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    A bigger Pac-10 makes no forward progress academically

    When judged by those U.S. News rankings, new conference member Colorado is in the middle of the pack. Utah will scrape along, right above the conference's academic laggard Oregon State.

    It will be a few seasons before qualitative conclusions can be drawn about the expansions of the Pac-10 and Big 10 sports conferences. But it's fairly easy to see how the additions of Nebraska to the Big 10 and Colorado and Utah to the Pac-10 have altered the conferences as far as luring so-called “peer institutions” to each league:

    The Big 10 failed and the Pac-10 earned no better than what was once known (prior to grade inflation) as a gentleman’s C.

    According to the 2010 rankings venerated by U.S. News and World Report magazine (and actually believed by many), new Big 10 member Nebraska is the country’s 96th-rated institution. That puts the Cornhuskers last in the league academically, 26 positions behind a trio of universities (Indiana, Iowa and Michigan State) knotted at 71st.

    In the Pac-10, Colorado (77th nationwide) becomes the league's sixth-rated member. Utah, while rated 126th, is 11th in the league, trailed by Oregon State. The latter receives no numerical ranking but is simply listed amid the “third tier.”

    Otherwise, the Pac-10 boasts four institutions within the top 26: Stanford (4th), Cal-Berkeley (21st), UCLA (24th), and USC (26th). The Big 10 has just two schools (Northwestern, 12th, Michigan, 27th) ranked higher than 39th, where Illinois and Wisconsin are tied.

    But the Big 10 boasts a better average ranking: 54.

    The ratings end at 128, which is where the “third tier” begins. Granting Oregon State, then, a rank of 129th gives the Pac-10 an average of just 74.

    For what it's worth, the remaining 10 institutions in the Big 12 average well below the other two shuffled conferences. Giving each third-tier school (Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech) the 129 score awarded to Oregon State leaves the league with an average U.S. News rating of 96, with only Texas (47th) in the top 50.

    You want bragging rights for college-football-conference academic status? The average U.S. News ranking for the Ivy League is 7.3 but would be much better were the alliance not getting dragged down by those bonehead schools Brown and Cornell, 16th and 15th, respectively.

    Since 1994 Senior Lecturer Mike Henderson, a veteran writer and editor for The Times, Post-Intelligencer, (Everett) Herald, Seattle Weekly and Crosscut, has been a member of the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Communication. He considers himself to be the only journalist ever to interview actor Gene Hackman inside San Quentin prison while wearing a pair of Hackman's pants. He can be reached at mikh48@hotmail.com.

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