The rumblings have been going on for weeks as the Pac-12 has continued to struggle to finalize their TV deal and hold the already falling apart conference together. Both the University of Colorado and Arizona, current members of the Pac-12 Conference, had been openly courted by Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark. As a result, today’s announcement by CU that they are returning to the Big 12 – the conference the Buffaloes called home from 1996 to 2010 (and were members of the Big Eight that preceded the Big 12 from 1948-1995) today was hardly a surprise. The conference jump by the Buffs is yet another realignment domino to fall and the results of this one may even impact the University of Denver.
The exodus of the University of Colorado to the Big 12 will create yet another membership opening in the faltering Pac-12 (which, if we’re being honest, may not survive much longer at this rate). The conference will lose a major market in the Mountain Time Zone, one of the vulnerabilities of the West Coast-centric conference. Once CU’s departure becomes final, it’s entirely likely that schools like Washington and Oregon also look to bolt for greener conference pastures. And Utah and Arizona? Who knows?
With all of this coming Power Five shuffling, that leaves few teams to fill the now-vacant spot. Colorado State University, once on the list as a possible, though far-fetched Big 12 target, may find itself as a candidate for a future open Pac-12 slot. While San Diego State is CU’s expected Pac-12 replacement, the conference will likely still need to find programs to backfill further departures. Should the Rams join the Aztecs and exit the Mountain West Conference, the Mountain West will need to fill some gaping holes, especially for football.
In the event that the MWC has multiple openings, North Dakota State, a successful FCS program over the past decade and current member of the Summit League, is likely to be a serious candidate to fill a spot in the Mountain West. The conference could look to add the Bison as a full-fledged conference member, not an affiliate member as they are currently in the Missouri Valley Conference for football. That would mean an exit from the Summit for non-football sports as well. It has been further rumored that South Dakota State – a less attractive candidate than the Bison – is also actively courting the Mountain West for membership.
Should one or both of the Dakotas schools exit the Summit League, the stability of the Dakota’s centric Summit League would be severely impacted. Such a move could, theoretically, spell the demise of the Summit League as teams would likely scatter to the Missouri Valley Conference, the WAC, Big Sky, and the Ohio Valley Conference.
As for DU? Forget conference loyalty in this day and age – and we greatly admire and respect current Summit League commissioner Josh Fenton. The Pioneers shouldn’t wait for the shoe to drop! The Pioneers should be burning up the phone lines to West Coast Conference (WCC) commissioner Stu Jackson and make a big commitment to men’s hoops – a priority for the WCC. Anything less will lead Denver to another conference mismatch.
Photo courtesy of University of Colorado Athletics