CU’s Conference Affiliation in 2024 Will Be …

If you find an article with the author claiming to have the answers as to how conference realignment will shake out between now and 2024 … stop reading.

They don’t.

There are just too many moving parts at this point for anyone to say how the shifting makeup of conference affiliations will change over the next few months/years.

The only thing certain for any schools not presently in the SEC or Big Ten is that there is uncertainty. The remaining three Power Five conferences – the Pac-12, Big 12, and ACC – will be jockeying for position in the coming days, if not their outright continued existence.

How we got here … 

Remember “The Alliance”? Those halcyon days when the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 all agreed to work together to stave off the big bad SEC, which had just poached Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12? How the three remaining superpowers – notably excluding from the conversation the wounded Big 12 – were going to communicate and coordinate, even talking about cross-country non-conference scheduling in order to provide attractive content to the networks?

That was so June, 2022.

On June 30th, on the last day of the fiscal 2021-22 year, USC and UCLA dropped the bombshell that they were moving on to the Big Ten, starting in 2024. The date of the announcement was significant. If the Trojans and Bruins had waited another day, they would have been locked into the conference they had been in for well over a century for another fiscal year … a year in which a new Pac-12 television contract was to be negotiated.

A better kept secret than Operation Overlord, the news hit the college football world like a load of bricks. Instantly, there were multiple stories about which domino would fall next, and which conferences had the most to gain or lose from the next round of musical chairs.

One thing is certain: We’re not done yet.

Last week, CBS Sports quoted a high-ranking sports TV industry source on the potential for conference realignment: “Everybody is talking to everybody.” That was before news of USC and UCLA broke the internet.

While no one knows for sure what will happen in the coming days, some scenarios for Colorado and its Pac-12 brethren are starting to take shape.

Will Notre Dame join a conference? …

A question which has been asked for decades.

The Fighting Irish have maintained their independence over the last three decades of conference reshuffling. Tied in part to the ACC, Notre Dame may finally be willing to join a conference. If it does, it will have an impact on what those conferences do next.

Notre Dame in the Big Ten makes sense, both geographically and historically. The Fighting Irish have long-standing rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, not to mention the newest Big Ten member, USC. Or … Notre Dame could stick with its existing ties to the ACC, and try to make that conference a power to be dealt with. Or … Notre Dame could join the SEC, and pretty much guarantee the path to two major super-conferences will be a short one.

Or … Notre Dame could stay independent, sit back with its NBC contract, and watch the fun from a distance.

Big Ten “standing pat … for now” … 

While Oregon and Washington may have had their collective feelings hurt by the lack of inclusion in the USC/UCLA defection, they would happily put their feelings in a drawer for an invitation now.

But … it may not be coming, at least not for awhile.

As noted, the Big Ten has indicated that there are no new moves in the works, at least at the moment. This leaves the Ducks and the Huskies out in the cold with the rest of the Pac-12 remnants.

If Oregon and Washington don’t get an invite, and “Pac-10” commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to try and negotiate a new deal for his conference without a school in Los Angeles, it would be a tough sell to the networks. With USC and UCLA gone, the “Conference of Champions” is left with only two schools with a claim to a national championship (Washington and Colorado), and only two teams in the Top 30 on the all-time wins list (again, Washington, at 20th, and CU, at 27th).

Which would lead one to believe that …

The Pac-12 must expand to survive … 

Unfortunately, there are slim pickings for the Pac-12, at least geographically.

But, as we have learned from a conference which extends from New Jersey to Los Angeles, geography doesn’t seem to make much of a difference anymore.

From a west coast standpoint, the two schools mentioned most often are San Diego State and Boise State. Both have a good track record on the field of play, but neither bring much national cache (or academic heft) to the table. The Pac-12 already lags well behind the Big Two conferences in television revenue, and that was with USC and UCLA in the conference. Replacing the Trojans and Bruins with the Aztecs and the Broncos will just help ensure that the Pac-12 remains a secondary league, both in terms of revenue and national perception.

So is a raid of the Big 12 the answer? Probably not.

When the Big 12 was imploding (what was that, just a few months ago?), the Pac-12 took a hard pass on taking on second-tier teams from the Big 12.

Now, less than a year later, trying to lure some of the midwestern teams to play in the Pac-12 may be the tough sell. The ten-team Big 12 took the defections in stride, moving from eight – with the loss Texas and Oklahoma – back up to 12, inviting in BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF.

Perceived now to be the stronger of the two conferences, why would a Texas Tech, Baylor, or TCU want to leave their current conference for the leaking ship which is the present day Pac-12?

But …

What about a merger?

The Pac-12 and Big 12 could fight fire with fire, and form their own super conference with 22 (or, with the addition of Boise State and San Diego State, 24) teams. The conference would have teams from coast (UCF and West Virginia) to coast (San Diego State and Washington), and could perhaps generate enough content for the newly formed conference to have a decent television deal (though still not on par with that of the SEC or Big Ten). The “Big 24” would also likely help bring about the demise of the current ACC, with teams like Clemson, Miami, and Florida State picked off to join one of the Big Two conferences, making them even stronger.

So, what are CU’s options? … 

— Stick with the “Pac-10/12”. That’s what CU has on the table right now, but it is not an attractive option as situated. Even if Washington and Oregon don’t defect, the league has been dealt a mortal blow. There is simply not another team west of the Mississippi with the national clout of a USC, and losing the Trojans – when media rights are coming up for negotiations – makes staying with the “Pac-10” an undesirable option, not only for the Buffs, but for every other team in the conference;

— Join the Big Ten. While ideal, this is much easier said than done. While there are some logical arguments to be made … Denver television market … rivalry with Nebraska … historical record … the simple fact is that CU doesn’t bring the eyeballs to the screens it once did. It is not just a matter of households in the state which matters, it’s whether the program will  bring viewers to their seats during prime time on Saturday night. Right now, that isn’t Colorado. The harsh reality: Washington and Oregon were not immediately considered for the Big Ten because they don’t bring enough to the table, and both the Ducks and Huskies currently have more to offer than do the Buffs. Remember, the Big Ten $100 million/team/year pie is now set to be divided 16 ways. For another team to join, they would have to bring in enough extra revenue not to diminish the existing teams’ slices … and CU just isn’t that team;

— Join the Big 12. Or, more precisely put, re-join the Big 12. One of the founding members of the conference in 1995, CU could leave the Pac-12, along with Utah and the Arizona schools, to form a 16-team league. While CU doesn’t have enough cache for the Big Ten, there are some selling points for the Buffs. Again, there is the benefit of the Denver market, whatever that might bring. Plus, CU would – wait for it – have more all-time wins than any other team in the 16-team conference. The Buffs would also have the most recent national championship (TCU won the national championship in 1938; BYU won in 1984); or

— Drop down to the Mountain West. If the Pac-12 disintegrates, this may become the only option. It might be great for local interest in games against CSU, Wyoming and Air Force, it wouldn’t move the needle very much nationally.

What would be best move for Colorado? 

It would have to be the move back to the Big 12. It’s logical, and it would keep Colorado (at least theoretically) in the national championship hunt. Plus, if the Big 12 went with pods, it would be likely the Buffs would be paired with the Kansas schools and either Iowa State or Oklahoma State (with Utah likely to be paired with the Arizona schools and BYU).

The new league could look something like this:

East: West Virginia; UCF; Cincinnati; Iowa State

South: Texas Tech; Houston; TCU; Baylor

North: Colorado; Kansas; Kansas State; Oklahoma State and

West: Utah; BYU; Arizona State; Arizona

(You could swap out Oklahoma State for Iowa State; or, if you wanted to split up the Texas schools, put Houston in the East; Oklahoma State in the South; and Iowa State in the North with CU).

Each team would play a nine-game conference schedule, with three games in its own pod, plus six games against the other pods, going home-and-home against two teams in each pod. That way, every school in the conference would play every other school in the conference at least twice every four years.

For CU, the 2024-27 conference schedules could look like this:

  • 2024: Kansas; at Kansas State; Oklahoma State; at Utah; BYU; at Texas Tech; Houston; at West Virginia; UCF
  • 2025: at Kansas; Kansas State; at Oklahoma State; Utah; at BYU; Texas Tech; at Houston; West Virginia; at UCF
  • 2026: Kansas; at Kansas State; Oklahoma State; at Arizona State; Arizona; at TCU; Baylor; at Cincinnati; Iowa State
  • 2027: at Kansas; Kansas State; at Oklahoma State; Arizona State; at Arizona; TCU; at Baylor; Cincinnati; at Iowa State

Even if the “Big 16” went with two divisions, CU would be looking at a division with Utah and BYU as the best teams, with a number of other teams – including Arizona and Kansas – which are going through the same struggles the Buffs are going through. Not to mention that the “West Division” of the Big 16 would include seven other teams – Utah; BYU; Arizona State; Arizona; Kansas State; Kansas; and Oklahoma State – with which CU already has a storied past.

A jump to the “Big 16” may not happen for Colorado, and it may not be the best of all possible worlds, but it would certainly be better for CU’s long term chances of staying viable than the existing “Pac-10” …


9 Replies to “CU’s Conference Affiliation in 2024 Will Be …”

  1. The Pac-12 was fatally wounded when USC/UCLA announced their departure. It’s that simple. LA is the second-biggest market in the country, and honestly, the only one that mattered. Plus they are/were the best athletic programs in the conference. The only way to mitigate the loss is safety in numbers. Merge the PAC and BIG. Re-commit to football and hope one of the remaining schools turns into an Ohio State or Alabama somewhere down the road. Oregon is closest to a blue-chip brand, every one else is second and third tier, even us. Ugh!

  2. Hi Eric, I believe the legacy Phil wants to leave is in track and field. Namely, distance running. Which fortuitously, plays to Boulders favor as it’s better environment for training (altitude) thus why so many runners claim Boulder as home. Phil, came to CU, not the the other way around with offer to move Nike Campus to Boulder. Yes, it may be to late to go back to Phil, but like a pretty girl that rebuffs your first efforts and then comes back around… no matter how high you think of yourself (and Billionaires are in rarified air of self esteem) it’s pretty hard to not at least kick the tires. I still believe Phil’s heart is Boulder is creating a last legacy in running. It may be too late… but never know unless someone makes the ask

  3. Let’s take a look at the numbers (source: the numbers here assume the new Big 10, the “stand pat” PAC 12/10, new SEC, and new Big 12 circa 2025).
    Big 10 would have 35,839,830 TV households within their footprint of 16 teams which is ~2.239 million TV Households per school/team
    SEC would have 24,088,240 TV Households across their footprint of 16 teams which is ~1.5 million TV Households per school/team
    ACC have 16,230,080 TV Households within their footprint of 14 teams (football only so not including ND)which is 1.159 million per school/team
    A combined PAC10/Big12 would have 28,139,230 TV households within it’s footprint, BUT that is spread out over 22 teams which comes to ~1.28 million TV households per school/team
    So what does that all mean as far as TV deals go? Well, there are 2 main factors that go into the tv deal money, first if the overall size of the footprint of the markets and then you factor in the “draw” appeal of the teams in the league to pull in viewers. Big 10 and SEC both have high drawing teams, so think of that as a multiplier of sorts. Having a large footprint with a weak draw is not as valuable as having a comparably smaller footprint with a big draw of viewership. Fairly straight forward, except it’s not really. Complicating the equation are things like high draw team playing against low draw large footprint teams and so on and so forth. That is why the likes of Rutgers and UCLA are still valuable to TV deals where Boise State just isn’t. If Boise State wasn’t a college team, they would be moved to a much better TV market. We see that all the time in the pro leagues. Well that of course can’t happen in college sports, so that is why market footprint is king here.

    Now the fun part: If you don’t merge the PAC 10 and Big 12, but start “fresh” and create the most profitable conference possible (not considering any Big 10 or SEC schools or ACC for now, due to their crazy grant of rights term that doesn’t end until 2036).
    You can actually cover pretty much the entire same joint PAC 10/Big12 TV households footprint with only 13 schools/teams:
    Dallas/Ft Wirth – TCU
    San Fran/Oakland/San Jose – Stanford
    Houston – Houston
    Phoenix – Arizona St
    Seattke – Washington
    Tampa/St Pete/Sarasota – UCF
    Denver – CU
    Orlando – UCF
    Sacramento – Stanford
    Portland – Oregon
    Salt Lake City – Utah
    San Antonio – TCU/Houston
    Kansas City – Kansas St
    Cincinnati – Cincinnati
    Oklahoma City – Ok State
    Fresno – Standford
    Tulsa – Ok State
    Tuscon – Arizona
    Spokane – Washington
    Wichitia – Kansas St

    Now, there are obviously more schools within those conferences and they bring varying amounts of viewership value. Does Oregon St, Washington St, Kansas, or Cal bring enough viewership for football to justify being included? Probably not.
    Baylor, Iowa St, Texas Tech, and West Virginia could be argued as bringing draw value above what they add to the tv footprint. So they are worth considering.
    Though I would add in San Diego St and UNLV to be strongly considered based on being able to bring in 2 decent markets as well as chipping into the LA market. Also, of course Kansas would still be worth considering based on the Basketball pedigree, but with all of the teams being considered, I would look at potentially partial distributions or better yet conditional tiered distributions based on performance or commitment to improvement type stuff.

    I would also approach the tv negotiations with a similar tiered performance type of milestones built in. If the teams in the league start outperforming teams in the Big 10 or SEC then the payouts should reflect that. Football is cyclical, right now the Big 10 and SEC conferences are stronger, but if you want the highest performing draws, then added incentives should be in place. Otherwise, why would schools continue to invest in their teams once in the conferences with known contracts in place? Personally, I would add distributions to the main campuses for the schools as part of the terms of the contracts as well. If the education/research parts of the universities actually saw money coming in from the football teams (versus just larger and larger budgets for the athletics department as they get more successful) then you’d greatly reduce the pushback you get from administrators when football related issues arise.

  4. The University and the city of Boulder could still go back to Phil Knight and give Nike the terms they originally wanted to move Nike’s campus to Boulder. Look it up CU could have had Nike building and investing in the athletic department but the powers that be at the time wanted to be first and foremost perceived as an academic institution. As if having Nike investing in our school somehow took away the research and academic components of the University. The Buffs would have stayed relevant in college football, likely would have played for another National Championship and would have been a team courted by the Big 10. That’s said, Colorado is still the 18th ranked DMV (television market) and as one can see the State is growing. Go back to Phil Knight an offer him the terms he was looking for Nike to move to Boulder. CEO/owners of companies have their companies located where they want to live. There are countless business articles that show as much. Phil wants to live in Boulder and values the market for other Olympic sports as so many athletes live and train in Colorado. It’s been over 25 years since CU turned its nose up at Nike, and yet it’s still not to late as Phil is alive and well and still wants to live in Colorado. For the love of God this isn’t hard. The Big 10 will be adding additional schools, with or without Nike, The Buffs at #18 DMV is a likely addition in the long run, but can we not sweeten the pot and more importantly give our athletics programs a leg up in competition.

    1. Mornin’. I appreciate your passion on this subject, but a Nike base in or near Boulder doesn’t seem likely at this point. Phil’s like 84. He’s been able to live wherever he wants for about half that time, regardless of where his company’s based. He could also build a campus for his company anywhere he wants. And in either case, it seems unlikely that he’s beholden to living near any Nike campus at this point b/c I doubt he’s walking around there daily anyway.

      Canzano’s got a pretty good pulse on all things Pac 12, and particularly within Oregon and Nike. He penned this recently:

      in which he posits that Phil’s more focused on his legacy now, than anything else. Ie: donating a lot of cash various causes, including to his alma maters (UO and Stanford), trying to buy the Portland Trailblazers, and, maybe/hopefully, looking to keep the Pac 12 afloat? The latter seems a lot more likely than any interest he may have in building out a Nike satellite in/near Boulder. And honestly, keeping the Pac 12 afloat is probably not that big of a priority for him, but who knows?

      Now, if you want to hope that the founder of Maroon Bells becomes the next Yvonne Chouinard/Patagonia or Phil Knight/Nike? That’d be good. That dude’s all about supporting his alma mater. And they’re already based right in that ‘hood.

      Go Buffs

  5. I agree with a lot of pundits staying pat is the wrong move, the pac10 is going to implode as Oregon and Washington move on.

    I think the only path forward is to jump on the big12 ship as fast as possible if they will have us. I think the Arizona, Utah, Colorado market is good enough to be a neutral add to the big 12 from a dollar standpoint and likeLy can be done.

    One interesting note, I wonder how well the b1g is going to do with cross country games. USC playing the B1G early game at 12 ET means those athletes are playing at 9 am PT. Which means they are waking up at somewhere around 5 am by their clock. I bet there will be some dropped balls by sleepy recievers. The same goes for the B1G after dark. eSPN drove this and they are going to want that late night game to make their money worth it so I want so see how good Ohio State plays at 8 pm CT in California….. Ots well talked about in the pros about playing the early game on the east coast is tough. The broncos r3cord is horrendous. I can see USC dropping games to Rutgers….. and watching UCLA feed on a Michigan state in a late game…..frankly I bet the quality of play is going to go down.

    Eventually, I think the B1G will react and create a west and east conference. We need to win some games before that happens…..

  6. A new Coastal Conference with two divisions (East and West) including the newly configured PAC and the ACC?

    1. Maybe pac big acc merge? Big 12 provides the “middle ground” for travel?

      Ultimately, I still think the super conferences get to 64+ teams, maybe even all 130, but I could be smoking crackrock.

      On the other hand, if the college football players association (and it is more when, than if) gets critical mass and says “ we ain’t playin Saturday unless” that’s when shit gets real. Healthcare, salaries, education paid after pro career, if they want a degree, etc.

      $20 billion and growing is a big pie to keep hidden. Let alone the other $20billion or so from basketball.

      Go Buffs

  7. As much as I hate it, I think the pa12-10-8-0 is toast. It’s funny too because last week I was musing to myself that despite my trepidation about kliavkof, when he was hired, he seemed to be saying and doing the right things. Ooops!

    And, although the pac 12 appears to be toast, so did the big 12, as Stu said, a few months ago.

    But, from the len$ Of the $tudent athete$, I think the pac 12 and big 12 need to merge. Or, it is a slow disintegration of them both into the amoeba of big fox and secspn.

    Go Buffs

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