For the third year in a row, both the BYU and Utah football teams are bowling this holiday season - the Cougars are gearing up for the Copper Bowl while Utah is making final preparations for next week's Freedom Bowl.

But within a few years it's possible the Cougars could spend the Christmas season practicing for a New Year's Day appearance in the Orange Bowl while the Utes might be preparing for the Rose Bowl.Ludicrous?


But Colorado, which is set to become a member of the new Big 12 (the present Big 8 plus four Texas schools) in 1996, has been officially invited to join the Pacific-10 Conference. Should the Buffaloes accept the Pac-10's invitation it could start a domino effect in conference alignment in the western United States, and that might lead to new conferences for BYU, Utah and Utah State.

"If the Big 12 were to lose Colorado, I would expect they would search for a new team rather than staying at 11," BYU athletic director Clayne Jensen said.

And, by most accounts, BYU - with its strong fan support, big football stadium, nationally competitive teams and good-sized television market - would be the Big 12's first choice to take the place of Colorado. The new league hasn't chosen a commissioner yet, but the leader of the Big 8 acknowledges the Cougars have plenty to offer.

"BYU has a lot going for it and has always been mentioned in speculation as far as conference expansion," Big 8 commissioner Carl James told the Deseret News. "I know everybody thinks the world of BYU, but as the commissioner of the Big 8, I can't speak for the Big 12, and at this point everything is pure speculation."

Would BYU be interested should the Big 12 come calling?

"We would definitely be interested, but we would have to check out the benefits and drawbacks carefully before we would accept," Jensen said. "The primary advantage would be in the sport of football. The WAC is comparable (to the Big 12) in most other sports, but it would be a definite step up for our football program."

Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen told the Deseret News his league issued a standing invitation for Texas to join the Pac-10 several months ago but admits it would be hard politically for the Longhorns to break away from their instate rivals Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech.

If Colorado joined the Pac-10, "We would likely stay with 11 schools, like the Big 10, for the time being, but further expansion is a possibility," Hansen said.

If Colorado joined the Pac-10 and the league later decided to field an even dozen teams, Utah - which unlike BYU is a major research institution - would be a strong candidate for membership. All of the present Pac-10 schools are research institutions, and the league's presidents have indicated that they would prefer to keep it that way.

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"Utah is a fine academic institution and has a very attractive athletic program," Hansen said.

"We're obviously happy where we are (in the WAC)," Utah athletic director Chris Hill said. "But you always have to listen to what's out there and do what's best for your school . . . We feel we're the type of school that would fit in nicely with the Pac-10 schools."

If BYU, Utah or both left the WAC it would cause problems for the new 16-team quadrant format for football that is scheduled to begin in 1996. Utah State, which has long wanted to be a member of the WAC, might finally be asked to join to build the league back up to 16 teams.

Of course, if Colorado chooses to stay with the Big 12, it will likely be business as usual in the WAC for BYU and Utah and the Big West for Utah State.

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