- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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News is a funny thing. Think back to September. Then imagine learning the Pac-10 would add Utah and Colorado, split into divisions and play a conference championship game.
Ah, but over the past few weeks that bit of massive change for a conference that has historically resisted change is now mostly hum-drum. A Pac-12? And there was much rejoicing.
Of course, that's because folks thought the Pac-16 would be created this week, with Texas leading a contingent migrating from the Big 12, with the new conference splitting up $20 million apiece. For better or worse -- and you can argue either way for a variety of big- and little-picture reasons -- it ain't going to happen. At least not this year.
As for the news of the day from the press event at Utah: The Utes will join the Pac-10 in 2011. It's possible Colorado will do the same, though there are some hoops -- exit costs -- to jump through there. The conference hasn't decided on what it will call itself going forward, commissioner Larry Scott said. Scott also said that the conference hasn't decided on the makeup of six-team divisions, nor has it decided how it will manage a conference championship game.
Now everyone is evaluating winners and losers and predicting what's ahead.
As for winners, our list includes the Pac-10, Colorado and Utah.
Our list of losers includes er BP? Perhaps we should have a moment of silence for tradition.
But, going forward, all the actors on the Pac-10 side of things are better off today than they were six weeks ago.
Let's start with this: The Pac-10 has been bigger news over the past couple of weeks than it has been, well, just about ever. Credit Scott for stealing the spotlight and making the conference central to the discussion of the college football landscape. (A part of me wonders whether the issues ahead -- divisions, a championship game, etc. -- have mostly been settled but Scott just wants more headlines over the coming weeks.)
Scott's audacity and aggressiveness, while it fell short of producing a blockbuster deal, suggest that he will be extremely creative and savvy when he sits down with potential broadcast partners to sell the conference. Don't be surprised if he ends up landing surprisingly appealing contracts.
The Pac-10 added the No. 16 (Denver) and No. 31 (Salt Lake City) television markets. I keep reading that's mostly meaningless. Perhaps as an academic, marketing-study matter it appears so. But as a long-term-thinking business matter, my guess is it will prove otherwise. We shall see. At the very least, the Pac-10 has added 24 games of new inventory with 2.5 million new potential sets of urban eyeballs as well as a conference championship game.
Outside of football revenue issues, it's true neither Colorado nor Utah brings much to the table in terms of basketball (though Utah got to the Final Four in 1998) and Olympic sports (though Utah is a gymnastics power). Perhaps at present, but that will change because of two things: 1) They can now sell membership in the Conference of (Olympic sports) Champions; 2) They have an entry into the talent-rich California recruiting territory.
Sure, Colorado is down in football. It hasn't posted a winning season since 2005. But the Buffaloes split the national title in 1990, won the Big 12 in 2001 and won four Big 12 North titles. The football program has and will win again. See No. 2 above as a good reason it should take a step forward almost immediately.
Utah football? The Utes are 69-16 since 2003 with two undefeated seasons, which included two BCS bowl wins. They are 7-3 versus the Pac-10 during that span and also posted wins over Texas A&M, Michigan and Alabama. Many of you may recall the Utes' 31-17 Sugar Bowl beatdown of the Crimson Tide in 2009.
In other words, Utah's football pedigree since 2003 is better than any other Pac-10 team -- other than USC -- during the same span. Utah gives the Pac-10 another top-25 program, and the Pac-10 will give Utah the annual legitimacy it seeks. Oh, and the Utes probably are clicking their heels over exponentially increasing -- perhaps more than tenfold -- the $1.2 million they got annually in TV money from the Mountain West Conference.
Now, Utah fans need to be realistic. While the trash talking between the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conference of late has been amusing -- all that MWC > Pac-10 stuff -- understand that playing nine games in the Pac-10 is much different than Mountain West competition. The week-to-week relentlessness of the Pac-10's depth will present an entirely new challenge. Let's just say don't count on going undefeated much in the future -- see USC.
Did Scott fail to attract a big stadium team? Well, yeah. He went for the gold and ended up with a bronze. Yes, the Pac-10 is still looking up at the SEC and Big Ten in many ways, most notably in potential revenue.
But it also appears the new Pac-12 is going to be a happy family. While how the divisions are split might inspire some contentiousness among the athletic directors, the conference looks poised to move forward with everyone in accord and mutually supportive with no new superpower casting an ominous shadow over the future.
Of course, the family will be less happy if that new TV deal falls short of expectations. So stay tuned.
Ted Miller covers Pac-10 football for ESPN.com.
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