With Nebraska apparently headed to the Big Ten, the Pac-10 is poised to become the Pac-16.
Colorado already has received an invitation to join the conference, while five other invitations will be extended to Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
A Big 12 football coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach on Wednesday night that if Nebraska left the Big 12 the conference would dissolve, according to his athletics director and university president. The coach said Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado would join the Pac-10, leaving Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State behind.
"Nebraska is the key," the coach said.
The coach said the Pac-10 favored Colorado over Baylor because of the Buffaloes' presence in the Denver TV market.
Another Big 12 coach said Wednesday night that an anticipated Nebraska announcement of moving toward the Big Ten Thursday would indeed trigger the death of the Big 12 and a mass migration west.
"If Nebraska leaves," the coach said, "everyone has to look."
The new conference would be split into divisions with Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado forming an Eastern Division with Arizona and Arizona State opposite the former Pac-8 (USC, UCLA, Stanford, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State) in the Western Division.
The coach said it's possible the Pac-16 would push for two automatic bids to the BCS, one for each division champion. That potential bonanza could open the possibility of the two division champs from one league playing for the national title, and it would eliminate the need for a conference championship game.
"The Pac-10 doesn't believe in a championship game," the coach said. "And coaches in the Big 12 don't like it anyway."
Events have unfolded very quickly, the Big 12 coach said.
"Until the last two days, everyone thought the Big 12 was staying intact," he said.
As quickly as the Big 12 has rushed to the brink of collapse, it could take quite some time for it to become formalized. The coach said the league will have to go on for two more years before splitting up.
Asked how awkward that would be, the coach joked, "I don't think I'll go to the conference meetings this year [Big 12 football media day in Dallas next month]."
The only potential hitch is Nebraska and the Big Ten not coming to an agreement. But even in that scenario, which appears unlikely, the Pac-10 will expand to at least 12 teams, said the source familiar with the negotiations. While Colorado is in and Utah is a top alternative candidate, it's also possible that the Pac-10 would make a play for Nebraska or another Big 12 school instead of Utah.
"If Nebraska gets left at the altar by the Big Ten, which would slight them at the 11th hour, then it might be hard for them to stay in the Big 12," the source said.
It would take a week to 10 days to finalize the details of a Pac-16. The blockbuster deal would add the nation's No. 5 (Dallas), No. 10 (Houston) and No. 16 (Denver) TV markets to the conference, which already includes No. 2 Los Angeles, No. 6 San Francisco, No. 12 Phoenix and No. 13 Seattle.
With that large population base, the new conference would start its own network and, along with other broadcast partners, likely would distribute around $20 million per member, comparable broadcast revenue to the Big Ten ($22 million) and SEC ($17 million), the source said.
The Big 12 distributed $7 million to $12 million a year. The Pac-10 distributed $8 million to $10 million.
Ted Miller covers college football for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com's Pat Forde and Mark Schlabach was used in this report.