I don’t blame you if you’re tired of talking about conference realignment, but this latest news just kind of feels right.
Maybe we’re on our way to a course correction of sorts. But probably not. Sigh.
Still, reports that Colorado’s Board of Regents is meeting today to vote on leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 12 — and similar reports that the Big 12 presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to accept CU on Wednesday night — certainly make it seem like this one is now a matter of when not if.
— Editor's Note: Colorado's return became official Thursday afternoon when its Board of Regents voted unanimously to move back to the Big 12 —
Colorado rejoining the conference is a big win for the Big 12 in a number of ways. It's also a win for the entire realignment movement.
Remember back in 2011, when Colorado became the first school to officially leave the Big 12? That move made sense. The Big 12, at the time, was in serious danger of taking a significant hit or perhaps disappearing altogether and the Buffs found a landing spot that seemed safe. Truth be told, it’s not hard to envision anyone in the conference at the time doing the same thing.
Beyond that, moving west helped CU tap into a more natural recruiting base — California and the mountain region rather than Texas and the Midwest — and now that geography hardly matters in college athletics, moving back to the Big 12 makes sense. After all, with USC and UCLA headed to the Big Ten, recruiting California might’ve just become a little harder for the rest of the country, with powerhouse Big Ten schools now having a better reason to check out the talent out west.
So, here we are, 12 years apart, looking at a single school making two moves that both made/make sense. I’ve never been the biggest fan of conference realignment, but I’ve always been at the very least a little intrigued by it.
It’s interesting to see what the different schools and conferences involved would consider and be willing to do. And the domino effect it all brings is fascinating, if not a little bit maddening.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned after more than a full decade of movement, nonstop rumors, chatter and questions about which schools might land where, which conferences want to poach what programs and talk of how things should be and will be, it’s that some of it works out and some of it doesn’t.
Texas and Oklahoma will soon answer that question for themselves in the SEC, just as Missouri and Texas A&M have before them. Nebraska and Colorado also sought greener pastures and one of them is already backtracking on that move while the other hasn’t exactly experienced the euphoria it was expecting.
Some of the scenarios that have been kicked around in realignment actually have happened. Others have dried up. And still others remain unresolved. That’s the world we live in now, for better or worse. And as long as the movement continues, you have to at least consider the fact that there might be others who follow Colorado’s lead this time around, just as there were the last time.
If a school like Kansas — or any other Big 12 program — gets an offer from the Big Ten or SEC, they almost have to jump because of the insane amount of money such a move would bring.
That’s not to say any offers are coming or even that it’s a guarantee that any of the schools that currently make up what appears to be a rock solid Big 12 Conference would actually leave. But the money would be hard to say no to, just as it was for TCU the last time around and BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF this time around.
We’ve known that for years now and the bottom line of this whole thing is never going to change — money is the beginning and end of the answer to any realignment question.
As for what Colorado’s return to the Big 12 means for Kansas, there are a lot of layers there.
For one, there’s the nostalgia factor. These two — as is the case with CU and several other Big 12 institutions — have a deep-rooted history that dates back to well before the Big 12 was even a thought in anyone’s mind. Things have changed at both schools, but there should be an easy path forward for these two former Big Eight buddies to operate as allies.
Second, even though Colorado has a little flash and flare with Deion Sanders now in charge of the football program, it’s not exactly as if the Buffs are one of the bad boys of college football any longer. Coach Prime could turn things around, but that also could take time. And the more winnable football games Kansas can stack up on its schedule, the better things are for the longtime health of KU’s athletic department as a whole.
That’s pretty much the case for the majority of Colorado’s athletic programs with the exception of a couple. CU doesn’t have baseball or softball and does have skiing, so Kansas and Colorado will not be matching up in everything but KU should like its chances when they do, starting in 2024.
Third, I’m not sure if this will carry over to the current landscape or not, but a couple of decades ago, the KU athletic department was full of athletes from the state of Colorado. There’s talent out there. A lot. And while it might be hard to pry some of it away from the in-state program, sports like baseball, softball, swimming and rowing, which CU does not offer, could benefit from opening the door to another nearby recruiting base.
More than anything, though, Colorado’s move back to the Big 12 puts Kansas on more stable ground than at any point in recent memory. Despite what the ACC and Pac-12 try to say, the Big 12 is now, without question, the No. 3-ranked conference in the power pecking order these days.
With Colorado back in the mix, the Big 12 will be at 13 schools heading into the 2024-25 school year. It's hard to imagine that being a number they stay at for very long, so this move with the Buffs could be just the beginning. And if it is, the conference only stands to get stronger. That’s a good place for KU or anyone else to call home.
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