Bradley’s Buzz: The Big 12 adds Colorado, putting the ACC on notice

Credit: AP file photo/David Zalubowski

Credit: AP file photo/David Zalubowski

The Colorado Buffaloes are making a triumphant return to the conference they jilted, and who can blame the Big 12 for getting giddy about their return? In a dozen seasons as a Pac-12 member, Colorado won big and often and …

Wait one second.

(Checks notes.)

Um … Colorado was 27-76 in Pac-12 league play. It had two winning seasons. One was the COVID year, which saw the Buffs go 4-2. The other was in 2016, when Georgia Tech alum Mike MacIntyre guided Colorado to 10-4 and was named national coach of the year. He was fired two years later.

Colorado is coming off a 1-11 season. It’s among the worst Power 5 programs. Why do we care about CU? One reason is because Deion Sanders – Coach Prime – now works there. The bigger reason is that its latest bit of conference-hopping prompts the inevitable question: Who’ll hop next?

No sooner had Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark issued a two-word statement regarding the Buffs – “They’re back” – did Chris Nee of Noles 247 report that Florida State is “actively” looking to leave the ACC. This came after an ACC Kickoff gathering that saw commissioner Jim Phillips tell ESPN his league “would absolutely be open to expansion.”

There’s no longer a Power 5. The SEC is set to welcome Texas and Oklahoma; the Big Ten awaits the arrival of USC and UCLA. The leagues rank 1-2 if you’re asking Greg Sankey, 2-1 if you’re going by TV payout. The Pac-12, which just lost Colorado and hasn’t announced its TV package and has left San Diego State hanging, is a fading fifth.

The fight is for third place. The Big 12 landed a $2.3 billion media deal with Fox and ESPN through 2030. The ACC is locked into a 20-year contact with ESPN that has 13 years to run. That deal spawned the ACC Network, no small thing, but has come to seem outdated.

If not for then-commissioner John Swofford’s move to lock all ACC schools into a grant of rights, there’d no longer be an ACC as we know it. The grant of rights means a program that relocates must hand its new TV money to its old conference – through 2036. The grant is dandy if you’re the ACC. It’s a ball and chain if you’re Florida State.

Some ACC member will challenge the grant of rights in court. It’s hard to imagine a signed contract being abrogated because one party says, “We changed our mind.” But that’s why lawyers exist.

In May, it was learned that seven ACC programs – FSU, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia and Virginia Tech – were angling for a redistribution of wealth, surely music to the ears of those at Duke and Georgia Tech. The best Phillips could do was a “success initiative” for making the College Football Playoff and suchlike. Maybe that will placate the Seminoles, who are poised to get good again. But placate them for 12 years?

With its new TV money and the re-poaching of Colorado, the “open-for-business” Big 12 – even as it bids a petulant farewell to Texas and OU – has nosed ahead of the ACC in the scramble to become the third-biggest league. The Pac-12 commissioner has become such a pitiable figure that Colorado AD Rick George felt moved to offer faint praise: “George Kliavkoff is doing as good a job as he can do.”

Having reduced the Pac-12 by one, the Big 12′s move could sink the listing league once and for all. It could pursue Washington or Oregon, Arizona or Utah. It could pursue all four. That would stretch the Big 12 from Morgantown, W.Va., to the Puget Sound, but conference expansion long ago left geographic constraints in the dust. (The Big Ten will range from the Jersey Shore to the Santa Monica Pier.)

Why is Colorado a big deal? Because conference expansion is a zero-sum game. The Pac-12 lost, meaning the Big 12 won. The Big 12 got bigger, which puts the ACC on the clock. But who wants to join a league where half the membership wants more?

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