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Pac-10 steals Colorado from Big 12; more to follow?

Photo by Donna McWilliam

Photo by Donna McWilliam

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Colorado is gone and Nebraska might be next. The Big 12 Conference is going to be different very soon -- if it survives at all.

Colorado announced its defection from the Big 12 for the Pac-10 on Thursday, the first pebble to fall in what could become an avalanche of moves that could change the landscape of college athletics. The demise of the Big 12, 16-school megaconferences, lost rivalries, new BCS bids, Notre Dame abandoning independence, odd-seeming battles to make the NCAA basketball tournament. All of it could be on the table.

"The first move will set off a domino effect," predicted Joel Maxcey, sports economist at the University of Georgia. "One moves sets off another set of moves, but the degree of what happens remains to be seen."

The Big Ten started all this in December by announcing that it was looking at expansion. Conference officials hope to add more eyes to its successful cable network, reach into Southern markets (like, say, those in Texas) and reach the NCAA minimum of 12 teams required to hold a conference championship game in football.

The move has led to harried calls between rivals and behind-the-scenes maneuvering as schools across the country look to make sure they're not standing alone, pockets empty, when the music stops.

Colorado took a pre-emptive strike, deciding to head west to the Pac-10 instead of waiting to see what everyone else was going to do.

The next move could come later Friday, when Nebraska and Missouri reportedly face a stay-or-go ultimatum from the Big 12. Nebraska's regents were scheduled to meet Friday to discuss realignment.

The Cornhuskers have long-standing ties with many of the schools in the Big 12's North Division -- they've played Kansas and Missouri in football since the 1890s -- but Big Ten TV money might be too much to pass up.

Colorado's choice to bolt early could play a role in the decision, though it might already be a done deal.

"It doesn't say anything," Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said of Colorado's announcement. "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 faces a more difficult challenge.

The school expressed interest in joining the Big Ten and seemed to be a good fit with its proximity and heated rivalry with Illinois. But a university curator said the school had not been invited to join the Big Ten, meaning it could be left to forage amid the scraps of the Big 12 or search for another, less-profitable conference.

"There's a lot of concern among alumni about what happens to Mizzou and how this works out," said Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Missouri Alumni Association.

The Big Ten appears to be interested in adding Notre Dame -- as most conferences would -- though Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick this week had no comment on realignment. The Big Ten might also be looking east, to pilfer schools from the Big East.

The biggest move could come from the Pac-10.

Now that the conference has Colorado, it could set its sights on the Big 12's South Division, reportedly interested in inviting Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to form a 16-team conference stretching 1,800 miles from College Station, Texas, to Seattle.

Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State all could join Missouri on the sidelines. All have the disadvantage of being in sparsely populated areas of the country and a lack of consistent performance on the football field -- not that it's the only consideration.

"Hey, the KU brand is pretty good," said Bill Self, the coach of the powerhouse Kansas basketball team. "I think we'll be in a quality league. I just don't know which league that will be in."

A massive realignment could further concentrate the power to the biggest and richest schools. Some schools in BCS conferences will be left out, long-standing rivalries may be mothballed, traditions cast aside in the name of money.

A lot of change could happen in a short time.

"College sports, a lot of it is about traditions and rivalries and things like that, and there'll definitely be some changes," Maxcey said. "In general, college sports moves kind of slow and I think some of those changes will disappoint some fans of college sports."