Living in A World with a “Pac-16” or a “Big 16” – Where Does CU Fit?

The Pac-12 has yet to announce its new media package, and that has fans concerned.

Even though the Pac-12 media deal was set to expire a year earlier than the Big 12 media deal, the Big 12 jumped in front of the Pac-12, reaching an early extension with ESPN and Fox in October, a contract that will make its members more money than they do now with Oklahoma or Texas. That agreement will bring in a reported $31.7 million annually for each Big 12 member, setting a measuring stick for the Pac-12’s deal.

The $31.7 million mark was initially seen as the floor for the Pac-12 deal, but some believe it might now be the ceiling. Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has been met with lukewarm interest in the marketplace. ESPN, Amazon and Apple are the only known suitors (with Fox and CBS definitely out), and any deal will likely put the majority of the league’s events on an over-the-top streaming service. The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch reported there’s interest from Amazon in a weekly Friday night Pac-12 game but that the two sides were “far apart” in February.

That being said, John Canzano reported this week that he had sources within the Pac-12 who were confident that the conference would meet or beat what the Big 12 schools are going to be getting;

One athletic director in Las Vegas this week for the women’s tournament told me he won’t be surprised when the Pac-12 beats the Big 12’s number. Said the AD: “We have better schools, better markets and better ratings.”

Still, the Pac-12’s timing couldn’t be much worse. Just since last summer, networks have committed billions in future rights fees to the Big Ten and Big 12, and Disney’s cost-cutting CEO Bob Iger said in February that “we’re simply going to have to get more selective” in sports bidding.

It’s been reported that Pac-12 schools might consider offers from other conferences, but wouldn’t switch conferences unless it’s for a substantially better deal. School presidents, not ADs, authorize realignment decisions, and the Pac-12’s prioritize academic and cultural fits more than most. Washington State president Kirk Schultz and Oregon State president Jayathi Murthy have both attempted to defuse the various rumors in recent interviews.

“There’s lots of reasons for us to hold together. The different members of the Pac-12 understand it,” Murthy told Canzano. “All this talk about people running off and joining the Big Ten and Big 12 or whatever is just talk.”

That being said, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has eyed westward expansion since the day he was hired as the Big 12’s new commissioner last summer. Yormark has never been shy about his interest in expanding the Big 12 into the “fourth time zone” to establish a truly national conference and boost the value of his league’s media rights.

“I don’t think any of us are trying to dismantle the Pac-12,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told SicEm365 last Tuesday. “If there’s opportunity, and whenever their TV media deal comes to fruition and if those institutions decide that it’s not good for them, then the Big 12 will be ready. And that probably is as simple as I can say it.”

CBS Sports is reporting that all “Four corners” schools – Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State – have recently had contact with the Big 12.

So, trying to read the tea leaves from the tidbits which are being reported … What are CU’s options?

1) Remain in the “Pac-10”

As it stands today, Colorado will become, as of the 2024 season, a part of the ten-member Pac-12. While all of the remaining conference members are uniform in stating that they are committed to one another, and are resolved to carry on without USC and UCLA, few seem to believe that this will remain the status quo indefinitely.

But the lack of an announced media deal can lead one to believe that there are issues which are not being discussed publicly. One of the sticking points left in the negotiations may not just be about how many games are going to be left to the streaming devices, but the grant-of-rights schools are willing to pledge.

The grant-of-rights, or the “if-I-leave-before-the-media-contract-expires-the-conference-gets-to-retain-my-share-of-the-proceeds” clause is what is keeping the ACC from moving forward. Their teams all signed a grant of rights through to 2036, keeping schools like Clemson and Florida State from jumping ship and joining another conference, with a buyout in the hundreds of millions a clear disincentive.

What might be keeping the Pac-12 from getting a media deal done is the requirement that the schools all sign an unbreakable grant of rights. This may be something that Oregon and Washington – who will decamp to the Big Ten the same hour an offer is extended – from signing off on a new media deal.

This also leaves the remaining eight schools in a precarious position. Even if they can get Oregon and Washington to agree to a grant of rights, it’s only going to be a short term solution. The contract being negotiated now will not be a long one – 4-6 years – and the Ducks and Huskies could decide to ride out the new contract, and bail on the conference when it expires.

So, if the “Pac-10” is going to be a band-aid at best, what about …

2) A new and improved Pac-12, Pac-14 or Pac-16

With the departure of USC and UCLA on the horizon, expansion seems to be a reasonable reaction.

The problem for the Pac-12 – okay, one of the problems for the Pac-12 – is geography. There are a number of potential candidates west of the Mississippi to join the conference, but very few which would add significant value in terms of revenue.

San Diego State and SMU are the two schools most often mentioned as potential expansion targets, and there is arguably some value in bringing the San Diego (and southern California) and Dallas markets to the table, but the reality is that the Aztecs and Mustangs are second-class citizens in their own states. No one is going to mistake San Diego State for USC, and no one is thinking SMU is going to bring as many Texas eyeballs to the screens as Texas.

Would expanding even further help?

The “Pac-14” or “Pac-16” could include teams like Boise State, Fresno State, UNLV and Tulane. Canzano’s article, though, states that Boise State and Fresno State are better fits for the Big 12, and that UNLV was not a candidate as it doesn’t meet the academic requirements Pac-12 Presidents would be looking for.

Does that leave the Pac-12 with San Diego State and SMU, or – God forbid – Colorado State?

Canzano: Colorado State would be a curious possible addition. It has a new football stadium and is a research university, but the Pac-12 already captures the Denver television market with Colorado. For that reason, I believe any interest in Colorado State might just be that — exploration.

The biggest problem, of course, is that these schools play in even smaller markets, and bring even less additional value to the conference. The Pac-12 is already potentially facing a smaller-than-expected media revenue pie. If that proves to be the case, the last thing the conference would want to do is to have to divide the pie into even smaller pieces.

Which brings us back to …

3) Rejoining the Big 12

There was considerable twitter traffic this past fall, shortly after the announcement came down that USC and UCLA were defecting to the Big Ten, about the “Four Corners” schools bolting to the Big 12. That was quickly stamped out by statements of unity from the remaining Pac-10 schools, and the issue died down for a few months.

But now, with the Pac-12 apparently having issues coming up with a media deal, rumors of talks with the Big 12 have resumed. CU athletic director Rick George has been clear about CU’s loyalty to the Pac-12 in his public statements, but Buff fans, like everyone else, know that such pronouncements are made all the time by athletic directors … right before they announce their team is moving on.

If Colorado, Utah, and the Arizona schools were to leave for the new “Big 16”, what would that look like?

If you have been keeping up with the discussions of how the new SEC (with Texas and Oklahoma added) and the new Big Ten (with USC and UCLA coming on board), you will note that most of the scheduling options divide the 16-team leagues into four pods, with schools playing teams in their pods every year, and then dividing up the other five (SEC) or six (Big Ten) conference games among the remaining three pods.

The “Big 16” would conceivably have a western pod (Utah, BYU, Arizona State and Arizona) and an eastern pod which includes Central Florida, West Virginia, and Cincinnati. From there, it could get interesting. Do you put Iowa State in the eastern pod? Or Houston? Do you have an all-Texas pod (TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor and Houston), or do you split up the Texas schools? And where does that leave dear ol’ CU?

It could go …

  • West – BYU, Utah, Arizona State, Arizona
  • Midwest – Colorado, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State
  • Texas – Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Houston
  • East – Central Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State

Or …

  • West – BYU, Utah, Arizona State, Arizona
  • Midwest – Colorado, Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma State
  • Texas – Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Houston
  • East – Central Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Iowa State

Or …

  • West – BYU, Utah, Arizona State, Arizona
  • Midwest – Colorado, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State
  • Central – Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State,
  • East – Central Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Houston

With three of nine games accounted for each year, the other six would be a rotation, with the Buffs having a home-and-home with the other 12 teams on a four year rotation. That way, CU would host every team in the conference every four years, and travel to play each of those teams every four years.

An example of the 2024 schedule:

  • Iowa State; at Kansas State; Kansas; BYU; at Utah; at Texas Tech; TCU; at Central Florida; West Virginia – with the schedule reversed in 2025

In any event, a new “Big 16” (The Big Seven had no trouble moving on to the Big Eight moniker in the early 60s, with the Big Eight morphing into the Big 12 in 1996 … why not just go ahead and take the “Big 16” brand?) would likely have CU being placed in a pod with the Kansas schools and likely another Big 8/12 rival. It would also put CU in a 16-team conference with only three national titles – TCU in 1937; BYU in 1984; and CU in 1990 – and in Prime position (pun fully intended) to advance the Buffs’ cause when the next wave of realignment hits.

All we know for now is that we don’t know anything. Lips have been sealed as to the new Pac-12 media deal, and any expansion which might come with it.

Stay tuned, the next few weeks will be very interesting for the University of Colorado and its fans …


11 Replies to “In a World With a “Pac-16” or a “Big 16”, Where Does CU Fit in?”

  1. Really disappointed with today’s poll results. Sounds like everyone is doing a lemming rush back to the prairie 12. I have already said I would much rather see the PAC to stay in existence but with the money is all overwhelming projection of the end of that has anyone (RG?) had any contact with the B1G? They have acquired the Pacific time zone. Maybe they would like the Mountain too with the Buffs and Utah? C’mon B1G be the first on the block to go super conference with Huskies and ducks as well.
    If the Buffs slither back to the big cow patch full of teams I dont give a flip about and some I outright cant stand……….. aaarrggghhh
    Even a reunion with the cobbs is better.

  2. I like the pac12. Always liked it. Better than the “Texas 12”

    LA school steals by the big 10 was a damn impressive move.
    Do they really need anyone else on the coast? WashOre? CalStan? They got the muscle with the LA schools. They don’t need no more on the coast.
    Now they are coast to coast
    Where else? South? Southeast? Southwest?

    Clearly Colorado and Arizona are the next targets . Both AAU schools
    Round out the south west.
    Draw the circle Rutgers to the la schools.


    Prime Buffs

  3. In looking at the conjured Big 16 pods the one with OK St and the KS schools makes better sense to me as Stillwater is closer to Boulder than Ames. But if there is one thing we have all learned in this era of realignment upheaval it’s that geography accounts for absolutely diddly squat. But if geography was the end all, from a strictly “as the crow flies” CU standpoint, a pod of CU, the KS schools and Lubbock (Tech} would be the most viable. Now I’ll go wipe the egg off my face for producing a scribe that is just about as useful as those we get from most of the national “pundit experts” LOL.

  4. What about…
    West – Colorado, Utah, Arizona State, Arizona
    Midwest – Utah, Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma State
    Texas – Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Houston
    East – Central Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Iowa State

    …or any version that keeps the PAC schools together as a pod.
    Torn on whether to keep Texas together. Kinda leaning away from it actually, despite the above. Just not sure how.

    I do wander whether joining the one of the other national conferences to create a four time zone, conference or two would perhaps be good long-term. The devil for the Pac 12 was they were always on the Pacific time zone and not playing games which interested the East Coast. If they became conference or a divisional opponents, the eyeballs of the east would actually care about football college football on the West Coast. Maybe splitting up the West Coast schools into conferences that span to the east is actually a good thing for the Pac 12 schools. Thoughts?

  5. Consider a Pac-10 merger with the ACC (if they can get out of their grant of rights thing which is supposed to expire in 2714). Call it the East-West Big Deal Conference.
    The Buffs play one away game with an ACC team, and one home game with another ACC team. All other PAC-10 teams do the same dance. Eight in-conference games. Two cream puff non conference games.
    Might be worth some serious money for the teams involved.

  6. Gotta say, from a purely I want to win more I like the Big 16. Those teams are having some good years recently but I think we could dominate our pod, and then pushing against Utah, TCU, Cincinnati for the top of the league. While I really like the idea of a steaming network coming to that table and doing college football right (not just games, and not just PAC10 news but college sports overall) I could see something cool developing. The PAC12 network had the concept but then they screwed it up really bad….

  7. I keep hearing the media compensation discussed as so much per school. If the Pac remains at 10 that would mean fewer teams to split the revenue with. Is the whole West Coast + AZ/ front range of both CO and UT viewing market (less LA of course) that deficient in terms of numbers? Phoenix is the 5th largest metro area in the country.
    Would another option be making the PAC 12 network a professional enough outfit to compete?
    Its hard for me to see why all this mega conference thing is so attractive. The more teams you add the more the dilution in identification.
    Does it all just boil down to more bucks for which ever media entity controls the most?
    My wish, counter to the obvious all powerful buck, would be for the Pac to remain at 10. I would also think Wilner, Canzano and the rest of those sports writers for the PAC who couldn’t ID anything on a map past Vegas would too.
    Add SD State and (gag) SMU if you have to but if CU becomes a part of a Big 16, 20, 24 or whatever I doubt if it will hold my current level of interest in college football.
    Then again Coach Prime may have something to say about that. Been down so long…………

    1. Your point about dilution is an interesting one… although every conference does need some ‘losers’ for the chosen ones to beat up on to pad their win percentages. If the SEC were reduced down to simply 4 teams (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and let’s say Auburn or Florida) it would be very entertaining, but probably not the money maker it is. The expanded footprint brings eyeballs that bring $$$. Teams like Vanderbilt are needed to provide wins and not much more.

      I’m not sure going back to the Big-12 really brings CU much… we left that conference a decade ago when it was ‘somewhat’ respectable and it certainly hasn’t improved since (CU would actually be the ‘historical’ football powerhouse given that only 2 other teams had ever even won a NC). I actually wouldn’t be surprised if down the line Colorado got an invite to the B1G (if the Pac does indeed implode). The academics fit and it would provide the B1G with added value of there being a ‘real’ rivalry with nebraska (so they could recoup some investment on bringing in the corn which hasn’t yielded much excitement value thus far).

    2. ep you never finished the sentence. old old song by Farina “Been down so long looks like up to me.” I don’t want to ever be look’in up to any Texa$$ school whether as a member or seed in any stinkin pod, also with or KU KSU or Iowa ST either. I’d rather we keep the remnants of the PAC and add a BYU or even Boise St.

  8. Canzano and Wilner, the dynamic duo of Pac 12 apologists. Take anything they write with not a grain of salt but the entire shaker of salt.

    A Big 16 would be a helluva a basketball conference, not sure about football though. Putting CU in with ISU, KU, and KSU in my opinion, the least attractive of the 4 proposed quads.

    Finally, the snobbiness of the PAC 12 presidents not accepting UNLV because of academics is a GD joke. Academics and athletics have only the loosest of relationships these days. UNLV would be a fantastic addition to the PAC. SDSU, UNLV, SMU and maybe Tulane. That would be a relatively strong PAC14 with exposure across the country. Combine that with some sort of agreement with the ACC and maybe the PAC can survive.

    1. With all due respect, UNLV is nowhere close to the academic model of rest of the PAC12 + the other schools you mention. About 2/3 of the Big Sky Conference (Div II) is ranked higher than UNLV. They are about where University of Northern Colorado sits. Vegas is a great town, but UNLV has a long ways to go academically for a fit. University of Nevada-Reno is ranked higher.

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