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Colorado leaving Pac-12, returning to Big 12 in 2024

Buffaloes become 3rd Pac-12 team to bolt, joining UCLA, USC
Colorado Buffaloes QB J.T. Shrout looks for open receiver at Washington Huskies, Nov. 19, 2022
Posted at 10:05 PM, Jul 27, 2023

BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado is leaving the Pac-12 to return to the conference the Buffaloes jilted a dozen years ago, and the Big 12 celebrated the reunion with a two-word statement released through Commissioner Brett Yomark: "They're back."

"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 after the board of regents voted 9-0 in a special remote meeting Thursday to approve the conference switch in 2024.

Colorado is expected to take in $31.7 million in annual television revenue over the course of the Big 12's new deal, but Chancellor Philip DiStefano and Athletic Director Rick George insisted that money wasn't the only factor in CU becoming the first Power Five school to return to the conference it had left.

"A decision this big has to do with a lot more than just money," George said, emphasizing that the Buffaloes will get greater exposure playing in earlier time slots and by returning from road games at a more reasonable hour.

"CU Boulder is a national university, and by spanning three time zones, the Big 12 is very much a national conference," added DiStefano. "The national exposure that joining the Big 12 provides will shine a spotlight not only on our incredible student-athletes, but also on our groundbreaking research that really changes the world."

While some of the regents expressed disappointment about leaving the Pac-12, they said the shifting sports landscape left CU no option but to rejoin the conference where they were a founding member before heading West in 2011.

Colorado becomes the third school to leave the Pac-12 in the last year, joining UCLA and USC, which are joining the Big Ten next year.

Ohio State Buckeyes QB CJ Stroud runs from Michigan Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Nov. 27, 2021

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One lure for the Buffaloes bolting the Big 12 in the first place was the school's large West Coast alumni base, a factor mitigated by the impending departures of the Trojans and Bruins.

"The Pac-12 is a great conference with vital institutions and it was a privilege to be a member for the last 12 years," DiStefano said. "While it's difficult to leave, we're excited about what the future holds for CU Boulder as we start our next era in the Big 12."

Big 12 presidents and chancellors voted unanimously Wednesday night to accept Colorado as a new member, clearing the way for the school to leave the Pac-12 and rejoin its former league, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Big 12 was not making its expansion plans public.

Pac-12 presidents and chancellors, athletic directors and Commissioner George Kliavkoff were scheduled to convene Thursday to discuss the next moves for the conference, two people with knowledge of the meeting told AP on condition of anonymity because the conference is not making its internal moves public.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark has spoken for months about his desire to expand the conference and add schools in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. A second person familiar with the Big 12's expansion aspirations, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP the school and league have been in contact for more than a month about a potential departure from the Pac-12.

Colorado's departure could lead to more defections from the Pac-12, which has seemed vulnerable to more poaching after losing USC and UCLA to the Big Ten and with negotiations for a new media rights contract dragging on. Current deals with ESPN and Fox expire after this school year.

The Big 12 last year came to an agreement with ESPN and Fox on a six-year extension worth more than $2 billion that runs through 2030-31.

Kliavkoff had said at Pac-12 football media days last week that the 10 remaining conference members were committed to staying together.

The Buffaloes' football team has had only one winning record over a full season since joining the Pac-12, and went 1-11 last year, leading to the hiring of former NFL star Deion Sanders.

Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders during 2023 spring game
Colorado head coach Deion Sanders in the first half of the team's spring game Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Boulder, Colo.

"I will tell you, there's tremendous benefits for being in the Big 12 for the direction that Coach Prime is going as it relates to recruiting, being able to play in Orlando, against UCF, where he's recruited very heavily," George said. "The state of Texas has always been a priority for us and now (we're) playing four teams in that area. And then just up north, Oklahoma State."

Chris Yuhl, a Los Angeles attorney and 1983 CU graduate who attends home and road football games, said he disagrees with the move from a fan standpoint but understands why it happened.

"It's like Rick George and Phil DiStefano are at a craps table and have a hot hand, getting Deion and doing what they did here," Yuhl said. "We went from nobody wanting CU last October to being the first girl everyone wants to dance with in the Big 12 right now."

The Big 12 has 14 members this year, but Texas and Oklahoma are leaving for the Southeastern Conference next year. The second person familiar with the Big 12's discussions said the conference would ideally like to expand to 16 schools with Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado all coming over from the Pac-12 to create a Western wing of the league.

George said he'll be seeking a seventh home game to replace what were non-conference games at Houston in 2025 and Kansas State in 2028.

Although the Big 12 landscape is different this time around with the additions of BYU, Central Florida, Houston and Cincinnati, the Buffaloes have several rivalries to renew.

"Iowa State is thrilled to welcome the University of Colorado back into the Big 12 Conference," Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said. "The Cyclones and Buffaloes enjoyed a spirited rivalry for more than 60 years in the Big 7, Big 8 and early years of the Big 12, so we are excited to resume competing with them next year."