Colorado joined the Big Seven Conference in 1948 and stayed through its various itinerations for 62 years. Could the Buffaloes be coming back?
A Big 12 source told me last week that Colorado is ready to commit to joining the Big 12 “soon.”
I thought it was interesting but not necessarily a revelation. Lots of talk in this realignment-crazed era of college sports. Most of it not written on tablets descending from Mount Sinai.
But the Colorado comment has a lot more juice after the events this week.
Washington State president Kirk Schulz on Monday issued a variety of spending freezes in the wake of the Pac-12’s financial crisis.
The New York Post reported that ESPN and the Pac-12 are having “no substantive talks” about extending the league’s television contract, which expires in summer 2024.
More:Big 12 basketball appears set to have 18 conference games for 2023-24 season
Plus, CBS reported a couple of weeks ago that Big 12 officials were told by ESPN that the Big 12 would be one of three leagues (along with the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences) that ESPN would air in terms of a Tier 1 level.
All of which casts further gloom on the Pac-12’s financial future.
Since Southern Cal and UCLA announced their 2024 move to the Big Ten, and new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark went public with his desire to expand the league with westward members, the Pac-12 has seemed vulnerable.
But the prevailing opinion was that the Pac-12 members would find a way to stay together. That’s becoming an increasingly difficult decision financially.
Network suitors are either asking the Pac-12 members to take a financial haircut on a new television contract, or proceed with a reduced distribution platform, heavy on streaming and short on traditional outlets.
The former has administrators scared, and the latter has coaches leery.
Could the Big 12 – with a television contract in hand with ESPN and Fox, through 2031 – capitalize?
Securing four Pac-12 members would raise the Big 12 membership to 16 and give the Big 12 coveted presence in four time zones. A weekly late-night college football game from the West Coast is one of the few advantages the Pac-12 offers, and if the Big 12 gets such a corner on the market, it figures to enhance the conference’s brand both financially and promotionally.
More:Tramel: Big 12 basketball coaches ready to follow commissioner Brett Yormark’s bold ideas
The four-corner schools – Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah – are the Pac-12 schools most mentioned as Big 12 candidates.
Arizona, in particular, seems a prominent Big 12 candidate, with the Wildcats’ basketball tradition and Yormark’s clear interest in capitalizing on the conference’s prominence in hoops.
Utah seems to be the most reluctant of the four-corner schools to engage with the Big 12.
But it only takes one school from the remaining Pac-12 to create a domino effect. If Colorado, which also faces financial dilemmas with its athletic department, jumps, others are expected to follow.
CU football has received a tremendous jolt from new coach Deion Sanders. But the gridiron in the flatirons has been largely dormant since Gary Barnett left the coaching office 18 years ago.
Since Barnett’s departure, Colorado has had two winning seasons, and one of those was a 4-2 record in the pandemic season of 2020. CU was 12-28 in conference play its final five Big 12 seasons and is 27-76 in a dozen Pac-12 seasons.
In men’s basketball, the Buffaloes have fared better with the Pac-12 than in Big 12 days but still have made just one NCAA Tournament since 2016.
The pandemic put most athletic programs in a precarious financial situation, and some have yet to recover. Count much of the Pac-12 within that crowd.
In Pullman, Washington, this week, WSU president Schulz announced that his school would place a “temporary freeze on all current & future vacant positions until further review, as well as a pause on non-essential travel, purchases & new professional development” because of “significant decrease in Pac-12 revenue distribution as result of overpayments from one of the conference media partners that must be resolved.”
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The Pac-12 Network overpaid about $50 million to the conference members, money which must be returned. In addition, Schulz said, the Pac-12 headquarters’ relocation out of San Francisco cost more than anticipated.
The Pac-12 had hoped that ESPN would get involved in serious negotiations for a new Pac-12 broadcasting contract, but ESPN is tightening its belt. The New York Post reported that ESPN has “passed on Big Ten, Sunday Ticket, Premier League, Champions League & MLS, so the idea it will be completely out on Pac-12 is not in the least bit surprising.”
All of which means Yormark’s successful contract negotiations with Fox and ESPN last October seem prescient.
When OU and Texas announced they would jump to the SEC, the Big 12’s financial future seemed in jeopardy. Some figured the remaining Big 12 members might have to take a 50% cut in broadcast revenue.
Instead, the Big 12 added four new members – Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida – and signed a TV deal that brought in more money per school than the previous contract, which included OU and Texas.
The Big 12 still will remain significantly behind the Big Ten and SEC in revenue, but has leaped ahead of the Pac-12 and the ACC, the latter of which is tied to a contract through 2036.
The Big 12’s newfound stability is attractive to Pac-12 members wondering about its future. Especially Colorado, which already has a history with the Big 12.
Both the New York Post and CBS reported that ESPN still could consider a limited package with the Pac-12, which might be that conference’s lifeline.
So stay tuned. But it only takes one school to jump for others to follow.
Some in the Big 12 believe Colorado is that one.
More:Tramel’s ScissorTales: ACC’s demise seems assured, even if it’s 2036
UCO seeks another softball title
Ten years ago this spring, Central Oklahoma won the NCAA Division II softball championship. Now the Bronchos are back in the D-II national tournament.
The fourth-ranked Bronchos, 52-9, play Nova Southeastern at 3 p.m. (Oklahoma time) Thursday in Chattanooga, Tennessee. UCO is making its fourth D-II World Series appearance.
The Bronchos are part of Oklahoma’s rousing college softball scene:
- OU’s back-to-back NCAA championships with a likely third.
- OSU’s three straight Women’s College World Series appearances, with a possible fourth.
- Rogers State’s 2022 D-II national championship.
- Oklahoma City University’s 11 NAIA national championships, including last spring.
- Science & Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) back in the NAIA national championships this week, after winning the 2018 title.
- Undefeated Murray State in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series this week.
UCO hasn’t been back to the national tournament since that 2013 title season. But the Bronchos rallied to sweep two games Friday against Southern Arkansas in the Super Regional, winning 5-4 and 5-2.
“It was a wild day and it was a long day, but we came in confident,” said UCO coach Cody White. “”Our girls were very loose and relaxed and we knew that we had a chance.”
The Bronchos are led by pitchers Terin Ritz (26-2, 2.07 earned run average) of Deer Creek and Jordyn Pipkin (19-3, 2.22) of Jenks. After Southern Arkansas won Game 1 of the Super Regional, Ritz relieved Pipkin in the first game of the Friday doubleheader and got the victory, then pitched a complete-game victory in the finale.
The Bronchos’ top hitters are Shayla Harper (14 home runs, 54 runs batted in, .398 batting average) of Durant; Ritz (.357, 12 homers); Emily Deramus (14 homers, 139 total bases) of Edmond North; Jacee Minter (.364, 12 homers) of Edmond North; and Mikayla Rutland (10 homers) of Dale. Rutland had the game-winning hit in the Super Regional finale.
“We talked about we had swept 19 doubleheaders this year, and this would be the 20th, and we just had to do it one more time,” White said. “They set out on that mission and had the confidence in each other and had the confidence in themselves and it showed.”
The Super Regional wins put White in the 400 Win Club. His UCO record now is 401-144.
The Bronchos’ 52 wins are a school record, and they have won 21 of their last 22 games.
The D-II national championships are two four-team brackets, decided by double elimination. The winners meet in a best-of-three series starting next week.
Softball success in Oklahoma extends far beyond the bright lights.
More:Tramel’s ScissorTales: NCAA softball parity arrives — except at the top, with OU
Mailbag: OU father-son combos
My top-10 list on OU football father-son combos ignited a few inquiries over a notable omission.
Steve: “Didn’t Sam Bradford’s dad, Kent, play for the Sooners?”
Tramel: Yes he did. And I absolutely could have included the Bradfords.
But two things. 1) I explained my criteria for that particular list, and I was basically comparing the lesser career. In other words, I was comparing Derrick Shepard (father of Sterling) vs. Seth Littrell (son of Jim). So the Bradfords weren’t lifted by having a Heisman Trophy. 2) At the end of that week was Mother’s Day, and Martha Bradford was the subject.
Perhaps you know my Mother’s Day tradition – I write about a notable Oklahoma mom but don’t reveal who she is until the end. I didn’t want to plant any Bradford seeds in inquisitive readers.
Could the Bradfords have made the list? Sure. Should the Bradfords have made the list? Maybe. Would the Bradfords have made the list with a different criteria? Of course.
But I got texts from both Kent and Sam Bradford after the Mother’s Day column, thanking me. I think they’re OK with the tradeoff.
More:Why did Andrel Anthony leave his dream school to join to OU football? ‘I came here to win’
Can Celtics rally from 3-0 deficit?
The eighth-seeded Miami Heat lead the second-seeded Boston Celtics three games to none in their Eastern Conference Finals series, and the Celtics look defeated.
They were blown out in Game 3, 128-102, and Cancun beckons for Boston. No team in NBA history has won a series after being down 3-0.
But it will happen, eventually. Once upon a time, we were saying the same thing about baseball, which went more than a century of playing seven-game series before a team rallied after being down 3-0. Then the 2004 Boston Red Sox beat the Yankees four straight games after the hated New Yorkers won the first three.
These Celtics aren’t likely to be the first NBA team to join the club, which also includes four National Hockey League teams. But no team is likely to do it. It just happens.
What kind of team is required to rally from down 3-0 in the NBA playoffs? There are a few characteristics that help.
∎ Being the better team. Boston was 57-25 in the regular season; Miami was 44-38. The Celtics clearly were the better team in the regular season and clearly have the better roster.
The Heat have momentum and mojo and majestic mental makeup. But the Celtics still have better players. If Boston could somehow reverse the intangibles, or lessen Miami’s big edge, then victory is at least feasible.
∎ Having the better coach. Uh, Boston’s in trouble. Joe Mazzulla is overmatched against the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra. This is probably an insurmountable barrier.
∎ Determination. Most teams down 3-0 give up the ghost emotionally. Defeat seems imminent, so more emotional investment seems worthless. In NBA history, 149 teams have been down 3-0. Only 14 got the series back to 3-2; only three got it back to 3-3. The three that summoned the intestinal fortitude to make it 3-3 were the 1951 Knickerbockers, against the Rochester Royals; the 1994 Nuggets, against the Utah Jazz; and the 2003 Trail Blazers, against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Celtics have the talent and don’t have the coach. That probably spells doom no matter their determination. But Boston has former OSU star Marcus Smart, whose competitiveness and fire is the stuff of legend. Can Smart rally his troops to at least give Boston a chance?
Unlikely. It’s unlikely with all three characteristics. It’s virtually impossible with just two.
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The List: Denver Rockets
The Denver Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and now await the franchise’s first NBA Finals.
The Nuggets joined the league in 1976, along with three other franchises from the American Basketball Association – Spurs, Pacers and Netropolitans. Only San Antonio has won an NBA title from that group, and Denver didn’t win an ABA title in its nine-year sojourn through that funky but glorious league.
The ABA didn’t have a television contract of any substance, so a kid growing up in Oklahoma followed the ABA in only two ways – a few nuggets (forgive me) in the sports section and basketball cards. The basketball cards were invaluable, especially in the early 1970s.
The Denver Rockets were a charter member of the ABA and changed their name to Nuggets in 1974, in anticipation of joining the NBA, since Houston already was the Rockets.
Here are the 10 best players from Denver’s ABA history, and it includes some all-time greats – and some guys I remember from basketball cards:
1. David Thompson: Played only one ABA season, before the Nuggets joined the NBA. But what a season. Michael Jordan before there was a Michael Jordan. The 6-foot-4 wing out of North Carolina State averaged 26.0 points and 6.3 rebounds as a rookie. Substance abuse eventually curtailed his NBA career, else Thompson would be an all-time great.
2. Dan Issel: Perhaps the ABA’s greatest player, Issel was a long-time Kentucky Colonel who jumped to the Nuggets for the final ABA season and became a Denver icon as a player, coach and executive. In his lone ABA season playing in Denver, Issel averaged 23.0 points and 11.0 rebounds a game.
3. Spencer Haywood: As a 1969-70 rookie, Haywood led the ABA in scoring (30.0) and rebounding (19.5). He then jumped to the Seattle SuperSonics, challenging in court the NBA’s rule prohibiting players with college eligibility remaining. Haywood went to the Supreme Court and the NBA eventually settled. A pioneer.
4. Byron Beck: An all-time Denver ABA player. The 6-foot-10 center out of Denver University joined the maiden Rockets team in 1967 and stayed with the franchise through its first NBA season. In nine ABA seasons, Beck averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds. The Nuggets have retired his number.
5. Ralph Simpson: Sounds like a play on words from future NBA star Ralph Sampson, but no. Simpson, out of Michigan State, played six years for Denver, 1970-76, and averaged 20.4 points a game as a 6-foot-5 wing.
6. Bobby Jones: The 6-foot-9 defensive whiz out of North Carolina became a Philadelphia 76er cornerstone. But Jones’ first two seasons were in the ABA, with Denver, where he averaged 14.9 points and 8.9 rebounds.
7. Larry Jones: A 6-foot-2 point guard out of Toledo averaged 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game over three Rockets seasons, 1967-70.
8. Mack Calvin: An ABA legend, the 6-foot point guard spent one year in Denver, averaging 19.5 points and 7.7 assists in 1974-75.
9. Dave Robisch: A center on Kansas’ 1971 Final Four team, Robisch spent his first four pro seasons with the Denver Rockets, averaging 14.8 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.
10. Wayne Hightower: Another Kansas center, Hightower averaged 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds for Denver in 1967-69.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.