Conference realignment has become a reoccurring news story in the dynamic world of collegiate sports. The University of Colorado is in the limelight this year because of its unexpected decision to join the Big 12 Conference. What does this change signify for Colorado and collegiate athletics generally, and how did we get here?
A Swift Decision
While the choice to return to the Big 12 after leaving the Pac-12 caught many by surprise, it wasn’t completely unexpected. The offseason rumors regarding Colorado’s interest in joining the Big 12 were not well concealed. The rumors had been circulating for months, and the warning signals were plain to see.
It wasn’t so much the choice to go as the timing of it that caught the Pac-12 off guard. The Pac-12’s presidents and chancellors had unanimously agreed on a timeframe for their new media rights contract, including setting a deadline for their member institutions’ decisions, only days before the move was disclosed. It appeared as though Colorado would remain where it was until the bids were submitted. The Pac-12’s leadership felt misled and upset by Colorado’s sudden exit.
The Big 12’s Transformation
In recent years, the Big 12 has also seen significant change. Two original members, Oklahoma and Texas, left for the Southeastern Conference in 2021. The Big 12 took precautionary measures to safeguard its continued existence in the face of uncertainty and threats. It effectively countered the perception that the league was crumbling apart by adding Houston, UCF, Cincinnati, and BYU to its roster.
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark, who took office in 2022, quickly set the conference up for expansion. He took a bold tack by signing a $2.2 billion broadcast agreement with ESPN and Fox over the course of six years to provide financial security and leverage a powerful negotiating position. In contrast to the Big 12, the Pac-12 moved more slowly during media rights talks.
The Colorado Connection
There are several reasons why Colorado should rejoin the Big 12. Since the university was a member of the conference from 1996 to 2010, it has a background in the organization. Before then, it spent 47 years as one of the Big Eight. The choice to rejoin the Big 12 was influenced by the league’s familiarity and common history.
In addition, the decision was given a boost by the hiring of Deion Sanders as head coach of Colorado’s football team. Sanders’s participation has revived a flagging fan base for the show. Sanders sees the Big 12 as a good fit for his squad because of the recruiting and playing possibilities it provides.
What’s Next for Colorado and the Big 12?
There will be no need for Colorado to pay an exit fee when they leave the Pac-12 in 2023-24, which is also the year that the conference’s current broadcast arrangement comes to an end. In exchange for a prorated share of the league’s broadcast money, estimated at $31.7 million year beginning in 2025, the institution will join the Big 12 in 2025.
Colorado’s top officials acknowledged that cost considerations were important, but stressed that a variety of other factors came into play. They reasoned that the upsides of the change exceeded the drawbacks, and that it would set the school up for future athletic success at the collegiate level.
The issue that remains as Colorado begins its path back to the Big 12 is how this relocation will affect the landscape of collegiate athletics. As Colorado renews its connections with the Big 12, the repercussions of this decision will be felt throughout the collegiate athletics scene as the league realignment chessboard continues to shuffle.