Big 12: The benefits of bringing Colorado home

Big 12: The benefits of bringing Colorado home
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Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; General view of Folsom Field during the first half of a spring game. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday, the University of Colorado Board of Regents voted to rejoin the Big 12, a move that was instantly approved by Big 12 officials bringing one of the original members of the league back home.  Of course, despite the fact that this move was rumored for months, this shakeup has dominated the world of college sports.

“The landscape of collegiate sports is ever-evolving, and the University of Colorado Boulder has determined the Big 12 is the best future fit for our athletic teams,” CU President Todd Saliman said on Thursday. 

Colorado has been in a big-time conference since 1948 when they were part of the Big 7, which would become the Big 8 in 1957.  That’s where they remained until that league merged with the Big 12 in 1996.

However, in 2010 with the Big 12 appearing to be on shaky ground due in large part to the uneven revenue distribution paid out to Texas and Oklahoma and the creation of the Longhorn Network, Colorado was one of four schools along with Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Missouri to seek greener pastures.

What a difference 13 years can make.  At the time that the Buffalos joined the PAC-12, it appeared that the nation’s westernmost league was poised to be a huge power broker in the NCAA for decades to come.

In fact, many teams in the Big 12, including Texas Tech, were actively trying to land a spot in the PAC-12 as fears of the Big 12’s ultimate demise caused the remaining Big 12 members to take an every-school-for-itself approach.  That year was 2011 when then PAC-12 commissioner Larry Scott went so far as to tour several Big 12 schools as part of the vetting process, a journey that even brought him to Lubbock.

“We could have expanded, but the deal didn’t make any sense at the end of the day for us, especially given the position that we are in,” Scott said 12 years ago. “There is a very high bar. It’s hard to imagine very many scenarios for our conference to expand because the bar is so high.”

Ultimately, pressure from the more academically-focused PAC-12 schools and a large dose of general arrogance on the part of everyone associated with that conference led Scott to stand still and add extend no invitations.  Little did we know at the time but that decision would start the chain of events that now has the Big 12 on as solid of footing as it’s enjoyed since conference realignment became an almost yearly storyline while also seeing the once mighty PAC-12 in danger of a total collapse.

Now, the tables have flipped and it appears that other PAC-12 schools are clambering for an invite to the Big 12 party given the PAC-12’s inability to secure a new media rights deal that is anywhere in the ballpark of the one that will pay Colorado and other Big 12 members around $31.7 million in the 2024-25 academic year.

Brett McMurphy of the Action Network reports that the Big 12 wants to continue to poach teams from the PAC-12 in order to have an even number of teams.  McMurphy points to Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as the most likely candidates to take part in the exodus from the PAC-12 but he also doesn’t rule out the possibility of the conference’s two remaining big fish, Oregon and Washington, also seeking safe harbor in the Big 12 instead of the Big 10 which was originally thought to covet those programs but which has taken a far more cautious approach to expansion than the forward-thinking and suddenly aggressive Big 12.

Many expect the Big 12 to add at least one more school in the upcoming days or weeks as Colorado’s move has begun a chain reaction that will almost certainly set the college football world on fire, perhaps with an intensity not seen since the Buffs and their fellow defectors bolted the Big 12 over a decade ago.

Certainly, Thursday was a monumental day in the history of the Big 12.  So let’s take a look at the specific benefits of welcoming this prodigal son back into the family.

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Just a year ago it was believed by many across the nation that the Big 12 was a league destined to fall into obscurity in the wake of Texas and OU’s planned departures for the S.E.C.  Even the additions of the four new schools could not convince the rest of the country that this is a conference with staying power.

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However, by adding a high-profile university from another Power-5 league, the Big 12 has fired a major shot in the realignment revolution and it was critical that Yormark and Co. played the role of the aggressor.  This is the first time that the Big 12 has poached a university from a major conference rather than adding ones from lower-profile leagues.

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The new Big 12 boss is the closest thing the NCAA has seen to a high seas pirate.  Going across the nation and collecting programs while trying to build a coast-to-coast conference, Yormark has transformed the perception of the league.

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Now, by pulling CU out of the PAC-12 like a miner pulling a golden nugget out of a Rocky Mountain stream, he’s put the rest of the country on notice that the Big 12 isn’t going away.  Gone are the defensive and fearful days of the Bowlsby leadership era.

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Instead, the Big 12 is now viewed as a progressive, active, and relevant force in the NCAA landscape.  That’s a welcome change after a decade of having buzzards circling overhead.  Now, those buzzards seem to be headed west to pick at a different carcass.

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