Before the Big 12 could name a commissioner or even play a game, it nearly became the angry, betrayed, not-so-big 11.
Colorado regents, under tremendous pressure, voted 6-3 Thursday night to reject an offer to bolt the budding Big 12 conference and join the Pac-10.Nervous Big 12 colleagues, caught entirely unawares, were angry over the Pac-10's attempted land grab and perplexed that Colorado would not reject the bid out of hand, as Texas did the day before.
"CU has played a leadership role in the development of the emerging Big 12 conference," Judith Albino, president of the Colorado system, said Thursday night. "We remain currently fully committed to our current conference relationships and remain confident the new Big 12 will represent a major force in intercollegiate athletics."
While other Big Eight schools criticized Colorado for considering the Pac-10 offer, Albino said Colorado owed the Pac-10 a "seriously considered reply."
Iowa State president Martin Jischke said several hours before Colorado's vote that he was surprised and disappointed. He was also quick to call Albino and urge her to close ranks with the other Big Eight schools and Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor.
"We would hope they would see the wisdom and desirability of fulfilling the commitment we all made to each other in forming the new conference," he said.
Albino had said earlier the two conferences' TV football packages were similar. The Big Eight, under its new TV deal, will pay each team a little more than $1.8 million per year; the Pac-10 football package pays schools about $1.9 million per year.
She said what she called the "intangibles" were the part that required more thought - recruiting, fund-raising, alumni support, student concerns and athletics.
Outgoing Colorado football coach Bill McCartney urged rejection of the Pac-10 offer.
"I like what Texas did," McCartney said. "They made a strong statement. They said we're enthusiastic and committed to what is going on in the Big 12.
"To me, that is the perfect response. I think we have a great conference now - as good as there is in all of college sports."
Texas rejected the Pac-10's offer immediately. The 12 schools, hoping to be a super conference, plan to begin competition in 1996-97.
"We just are not going to do that. We've got a commitment to the Big 12," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said in explaining his school's response to the Pac-10. "It's an ethical commitment and it's the right thing to do."
"I almost fell out of my chair when I heard about it," Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick said of the Colorado-Pac-10 reports. "At first, I thought it had to be a joke."
Colorado could have faced a lawsuit if it tried to pull out.
"We had together pledged our mutual support to this new conference. It was a commitment we made to each other," Jischke had said earlier Thursday. "I believe they will see that this is very important for the university and the conference, and could be important for intercollegiate athletics nationally."
Formation of the Big 12 was announced last February, with competition to begin in 1996-97. A few weeks later, the conference agreed to a $100 million football television deal, the largest in history.
When NCAA schools gather in San Diego Jan. 6-12 for their annual convention, conversation between Pac-10 and Big 12 officials may be strained.
"I do think it is unfortunate and very irregular that the Pac-10 would have extended this invitation knowing that we were in the final stages of putting the new Big 12 Conference in place," Nebraska chancellor Graham Spanier said.