BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado is leaving the Pac-12, and the Big 12 is ready to welcome the Buffaloes back to the conference they left a dozen years ago.
Colorado’s board of regents voted 9-0 in a special remote meeting Thursday to approve the conference switch in 2024.
“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,” school President Todd Saliman said.
“After careful thought and consideration, it was determined that a switch in conference would give CU Boulder the stability, resources, and exposure necessary for long-term future success in a college athletics environment that is constantly evolving,” CU Chancellor Philip DiStefano said in a joint statement with Athletic Director Rick George.
“The Big 12’s national reach across three time zones as well as our shared creative vision for the future we feel makes it an excellent fit for CU Boulder, our students, faculty, and alumni,” DiStefano said, adding, “These decisions are never easy and we’ve valued our 12 years as proud members of the Pac-12 Conference. We look forward to achieving new goals while embarking on this exciting next era as members of the Big 12 Conference.”
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 in 1996.
The Buffs actually joined the Big Six conference in 1947 and remained with the expanded league for 63 years as it eventually grew into the Big 12.
Colorado will join the Big 12 in 2024 and 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.
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. ESPN first reported the vote.
Colorado still needs to go through a formal process on its campus in Boulder and officially accept membership.
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 Los Angeles schools are in their last go-round as Pac-12 members this year. With contractual agreements running out, the Buffaloes are positioned to rejoin the Big 12; the league 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.
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff had said at football media days last week that the 10 remaining conference members were committed to staying together. Text messages to Kliavkoff and Colorado athletic director Rick George were not returned.
Colorado was an original member of the Big 12 in 1996, and joined the Pac-12 in 2011. 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.
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.
Big 12 leadership has also discussed the possibility of trying to add UConn, which won the men’s NCAA basketball tournament earlier this year, and Gonzaga, a basketball powerhouse that does not have a football team, the person said. The Big 12 has been the strongest men’s basketball conference in the country over the last few seasons, and Yormark has said he believes the sport could be a source of untapped value in future media rights deals.
Although the Big 12 landscape is different than it was when Colorado was last a member, 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.
“This great news for the Big 12 Conference would not have been possible without Commissioner Yormark’s vision as well as the hard work by former Commissioner (Bob) Bowlsby in bringing BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston on board as members in 2023-24. The Big 12 brand has never been stronger, and I believe great days are ahead for our conference.”