For some college football fans in Colorado Springs with a longer memory, something about all the upheaval in college sports this past week might seem vaguely familiar — as if we've all heard about this before.
If you were around here in the early 1990s, there's a reason for that feeling. Thanks to reader Scott Wilson of Pueblo, who also writes for online sports site Bleacher Report (bleacherreport.com), the actual evidence resurfaced last weekend. Wilson, researching for a piece about the changing of major-college conferences, came upon a column that I wrote on Nov. 4, 1992, during my time at the Gazette.
The headline for that piece: TV revenues may force CU into Pac-10.
The column went on to describe confirmed rumors that the Pacific 10 Conference was looking into adding Colorado and Texas to become the Pac-12. Part of that was keeping up with the 12-team Southeastern Conference in the battle for TV money. And part was based on some conferences, notably the Big Eight and Southwest, struggling for survival.
Another subplot in that 1992 scenario: After adding Penn State as an 11th member, the Big Ten thought of inviting its own 12th member. And the most likely candidate talked about in that 1992 column? Nebraska.
All of that, more than 18 years ago.
Of course, some circumstances were different then. Colorado was in the old Big Eight, before it became the Big 12. Texas was ringleader of the Southwest, which had lost Arkansas (disclosure: my alma mater) to the Southeastern.
But the burning fuse back then was TV revenue. And now, clearly, the Big 12 was the most vulnerable. Why? It didn't have its own TV network, and it didn't have a national TV contract anywhere close to the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-10. It also had some pent-up hard feelings.
The solution two decades ago was for the bloc of Texas schools — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor — to leave the Southwest (which died) and join the Big Eight. That meshed perfectly with the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry, but it also led to the end of Oklahoma-Nebraska as an annual staple of Thanksgiving week.
In other words, most other schools in the Big 12 won. Nebraska lost. And the old Big Eight axis that revolved around Kansas City became the Big 12 revolving around Dallas. Now, that Texas power base has proven strong enough to hold together the remaining 10 members of the Big 12.
Something else to remember: Colorado wielded more power in 1992. That was just two years after CU's national championship of 1990, and the Buffaloes were riding the same wave of prominence that continued for another decade, even after Bill McCartney retired and was followed by Rick Neuheisel, then Gary Barnett.
CU, with its football pre-eminence and Denver TV market, was a plum for the Pac-10. It didn't happen in 1992 because the Big Eight-Southwest merger developed. Yet one theme from that old column rings true now: "But if Nebraska takes a long look at the Big Ten-Eleven-Twelve, Colorado must be ready to maneuver quickly."
From this view, Colorado is better off today with a fresh start against the West Coast schools, instead of continuing to beat its head against the Big 12 wall.
The other difference now, of course, is the Mountain West Conference, which broke off from the old Western Athletic Conference in 1999. The events this week dampened the Mountain West's hopes, but the conference remains strong with the addition of Boise State making up for the apparent loss of Utah to the new Pac-12.
Part of the still-remaining drama will be whether an enhanced Mountain West can maneuver its way into the Bowl Championship Series. With a nucleus now including Boise State, TCU, Brigham Young and Air Force, it's still possible.
To be honest, that's something nobody could have ever imagined in 1992. But thanks to Scott Wilson, taking this look back links the past to the present.
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