June 15, 2024

Colorado returns to Big 12: Timeline of what went wrong for Pac-12 amid conference realignment whirlwind

With Colorado regents voting unanimously to return to the Big 12, the Pac-12 faces a more uncertain future than ever. The beleaguered West Coast conference suffered a huge blow last year when USC and UCLA, two of the Pac-12’s most iconic brands, announced their departure to the Big Ten in 2024. Now, the Pac-12 is set to lose one of its most dynamic and marketable personalities in Colorado coach Deion Sanders. 

Through all the waves of realignment — try as it might — the Pac-12 has failed to successfully attract any expansion candidates. The league’s failure to secure a lucrative media rights deal, falling behind every other Power Five conference, almost certainly plays a role. 

Though commissioner George Kliavkoff seemed confident that the Pac-12 will make it through, lacking a media rights agreement makes things less certain. But where did at all go so wrong for the Pac-12? Below is a timeline highlighting the key events over the last two years of conference alignment, with an emphasis on the Pac-12’s involvement: 

July 27, 2021: Texas and Oklahoma notify the Big 12 they will not renew their grant of television rights beyond the 2024-25 athletic year. 

July 29, 2021: The 14 SEC schools vote unanimously to extend invitations to Texas and Oklahoma, effective in 2025. (It is later announced that Texas and Oklahoma will join the SEC in 2024.) 

  • With the Big 12 reeling, reports indicated that the Pac-12 could attempt to poach schools with concerns about the Big 12’s outlook. 

Aug. 24, 2021: The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC announce a scheduling alliance, adding games between the three conferences to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. The Big 12 is, noticeably, left out. 

Sept. 10, 2021: The Big 12 announces that BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF will join the conference by the 2024-25 athletic calendar. 

  • It takes just a few months for the Big 12 to respond to Texas and Oklahoma’s departure and, most notably, show other Power Five conferences that it is not going to fade away. 

June 10, 2022: Cincinnati, Houston and UCF reach an agreement with the American Athletic Conference allowing them to join the Big 12 — with BYU — in 2023. 

June 30, 2022: The Big Ten announces that USC and UCLA will depart the Pac-12, join the conference beginning in 2024. 

  • With that, the Pac-12 loses its most iconic brands. Things begin to turn sour with the Pac-12 and conference realignment. 

July 29, 2022: When pressed at Pac-12 Media Day about potentially adding Big 12 teams in an expansion bid, Kliavkoff says: “With respect to the Big 12 being open for business, I appreciate that. We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not yet.”

Oct. 30, 2022: Big 12 finalizes a six-year, $2.3 billion extension in its media rights deal with ESPN and Fox, securing its future even after Texas and Oklahoma leave. 

  • By locking down such lucrative media deal, the Big 12 gives its members the promise of security and provides a big incentive for potential expansion teams.  

Feb. 22, 2023: Pac-12’s negotiations for a new media rights deal appear to stall after nine months. The Pac-12’s current deal with ESPN and Fox expires on July 1, 2024.  

March 3, 2023: CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that the Big 12 renewed its interest in the Pac-12’s “Four Corner” schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — as expansion candidates. 

  • While the Big 12 was able to procure an impressive deal, the Pac-12’s murky media future gives other conferences the confidence to engage in expansion talks. 

May 3, 2023: Dodd reports that ESPN is out as an option to renew its media rights deal with the Pac-12. 

June 13, 2023: San Diego State, long seen as a top candidate to join the Pac-12, sends a letter to the Mountain West Conference indicating that it will explore an exit. 

June 30, 2023: San Diego State, without a Pac-12 invite, notifies the Mountain West that it no longer intends to leave

  • The San Diego State saga is further proof that the Pac-12’s lack of a media rights deal is hampering its ability to recruit new members. 

July 21, 2023: Speaking at Pac-12 Media Day, Kliavkoff declines to comment in detail on the conference’s media deal, but stands firm that it will be announced “soon.” 

July 26, 2023: Colorado reportedly seeks an exit from the Pac-12. Big 12’s presidents meet and vote unanimously to extend an invitation to Colorado if it hits the market. 

July 27, 2023: Colorado’s board of regents votes unanimously (9-0) to submit an official application to join the Big 12 — the latest consequence of the Pac-12’s prolonged media negotiations.  

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