Now that Texas has spurned the Pac-10 and decided to remain in the Big 12, the Pac-10's next expansion target could be the University of Utah.
The Utes are the likely candidate to become the 12th member of the Pac-10 after the Big 12 announced Monday that it will remain intact thanks to the promise of a lucrative television deal.
Instead of forming the nation's first 16-team super conference, the Pac-10, which had its sights on Texas and four other Big 12 schools, could conclude its conference realignment plans by adding Utah. Last week, another team from the Mountain Time Zone, Colorado of the Big 12, joined the Pac-10.
Despite the rampant speculation that the Utes will be the next school pursued by the Pac-10, U. officials aren't saying much about the situation.
"We do not have any announcements or press conferences planned at this time," said associate athletics director Liz Abel. The U., she added, is maintaining its stance to not comment specifically on conference realignment speculation.
Utah athletic director Chris Hill did, however, issue a statement earlier in the day. "Obviously, the college athletics landscape is undergoing massive changes, and it has our full attention," he said. "As we have said before, we will not respond to the rumors circulating."
And there have been plenty of rumors circulating in recent weeks, ever since a report surfaced that the Pac-10 was planning to gobble up half of the Big 12. While the Pac-10 did add Colorado (while Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten), five other Big 12 schools — Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were being courted by the Pac-10. Texas A&M also had serious discussions with the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Over the weekend, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe worked tirelessly to put together a plan that would prevent the Big 12's demise. On Monday, the Big 12 schools met and recommitted to the conference, which now has 10 teams.
There has been speculation that BYU and Air Force could replace Colorado and Nebraska in the Big 12.
At one point Monday, a radio station in Austin, Texas, reported via its Twitter account that BYU and Air Force were bound for the Big 12, touching off a short-lived celebration by Cougar fans on the local radio airwaves and on the Internet.
Several minutes later, the radio station said it did not report that BYU and Air Force were joining the Big 12. "We apologize, but it seems like someone had access to the (Twitter) account that shouldn't have," the station said.
BYU's response to the expansion hubbub?
"We are not commenting on the topic of expansion or conference realignment until there is something concrete to discuss," said associate athletic director Duff Tittle.
According to some reports, the Big 12 might not expand at all. The TV contract negotiated by the Big 12 was for a 10-team conference, which could mean the conference has no plans to return to a 12-team league. Among the questions Big 12 officials will be asked when they hold a news conference scheduled for Tuesday morning — will the league expand so it can hold a championship game in football? As per NCAA rules, a conference must have 12 members to stage a title game.
As recently as last weekend, the Big 12 appeared to be on its deathbed. But Beebe's last-minute efforts to revive and strengthen the league produced miraculous results that kept the conference together, including a television deal that would pay Texas between $20 million and $25 million per year. The Longhorns reportedly will also start their own TV network. The Big 12's other schools would receive $14 million to $17 million per year, a significant increase from the $7 million to $10 million those schools currently earn.
Over the weekend, while it appeared Texas A&M might join the SEC, the 16th and final spot in the proposed Pac-16 was reportedly between Utah and Kansas of the Big 12.
Now, the Jayhawks are staying put. And the Utes could be set to join the Pac-10.
Contributing: Dirk Facer