- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Pac-10 hired Larry Scott as commissioner to shake things up. The media business changed faster than did Scott's predecessor, Tom Hansen, a gentleman and a gentle man. Under Hansen's stewardship, the Pac-10 did not change its membership. The league had the same 10 members since 1978, the longest unchanged membership of any FBS conference.
When Hansen retired last year, the league known for its conservatism hired a man who made women's tennis relevant. Scott knew athletics and he knew television. When he arrived at the Pac-10 last year, he asked how "this BCS thing" worked. Nevertheless, Scott charged forward. He had no alliances, no decades-long relationships with anyone in college athletics the way that Hansen did.
If Scott had been a part of that NCAA Men's Club, he might not have stomped on the toes of Kansas and Missouri. Scott may have respected the boundaries of the Big 12 Conference.
Instead, he pounced. We should have seen this coming. Scott hired Kevin Weiberg as deputy commissioner in April. Weiberg is the former commissioner of the Big 12. He knew the administrators in the Big 12. He opened the doors for Scott in Norman and in Austin.
We should have seen this coming and yet no one really did. The Big Ten began the expansion talk in December. While Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany talked, the Southeastern Conference swam quietly through the waters, shark-hooded eyes watching the Big Ten. If Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive didn't have each other to compete against, they'd have no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
While Delany and Slive eyed one another, Scott went after not just Texas, not just Oklahoma, but half the Big 12. He saw the opportunity to extend the Pac-10's footprint over half the continent. Member campuses would spread across three time zones. It took gall. It took confidence. And it almost took off. Colorado jumped from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 last week.
The Big 12 story over the last week took more turns than a mountain road. One Texas official told my colleague Pat Forde that if Nebraska went out the door, Texas would follow. That didn't happen.
DeLoss Dodds has been the athletic director at Texas for 29 years. There is no blood more orange than his. As early as March, Dodds said in an interview in his Austin office that Texas had no desire to leave the Big 12. As late as last Friday, an athletic department official reiterated that Dodds "will pursue every option to keep [the Big 12] alive. That's been DeLoss's mission from the first time this was discussed."
Scott wooed Texas with the promise of revenue. He couldn't offer what Texas would lose by joining the Pac-10. In international trade, it's being given status as a most favored nation. In the Big 12, it's being given a larger slice of the revenue pie. If Texas moved to the Pac-10, the school would never be more than one of 16 members, answering to a conference office 1,700 miles away.
If Scott had succeeded, a 16-team Pac-10 would have transformed the landscape of college athletics. It might have been better. It surely would have been different, which scared every administrator in the NCAA Men's Club.
For one thing, as a senior official in another FBS conference said Tuesday, "If the Pac-10 had gone to 16, personalities and egos would force other conferences to do that."
For another, a move to megaconferences would have sicced the hounds of Congressional hell on all of college athletics. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe warned his members as much in a confidential plea to stay together written earlier this year. Colorado released it to SI.com recently as part of an FOI request.
Instead of the unknown, college football awakened Wednesday in a slightly different known. In most pre-Scott expansion landscapes, the schools that best fit a move to the Pac-10 were Colorado and Utah.
After all the negotiations, after all the rumors and discussions of a 16-team Pac-10, the league ended up with Colorado. Speculation is rampant that Utah is soon to follow.
The Pac-10's newest member has a two-decade winning tradition and a reputation as a school that brings nothing to the bowl table. In 2007, the Insight Bowl had its choice of 6-6 Colorado or, nearly 200 miles farther away, 6-6 Oklahoma State. The Insight took the Cowboys. The Buffaloes went to Shreveport.
It is open for discussion whether Colorado and Utah will bring their share of value equivalent to what the Pac-10's members would create without them. Scott swung for a home run. He hit a single. But his swagger at the plate sent a message to every other player. The Pac-10 will be swinging for the fences for the foreseeable future.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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