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Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins looks to pass the ball during the spring scrimmage game in April. i i

Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins looks to pass during an April scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo. The Pac-10 conference said Thursday that Colorado has accepted an invitation to become the league's 11th member. It's the conference's first expansion since Arizona and Arizona State were added in 1978. David Zalubowski/AP hide caption

itoggle caption David Zalubowski/AP
Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins looks to pass the ball during the spring scrimmage game in April.

Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins looks to pass during an April scrimmage at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colo. The Pac-10 conference said Thursday that Colorado has accepted an invitation to become the league's 11th member. It's the conference's first expansion since Arizona and Arizona State were added in 1978.

David Zalubowski/AP

In the Rocky Mountains today, the first pebble officially dislodged in what could become an avalanche that reshapes the college sports landscape.

The University of Colorado announced that it would leave the Big 12 conference to join an expanded Pacific-10. That's the West Coast league of schools in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona.

And that's just the beginning of expansion mania.

So Long, Big 12

The Big 12, home to football and basketball powerhouses from Texas to Nebraska, appears doomed.

Five other Big 12 teams are expected to join Colorado in a new Pac-16 — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

And as soon as Friday, Nebraska reportedly will sign up with an expanded Big Ten — the storied Midwestern conference that ranges from Minnesota to Penn State. Despite its name, the Big Ten has had 11 schools for the past two decades. Nebraska would become the 12th.

Nebraska's departure would leave five Big 12 schools — Baylor, Iowa State, Missouri, Kansas State and longtime basketball powerhouse Kansas — searching for a conference home.

And it could lead to an even bigger reshuffling, producing four or five mega-conferences at the top of the food chain with 16 schools apiece.

The Bottom Line

So what's behind all this? Rivalries, ambitions and — as always — money.

Cash-strapped universities know the big money comes from television contracts covering the money sports: football and men's basketball. Most conferences have pricey deals with networks that earn schools $6 million to $10 million a year.

The Big 10, though, has taken it a step further, creating its own network. That sent revenues zooming to nearly $20 million per university this year.

And those numbers have schools like Texas and Nebraska, which met in last year's Big 12 football championship, salivating.

The Fallout From Realignment

If the dominos keep falling, college football's big-money Bowl Championship Series will almost certainly have to change. And all this could even crack open the door for a playoff system, which the BCS schools have resisted.

Currently, six conferences have automatic bids to the five biggest bowl games. The other four slots are awarded on an at-large basis, through a complicated formula based in part on rankings by sportswriters, coaches and computers.

Over the past decade, several of the so-called midmajor schools — the ones not in the six BCS conferences — have gone through the season undefeated but were left out of the BCS. That led to pressure on the BCS — reaching even into Congress — to change the system.

The Big 12 holds one of those guaranteed BCS slots, and if that conference dissolves, it loses that slot. And that would create a whole new level of uncertainty for the BCS — and ultimately, for the entire world of college sports.

A Mixed Blessing For the Pac-10

The Pac-10's good news about Colorado arrived the same day one of its current schools, the University of Southern California, got some seriously bad news. The NCAA delivered the stiffest penalty it's given in nearly 25 years.

The governing body of college sports cited improper benefits given to Reggie Bush, who won football's Heisman Trophy, and basketball player O.J. Mayo.

The NCAA banned Southern California from football bowl games for two years, vacated victories involving Bush and docked the Trojans a total of 10 scholarships in each of the next three seasons. It accepted the basketball team's self-imposed penalties, which included forfeiting a season's worth of games and sitting out this spring's NCAA tournament.

Football coach Pete Carroll left for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks in January; basketball coach Tim Floyd quit last year.

The Trojans' women's tennis team was also penalized for misuse of a university credit card.

It's considered the NCAA's strongest reaction to violations since 1986, when it gave Southern Methodist University the "death penalty" — shutting down its football program for two years.

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