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Former CU coaches react to college conference realignment

After UCLA and USC agreed to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 10, former Colorado coaches Rick Neuheisel and Ceal Barry discussed the future for the conference.

BOULDER, Colo. — The college sports world came to a screeching halt last Thursday when UCLA and USC both decided to leave the Pac-12 for the greener media pastures of the Big 10. Although the media rights deal for the Big 10 is projected to surpass one billion dollars, some former coaches within the Pac-12 were still shocked at the news.

"Having played and coached, I like to say I've been booed or fired by everybody in the Pac-12, so for it to be on the verge of extinction is sad for me," Rick Neuheisel said. 

Neuheisel was most recently a head coach at UCLA from 2008-2011, but previously coached at Washington from 1999-2002, and was the head coach of Colorado from 1995-1998.

Hall of Fame basketball head coach Ceal Barry, who spent 22 years coaching at CU before becoming an associate athletic director from 2005-2020, was also disappointed. 

"When I heard UCLA and SC were leaving the Pac-12, I was incredulous. As an administrator, I could not believe they would vote and they would take the money and put the student athlete experience in such rearview mirror," she said. "It is going to be really difficult as it relates to travel."

RELATED: USC, UCLA leaving Pac-12, moving to Big Ten in 2024

Credit: 9NEWS

RELATED: What happens to CU Boulder with USC, UCLA moving to Big Ten?

Both Neuheisel and Barry coached the Buffs through the Big Eight, now known as the Big 12. They believe Colorado will be a coveted asset in this college shakeup.

"I would be careful to ink a deal with the Big 12 before I've exhausted everything I can do to get into the Big 10 or the SEC. One of those two conferences is going to sit there and say this is an enviable place for us to go, our fanbases would love to come to Colorado, and as you just mentioned, the Denver television market is a lucrative one," Neuheisel said.

Barry agreed, and pointed out the most obvious attraction.

"The thing that Colorado has in its favor is location, location, location. They're right in the middle as it relates to Big 12, Big 10, or Pac-12," she said. "I think what CU does is wait, see what happens, see what presents itself, and do what everybody else does -- take the best offer."

Many analysts are suggesting Colorado will end up back in the Big 12, after an 11 year hiatus. Barry said that could help with recruiting the Midwest greatly, as she experienced with her women's basketball teams that won four Big 8 tournaments in her tenure.

"The footprint of the Big 12 was right Colorado as it related to recruiting. For example, one of the best players to ever play for Colorado on the women's basketball team was from Iowa, Shelley Sheetz, or Tera Bjorklund from Minnesota," she said. "Those players will come to Colorado if you play in the Midwest."

And speaking of recruiting bait -- this is where the fans in Fort Collins should perk up. Colorado State has a real chance of moving up into a Power Five position.

"Remember, it wasn't so long ago that they were kind of auditioning for the Big 12, so maybe they could be part of this Big 12, especially if schools like Colorado, Oregon, Washington are waiting to see if they can get into the Big 10," Neuheisel said. "That may create an opportunity because as you mentioned, the facility expansion in Fort Collins was off the charts, so for me it makes sense again to get in to the Denver market and to get a school that is capable of recruiting."

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Ralphie VI

Five years from now, the college sports landscape could look drastically different -- for better or worse -- but Neuheisel is optimistic, as long as a governing body steps in.

"My crystal ball tells me we've got a great sport and we've got something that television executives want because it has to be consumed in real time," he said. "The question is, will greed run the day? Will they just want to be the big guys and weed out the smaller fellas? There's no one in college football right now that has the job description that says, 'I need to take care of everybody.'"

To save the rest of college athletics, Barry says football needs to find its own identity.

"I think what makes sense is for college football to have their own governing body, their own governing association, their own CEO, and the rest of the sports, whether it be women's volleyball or men's golf, they compete in conferences as we know it," she said. "Most people I talk to say, football, break off, go your own way, do what you need to do to get the television dollars, but don't bring the rest of the student athletes with you."

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