‘Fox and ESPN is who we want to be aligned with’

“Stability” and “the student-athlete experience” were the buzz words of the day for Colorado athletic director Rick George and chancellor Phil DiStefano hours after the decision was finalized for CU to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 in 2024.

George and DiStefano did their best not to denigrate the conference they are leaving behind, but they were also loud and clear that being part of what lies ahead in the Big 12 is a much preferable option than the lingering uncertainty surrounding the future of the Pac-12.

Here’s what is certain: The Big 12 has a media rights deal and the Pac-12 does not, and the Pac-12’s lack of progress in that area was just too much to withstand.

“Fox and ESPN is who we want to be aligned with,” George said Thursday at a news conference in Boulder.

The Big 12 re-upped with ESPN and Fox through 2031 — a major boon for its financial future — while the Pac-12 has floundered in its own media rights negotiations for over a year. The Pac-12’s current deal expires next July, but commissioner George Kliavkoff was adamant last Friday that the long wait would pay off.

Kliavkoff maintained that the longer the Pac-12 waited to strike a deal, the better its options would get. He also said the remaining 10 Pac-12 members (UCLA and USC are already leaving for the Big Ten after this season) were “committed to each other” and possible defections to the Big 12 were “not a concern.”

“We’ll get our media rights deal done, we’ll announce the deal. I think the realignment that’s going on in college athletics will come to an end for this cycle,” Kliavkoff said at Pac-12 media day in Las Vegas.

Six days later, Colorado has announced its exit.

George maintained that the decision was not an indictment on the Pac-12 or the job Kliavkoff is doing.

“George Kliavkoff is doing as good a job as he can do. He works his ass off and he works tirelessly for the members of the Pac-12. I wish them nothing but great success in the future and I’m certain they will have great success in the future,” George said. “This decision wasn’t about that. It was about the Big 12 Conference and what’s best for CU. That’s what we made our decision based on.”

But where was the disconnect between Colorado’s actions and Kliavkoff’s comments from less than a week ago?

“It really came down, for us, to what’s best for our student-athletes. Regardless of how that’s couched, do I think I caught my peers off-guard? I don’t believe so, but that’s a question you have to ask them,” George said.

George was asked if Pac-12 members were ever presented with a proposed media rights deal. He did not directly answer.

“Any time you negotiate a media rights deal, it’s extremely tough to do,” George said. “It really came down to, as we looked at this and looked at the stability we could get in the Big 12 and the time slots and the partners they have in the media area — that was a significant factor for us as we made this decision.”

George and DiStefano both pointed to the Big 12 spanning three time zones as a positive for the reach and exposure of the university. Additionally, the fact that the Big 12 plays games in earlier time slots compared to the usual late-night Pac-12 action on the west coast was another benefit.

“We’ve done our analysis and they will be traveling less in the Big 12 and playing in more favorable time slots where we believe they can get greater national exposure and return to Boulder after away games at earlier times,” George said. “A 7 p.m. Eastern time zone vs. a 7 p.m. Pacific time zone game is drastically different in travel times.”

A player holds a Colorado Buffaloes helmet before the college football game between Colorado and the Arizona State Sun Devils. (Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Departures of UCLA, USC played a role in Colorado’s decision

Colorado was a member of the Big 12 from 1996 to 2010 (and the Big Eight before that) before it left for the Pac-12. At that time, there was instability in the Big 12 and having a greater presence in California was appealing to the Colorado administration.

Now, with USC and UCLA departing for the Big Ten in 2024, there would have been far fewer “opportunities for alumni engagement” in Southern California, DiStefano said. He admitted the departures of USC and UCLA played a role in CU’s decision to leave the Pac-12.

“At the time when we made the decision to move to the Pac-12, we looked at our alumni base in Southern California. We were playing UCLA and USC. There were many opportunities for alumni engagement. Well now UCLA and USC have left,” DiStefano said. “California is a major state that we recruit students. We’re going to continue to be in California but with UCLA and USC leaving to go to the Big Ten, that would definitely have an impact on alumni relations, especially on gameday.”

Colorado AD: Move to Big 12 benefits Deion Sanders’ recruiting

The Big 12 looks much different now than it did when Colorado left the conference in 2011. Out are Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M, and Oklahoma and Texas will depart for the SEC at the same time Colorado joins the Big 12. After Oklahoma and Texas decided to leave, the Big 12 pivoted and added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.

George was bullish on the chance for Colorado to be more visible in Texas and Florida — two areas new football coach Deion Sanders is very familiar with. Sanders, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, is a Florida native who settled down in the Dallas area after his long playing career.

George believes those are areas where Sanders can have plenty of recruiting success.

“There’s tremendous benefits for being in the Big 12 for the direction that Coach Prime is going as it relates to recruiting,” George said. “Being able to play in Orlando against UCF where he’s recruited very heavily. The state of Texas has always been a priority for us and now playing four teams in that area and Oklahoma State just to the north. Houston’s always been a favorable market for us in recruiting. I try to include all of our coaches in this and Coach Prime and I certainly had conversations about this.”

George thinks the move will have an impact on Colorado as a whole, not just the football program.

“It’s our responsibility to put CU in a position of strength for the future,” he said. “I feel strongly that today’s decision positions the University of Colorado for years to come.”