It’s about to be the Big XIII, not that they will ever call it that, nor stay at that number. But it’s my blog and I can call it as I see it.
The University of Colorado will leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 after the 2023-24 season, as the school formalized its future membership in the Big 12 on Thursday. The Colorado Board of Regents voted unanimously in favor of the move during a public videoconference, completing the final step in a process that for the past 24 hours has largely been considered a formality.
“The time has come for us to change conferences,” Colorado president Todd Saliman told the Board of Regents on Thursday afternoon. “We see this as a way to create more opportunity for the University of Colorado, for our students and our student-athletes and create a path forward for us in the future.”
Colorado’s departure will coincide with the end of the Pac-12 television deal, which expires after the 2023-24 season, which means Colorado won’t have to pay any exit fee. Colorado is expected to join the Big 12 at a pro rata basis, which is an average of $31.7 million in television revenue over the course of the league’s new deal starting in 2025.
“Let me state up front that this move was not just based on money or finances,” said Colorado athletic director Rick George. “A decision this big has a lot more to do than just money.”
George and Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano, who spoke to reporters on Thursday evening at a press conference on campus, emphasized their desire for stability, but also spoke about the draw of competing in three different time zones, and the national exposure they’ll get from ESPN and FOX as major factors.
Colorado’s decision is the latest blow to the Pac-12, which loses both USC and UCLA to the Big Ten in 2024 and is amid a contracted process of landing a new television deal. Pac-12 leadership is expected to meet with presidents Thursday night to discuss that league’s next steps, sources told ESPN.
Colorado’s swift announcement came less than a week after Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said he wasn’t concerned about the Big 12 trying to poach any teams.
“It’s not a concern,” he said last week at Pac-12 media day in Las Vegas, addressing the topic publicly for the first time this year. “Our schools are committed to each other and the Pac-12. We’ll get our media rights deal done, we’ll announce the deal. I think the realignment that’s going on in college athletics will come to an end for this cycle.”
Colorado’s George was asked on Thursday about the timing of the school’s decision, given Kliavkoff’s recent comments.
“Do I think I caught my peers off guard?” he said. “I don’t believe so, but that’s a question you have to ask them.”
The Buffaloes had emerged as the loudest skeptics of Kliavkoff’s ability to land a reasonable television deal. School officials from Colorado met in person with Big 12 officials at a neutral site in early May, per ESPN sources.
George insisted that Colorado’s decision “wasn’t about” any failures by the Kliavkoff or frustrations with a lack of a media rights deal.
“George Kliavkoff is doing as good a job as he can do, and he works his ass off and works tirelessly for the members of the Pac-12,” George said. ” … but this decision wasn’t about that. It was about this, and that’s the Big 12 conference and what’s best for CU and CU athletics and our student-athletes, and that’s what we made this decision based on.”
The move marks a return for Colorado to the Big 12, where they were members from 1996 to 2010. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Colorado is the first team that has left a conference and returned to the same league on its own volition. (Temple was expelled by the Big East after the 2004 season). Colorado left for the Pac-12 in 2011 and has had no bowl wins and just two winning football seasons since the move. Colorado is coming off a 1-11 season and new coach Deion Sanders will coach just one season in the Pac-12.
Kind of amazing. And there’s more to come, one way or another.
The Big 12 officially added four new members — BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — on July 1 as a means of rebuilding its conference following the scheduled departures of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC on July 1, 2024. The league will consist of 14 teams for the 2023 season before dropping to 13 in 2024 once UT and OU exit and CU enters.
It is believed the Big 12 has been considering further expansion, not only making overtures to other Pac-12 programs but also basketball powerhouses like UConn and Gonzaga, . Yormark confirmed at Big 12 Media Days earlier this month that he would prefer to remain at 14 teams, which would require the addition of two schools after the Longhorns and Sooners depart — the Buffaloes and another program.
Previously, it was believed the Big 12 was interested in not only Colorado but the other so-called “Four Corners” schools from the Pac-12: Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. Whether that interest remains or can be rekindled remains to be seen.
The Big 12 sees the addition of Colorado as separate move from any additional expansion, which would potentially come at a later date, sources tell Dodd.
The move needed to be handled delicately. Because of legal liability, the Big 12 could not be seen as initiating interest with Colorado. Protocol dictates that CU must first apply for membership to join the Big 12 before it can be formally welcomed into the league.
Apparently SMU is hoping to get in on the action as well. Not sure how likely that is, but it’s a reminder that the game of conference dominoes never really ends. Given how there were obituaries for the Big XII being drafted after the UT and OU departures, this is an incredible turnaround for the Big XII. And as noted, the wheel will be spinning at least a little longer. Buckle up.