford and Arizona/Arizona State). While both programs may not come from the same state, they do hail from the same region and have a history of competition on the field. From the Denver Post:

Colorado, which leads the Utah football series 30-24-3, has played the Utes more than any other nonconference opponent outside of Colorado State. The two schools go back to when they were archrivals in the 1940s as members of the old Mountain States Athletic Conference.

In 1961, Utah beat Joe Romig-led Colorado, 21-12, in Game 7 for the Buffaloes' first loss, preventing them from going to the Orange Bowl undefeated. It kept them from likely finishing in the top three in the nation that year. The Buffs went on to lose to Louisiana State in Miami, 25-7.

After Colorado switched to the Big Eight in 1948, the two teams played in 11 consecutive seasons and then again in 1961 and '62. They haven't played since. However, they already have scheduled a home and home for 2012 and 2013. The 2012 game is set for Sept. 22, the 50th anniversary of their last meeting.

It may not have the history of a USC-UCLA or a Cal-Stanford, but in the end, their perceived lack of history does not supersede the impact their additions will have on revenue and increased competition.

Now, with both schools in the fold, it appears all but a formality that the conference will further be split into two divisions (North/South) and feature a conference championship game expected to generate millions. The Post further adds this tidbit regarding the splitting of the new Pac-12:

Utah is leaving the Mountain West Conference, which has no exit penalty, and will be part of a football south division with Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Southern California and UCLA.

If this helps to increase the profile of the conference nationwide, which I anticipate it will, than I see no reason why fans of all Pac-10 teams shouldn't be welcoming Colorado and Utah with open arms. The more revenue that can be generated and the more the competition can improve, without either spoiling tradition, makes everybody a winner these days, especially in June.

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