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Mountain West in good spot 

End Zone

At any given moment now, the makeup of major-college sports in America will begin a massive, revolutionary chain reaction.

The word last weekend, after the Pacific 10 Conference's strategy session, was that the league had given commissioner Larry Scott the authority to start inviting more schools to join.

From all indications, the conference's goal is to become the Pac-16 by tearing away half of the current Big 12: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado. There could be opposition, with some high-and-mighty Texas state legislators trying to force Baylor, instead of Colorado, into that group of defectors. It's hard to imagine the Pac-10 being intimidated by a posse from Texas.

First, we could see Nebraska and Missouri bolting the Big 12 for the Big Ten, which clearly wants to lead rather than follow in this expansion epidemic. With 11 members now, the Big Ten's choice appears to be 14 or 16, also depending on whether Notre Dame first comes along for the ride. If not, the Big Ten still might raid the Big East for the likes of Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, the league that might become one of the big winners has its headquarters in Colorado Springs. That obviously would be the Mountain West, which smartly held off this week on adding Boise State as its 10th member in 2011. Boise has won two Bowl Championship Series games in the past four years and is regarded as a national title contender in 2010.

However, if the Mountain West plays its cards right, the jackpot could become far better than just Boise State, thanks to the Big 12's possible demise.

Without using much imagination, the MWC could emerge from this chaos with its own 16-member conglomerate and the immediate power to demand — and receive — full BCS status.

It would start by the Mountain West grabbing Kansas and Kansas State, with huge prominence in basketball plus two more solid football programs and depth in other sports. Then there's Iowa State and Baylor — or Colorado, if those Texas cowboys get their way.

And while the MWC spreads its wings, why not pull in two schools from the nation's 10 most populous cities, meaning the University of Houston and Southern Methodist University (Dallas)? The two divisions could look like this ...

West: Brigham Young, Utah, Boise State, San Diego State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming.

East: TCU, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State, New Mexico, Houston, SMU.

Or, if 14 is the preferred number, the Mountain West could try this:

North: Air Force, CSU, Wyoming, BYU, Utah, Boise State, UNLV.

South: TCU, Kansas, K-State, Iowa State, Baylor, New Mexico, San Diego State.

If there is one lesson to learn from past history, it's to avoid splitting up schools that are close geographically. That's what happened in the Western Athletic Conference, which mushroomed to 16 members in the late 1990s. But when newer members pushed for divisions to have rotating alignments, meaning Air Force wouldn't always be in the same division with CSU and Wyoming, the league soon fell apart and the Mountain West was born.

Now we could see a power struggle, if the remaining Big 12 members unite quickly and try instead for a merger with the Mountain West. Given the Big 12/Big Eight history and national recognition, that could happen. But take away Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Colorado, and how much clout would the Big 12 as we have known it really have?

One thing on the Mountain West's side is its TV network, already established and capable of adjusting to a larger membership. Not having a TV operation, in fact, might be the Big 12's fatal flaw.

Sure, it would be scrumptious if Colorado landed in the Mountain West. But if CU can become part of a new Pac-16, that obviously would mean a broader stage for all of the Buffaloes' programs.

It should make for a newsworthy summer.

routon@csindy.com

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