By Ralph D. Russo/AP
Big 12 presidents and chancellors voted unanimously Wednesday night to accept Colorado as a new member, clearing the way for the school to leave the Pac-12 and rejoin the conference, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Big 12 was not making its expansion plans public with Colorado still needing to go through a formal process on its campus and officially apply for membership. ESPN first reported the vote.
The university’s board of regents has a special meeting scheduled for Thursday with athletics operations on the agenda.
Another person familiar with the Big 12's expansion aspirations told AP the school and league have been in contact for more than a month about a potential departure from the Pac-12; the person said it was unclear if CU had come to a decision, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Big 12 was not publicly discussing details of potential expansion plans.
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark has spoken for months about his desire to expand the conference and add schools in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. He did not return an email seeking comment.
The Pac-12 has seemed vulnerable to more poaching after losing USC and UCLA to the Big Ten the longer it takes for it to land a media rights contract to take effect next year. The conference's current deals with ESPN and Fox expire after this school year.
The Big 12 has not formally announced a new media rights contracts, but last year it came to an agreement with ESPN and Fox on a six-year extension that runs through 2030-31.
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff spoke confidently at football media days last week that the 10 remaining conference members were committed to stay together.
“What we’ve seen is the longer we wait for the media deal, the better our options get,” Kliavkoff said.
Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano told the Denver Post last week he was “eagerly awaiting” more details on the television negotiations.
The Pac-12 held a regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday with its school presidents and a person familiar with the meeting said DiStefano did not notify his colleagues that Colorado was on the verge of making a decision on conference. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the conference was not speaking publicly about its internal operations.
The Pac-12 officially declined comment. Text messages to Kliavkoff and Colorado athletic director Rick George were not immediately returned.
Colorado was an original member of the Big 12 in 1996, and joined the Pac-12 in 2011. The Buffaloes' football team has had only one winning record over a full season since joining the Pac-12, and went 1-11 last year — leading to the hiring of former NFL star Deion Sanders.
The person familiar with the Big 12's discussions said the conference would ideally like to expand to 16 schools with Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado all coming over from the Pac-12 to create a Western wing of the league.
The Big 12 has 14 members this year, but Texas and Oklahoma are leaving for the Southeastern Conference next year.
Big 12 leadership has also discussed the possibility of trying to add UConn, which won the men’s NCAA basketball tournament earlier this year, and Gonzaga, a basketball powerhouse which does not have a football team, the person said.
The Big 12 has been the strongest men's basketball conference in the country over the last few seasons, and Yormark has said he feels the sport could be a source of untapped value in future media rights deals.
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