UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – CU returning to Big 12 latest Deion dividend

Another return is in on University of Colorado athletics director Rick George’s bold move hiring Deion Sanders—and the Buffs still haven’t played a real game under their new head football coach.

First, it was the local and national publicity of bringing Coach Prime to Boulder.

Next was selling out season tickets for the 2023 home season, which begins against Nebraska on Sept. 9.

Then, the Spring Game—if you can call that a game—attracted a capacity crowd.

Now, we have the Big 12 Conference approving membership in its club EVEN BEFORE Colorado formally applied!

And amid all of that, blue-chip high school recruits and collegiate transfers were tripping over each other to secure spots on the vastly revamped roster.

Why would the 12-team league make CU its lucky 13th university, especially after recently adding four schools to offset the losses of Texas and Oklahoma (in 2024)?

Why are schools once-scorned so willing to forget?

Two words: Neon Deion. 

Or, if you prefer, Coach Prime.

Collegiate athletics these days, particularly college football and basketball, is all (OK, at least largely) about the money.

And until the spotlight on the Flatirons is reduced once again to just brilliant Colorado sunshine, Deion’s last name is spelled $andere$—in this case, in the form of TV ratings.

The Big 12 is willing to serve Colorado a full piece of its new television rights pie, a share estimated to be $37.1 million per year, in return for being able to claim Coach Prime’s star power as part of its lineup.

At the time of CU’s move from the Big 12 into what was then the PAC 10—the same year Coach Prime was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame—it was billed as a positive for CU in many ways, especially concerning football: better paydays because of a superior TV deal . . . regular appearances in front of a large alumni contingent in southern California . . . a chance to enhance recruiting in a preferred location (California) . . . better travel destinations . . . etc.

And institutionally, went the justification, CU Boulder would fit right in, especially with Cal-Berkeley and Stanford.

But comments by Chancellor Phil DiStefano and AD George at last week’s press conference announcing the shift had a similar ring.

“CU Boulder is a national university,” DiStefano said, “and by spanning three time zones, the Big 12 is very much a national conference. The national exposure that joining the Big 12 provides will shine a spotlight not only on our incredible student-athletes but also on our groundbreaking research that really changes the world.”

“Let me state up front,” insisted George when it was his turn to speak, “that this move was not just based on money or finances. Decisions this big have a lot to do with more than just money.

“At the forefront . . .  in all of our decisions (are) our student-athletes and their experiences as both. We’ve done our analysis, and they’ll be traveling less in the Big 12, and playing in more favorable time slots, where we believe they can get greater national exposure, and returning to Boulder after away games at earlier times.”

Others have mentioned that Coach Prime prefers recruiting in Texas and Florida, over California. (The Big 12 has four members in Texas, one in Florida.)

“Certainly, revenue and expenses are a part of the equation,” George finally conceded. “We have looked at the cost that we will be incurring from the team traveling in the Big 12, as well as the initial rebranding. And when we consider the Big 12 revenue, we believe it’s a great win for the University of Colorado.”

Left unsaid was the wobbly state of the Pac 12, which will lose both UCLA and USC to the Big Ten next year and could see the University of Arizona follow CU into the Big 12 if rumors prove correct.  That’s not to mention that the Pac 12 is still working on its next media rights deal—which surely was a factor for CU, too. 

It also should be noted that the Pac 12 was no bargain on the gridiron for the decade-plus that Colorado interloped on the West Coast. In 12 seasons, the Buffs won only 27 conference games and had a .262 winning percentage. 

So it’s time to say, Welcome Back! 

Whatever the reasons.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.