Courtesy of Brett McMurphy, actionnetwork.com
Colorado is leaving the Pac-12 to return to the Big 12, sources told Action Network.
The Buffaloes will formally apply for Big 12 membership on Thursday, when the Big 12’s Board of Directors will approve the Buffs to begin Big 12 play in 2024, sources said.
An announcement is expected Thursday, pending official approval from the school’s Board of Regents, a source said. CU’s Board of Regents will meet for a second consecutive day on Thursday from 5-6 p.m. ET.
A member of the Pac-12 since 2011, Colorado decided to return to the Big 12, sources said, because of several reasons: the Big 12’s stability under commissioner Brett Yormark; a more lucrative financial outlook in the Big 12; the uncertainty of the Pac-12’s future without USC and UCLA; and the inability of Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff to secure a new Grant of Rights deal in the past 12 months.
In the Big 12, Colorado will receive $31.7 million annually in media rights revenue (not including other league revenue from College Football Playoff, etc.) once the Big 12’s new six-year, $2.3 billion Grant of Rights deal with ESPN and FOX begins in 2025, sources said. That’s the same amount each Big 12 member will receive.
In 2024, Colorado also will receive a full Big 12 revenue share, including media rights and other league revenue, estimated to be about $42 million, a source said.
Colorado’s departure for the Big 12 could start an exodus of more Pac-12 schools to the Big 12, sources said. The most likely candidates are Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.
Arizona president Robert Robbins met with Yormark in Houston during the Final Four, sources said. Officials at Arizona State and Utah also have had informal conversations with Big 12 representatives and officials, sources said.
In early May, Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano and Colorado athletic director Rick George met with Yormark in Chicago, sources said, to discuss the possibility of the Buffs’ return to the Big 12.
Then in the past few weeks, school officials met with Colorado’s largest donors, and the donors supported the Buffs’ move to the Big 12, sources said.
Last Wednesday — two days before the Pac-12’s media day — DiStefano told the Denver Post, “at this point, the 10 (remaining Pac-12) schools are staying together” and CU’s “goal is to stay within the Pac-12 and have a media deal coming up shortly. That’s our goal.”
DiStefano also told the Post he was eager to hear what Kliavkoff had to say about the upcoming media rights.
Two days later at Pac-12’s media day in Las Vegas, Kliavkoff said the Pac-12 wasn’t announcing a deal “on purpose today” but then later backtracked and wouldn’t confirm a deal was finalized. Kliavkoff said he was confident in all his schools’ commitment to staying together.
Despite Kliavkoff’s optimism, Colorado had been considering a move back to the Big 12 for months, sources said.
Two months ago, George hinted to the Boulder Daily Camera a move might be possible.
“In a perfect world, we’d love to be in the Pac-12, but we also have to do what’s right for Colorado at the end of the day,” George told the Boulder Daily Camera.
And that was returning to the Big 12.
In April, DiStefano told USA Today that Colorado was “committed to the Pac-12. What I’ve said along with the other (Pac-12) presidents and chancellors is we’re not going to even think about going anywhere, none of us, until we see what kind of offer we get (from the Pac-12) and that’s still being worked out. And I’m confident it’s going to be fine.”
The Pac-12 schools never received that offer, prompting the May meeting between DiStefano, George and Yormark in Chicago.
Earlier this month at Big 12’s media days, Yormark said the league has an expansion plan.
“We do have a plan, and hopefully we can execute that plan sooner than later,” Yormark said in Dallas. “But as I’ve always said, I love the composition of this conference right now. If the opportunity presents itself, where there’s something that creates value and aligns well with our goals and objectives, starting with the board, then we’re certainly going to pursue it.
“We have an appetite to be a national conference.”
The Buffs will begin play in the Big 12 in 2024 — the same year Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC, USC and UCLA join the Big Ten and the first year of the 12-team College Football Playoff.
Besides losing Colorado and potentially others to the Big 12, the Pac-12’s biggest remaining brand names — Oregon and Washington — held meetings in August with the Big Ten about potential membership, Action Network reported.
The Ducks and Huskies already have been “vetted and approved” by the Big Ten to join the conference, sources said. However, the Big Ten does not want “the Pac-12’s blood on its hands,” by taking Oregon and Washington before any other schools leave the Pac-12, sources said.
With Colorado’s pending departure, the question arises: Would the Big Ten consider adding the Ducks and Huskies?
In the Big 12’s new Grant of Rights, ESPN’s contract guaranteed pro-rata — the same revenue ($20 million per school annually) — if the Big 12 added additional Power 5 schools. FOX was not contractually obligated to match its revenue ($11.7 million per school annually), but the network has agreed to do so if the Big 12 added other Power 5 schools, sources told Action Network.
This guarantees Colorado — and any other Power 5 schools moving to the Big 12 — a full media rights share of nearly $32 million in the Big 12 starting in 2025, sources said.
The $31.7 million media rights revenue from ESPN and FOX does not include additional money received from the College Football Playoff, bowl games and other revenue streams.
Meanwhile, for more than a year since last July, Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 have been seeking a new Grant of Rights deal. In the past several months, multiple Pac-12 presidents indicated they expected a deal to be completed, but one has yet to materialize.
Now, losing Colorado — and potentially other Pac-12 members — could have a drastic impact on the value of any Pac-12 media rights offers, industry sources said.
Ironically, in December, Kliavkoff said the Pac-12’s media rights had not been completed at that point because Colorado was getting ready to hire new coach Deion Sanders.
“We knew some other information was coming, including the announcement of Coach Prime,” Kliavkoff said in December. “Why would we do a media deal before that? … He absolutely adds value to the league.”
Instead, “Coach Prime” and the Buffs are headed to the Big 12 and Colorado’s final season in the Pac-12 begins at Big 12 member TCU. The Sept. 2 game will be nationally televised at noon ET on FOX’s Big Noon Saturday.
This will be Colorado’s second stint in the Big 12. In 2011, Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 after being a league member for 64 years.
DiStefano was Colorado’s chancellor in 2010 when the Buffs announced they were leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12. The Buffs first joined the Big 12 in 1948 when it was the Big Seven. Now, the Buffaloes will be the Big 12’s 13th member in 2024.
Since becoming Big 12 commissioner last summer, Yormark has been candid about the Big 12’s desire to expand West to provide more value for the league and to add a fourth “time zone.”
The Big 12’s interest in Pac-12 schools is no secret — so much that Kliavkoff publicly accused the Big 12 of “trying to destabilize” the Pac-12.
“When you look at the relative media value between the two conferences, I get it,” Kliavkoff said last July. “I get why they’re scared, why they’re trying to destabilize us.”
Kliavkoff also quipped the Pac-12 “hasn’t decided if we’re going shopping there (in the Big 12) yet or not.”
Instead, the Pac-12 got outmaneuvered by the Big 12.
Yormark gambled by pursuing an early Grant of Rights deal with ESPN and FOX — two years before the league’s current deal expires in 2025. By going early, it secured the future of the Big 12 and provided security for a league that was losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. It also consequently capped the Pac-12’s media rights value.
While trying to land a new media rights deal, the Pac-12 has talked to several potential partners, including Apple, Amazon, ESPN, FOX, Turner, NBC, ION and the CW, according to various media reports.
Just last week, Kliavkoff told 247Sports he was confident none of his schools would leave the Pac-12 but would not specify if the Pac-12’s media rights deal would match the Big 12’s deal of $31.7 million per school.
“I’m not going to tell you where our media deals are coming in (financially),” Kliavkoff told 247Sports. “It will be enough for them to all sign their grant of rights.”
That’s the same thing Kliavkoff said last July. But more than a year later, the league remains without a deal.
Recently, multiple Pac-12 presidents indicated they expected a deal to be completed. They even issued a solidarity statement back on Feb. 13, that “the 10 Pac-12 universities look forward to consummating successful media rights deal(s) in the very near future. … We remain highly confident in our future growth and success as a conference and united in our commitment to one another.”
Now, five months later, that commitment is in doubt with Colorado off to the Big 12.