July 10, 2022


 I was raised in Eugene, where my father, Jerry Frei, coached for 17 years at the University of Oregon.


After my dad joined the Broncos staff and we moved to Denver, I attended Wheat Ridge High School and then earned history and journalism degrees from the University of Colorado. My initials probably still are in a booth at the Dark Horse. At various times after graduation, I served as chair of CU's International Affairs Program Advisory Board and as vice chair of the History Department Advisory Board.    


As a journalist in Portland and Denver, I've covered both the U of O and CU. Both schools make appearances in my books, especially if you spot that in The Witch's Season, the fictional Cascade University is the U of O and the Pac-8's Cascade Fishermen are the Woodstock era's Oregon Ducks.       


So in all this discussion of the Pac-12 Conference's future, I don't have a dog in the hunt.


I have a Duck and a Buffalo.


My vote and my hope is for both to remain in the Pac-Whatever and commit to shoring up and preserving the league.     


It has been 10 days since the stunning announcement that USC and UCLA would be bolting the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, beginning with the 2024 football season. The most underplayed aspect of the move was that especially without other West Coast additions, it potentially sets up the worst intra-league travel schedules in the history of college sports, if the memberships include full conventional conference seasons in both revenue and non-revenue sports.


After the announcement, the major reaction within the Pac-12 ranks was ... PANIC! The league virtually immediately announced it would open negotiations on a new TV rights agreement. That's a reflection on former commissioner Larry Scott's failed leadership, since he passed on a chance to begin those negotiations sooner -- most notably, when the Big 12 was struggling. CU issued a terse statement that it supported the move, but it seemed farcical given it also was obvious the Buffalo administration was checking out its options, including a return to the Big 12, along with potential fellow Pac-12 defectors Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. 


What do you tell the networks about that? That the membership of the league seeking a new rights deal is up in the air? The good news to come out of it was that the fear of being left behind in the scrambling didn't lead to a panic-induced exodus. We're talking about changes  ticketed to go into effect significantly in the future, not tomorrow. What's the rush? Other talks apparently involved a possible ACC-Pac-12 alliance to come into play when negotiating a TV deal with ESPN. (This mess was set in motion when Fox, which owns 60 percent of the Big Ten Network, was the matchmaker between USC/UCLA and the Big Ten.)   


If the Big 12 or Big Ten seeks to add from a crumbling Pac-12, that could end up including Oregon and Washington. (And perhaps not the Arizona schools or Utah.) The Ducks don't  directly deliver a major television market, but the Portland metro area -- similar in population to the Cincinnati and Milwaukee areas -- is 90 minutes away.  


But again, I'm hoping Oregon and Colorado stay put.


It has nothing to do with lingering hard feelings between Colorado and the Big 12 over the Buffs' move to the Pac-12 in 2011. That was 11 years ago and especially the Big 12 has undergone major membership and leadership changes since. (Plus, with Oklahoma and Texas departing for the SEC, four schools -- Central Florida, Houston, Cincinnati and BYU -- are set to join the league.) The Pac-12 was and still is a better academic and cultural fit for CU than the Big Eight / 12. The Pac-12's since-departed leadership was inept. That's a separate issue.                 

More important, the Pac-12 should pay homage to its roots as a largely West Coast conference (PCC, AAWU, Pac-8, Pac-10...) with a few additions. The first priority should be an attempt to hold together under the new commissioner, former MGM executive George Kliavkoff. The Big 12 should be no more than a fallback alternative.


Instead of university and athletic administrations maneuvering under stealth conditions and not being forthcoming with fellow league members -- see USC and UCLA -- the Pac-12 survivors should be up front with each other as the alternatives, if need be, are considered. 


The goal should be for the Pac-12 to come out of this as a 10-team league (as it was before the addition of Utah and CU). Or an 8-team league (as it was before the addition of Arizona and Arizona State). Or get back to 12 by adding from among Colorado State, Air Force, San Diego State and Fresno State. 


Show some guts. Show some honor. Don't make a point of making sure every reference is "student-athlete," then again teach them that disingenuous stealth is the modus operandi of major college sports.       



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