The Pac-12 Conference is losing another member.

The Big 12 is getting a founding member back.

And for BYU and Utah, it means change is coming for both schools and their respective conferences.

That all became official Thursday, when Colorado announced it is leaving the Pac-12 to rejoin the Big 12, effective with the 2024-25 academic season.

The school’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve the school’s move to the Big 12 during a special board meeting Thursday. 

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark had a simple message for Colorado rejoining the league: “They’re back.”

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Linked by history, BYU and Colorado could become quite the pair in the Big 12

Colorado administrators had a bit more to say about why the university is switching Power Five conferences again.

“After careful thought and consideration, it was determined that a switch in conference would give CU Boulder the stability, resources, and exposure necessary for long-term future success in a college athletics environment that is constantly evolving. The Big 12’s national reach across three time zones as well as our shared creative vision for the future we feel makes it an excellent fit for CU Boulder, our students, faculty, and alumni,” Colorado chancellor Philip DiStefano and school athletic director Rick George said in a joint statement.     

“These decisions are never easy and we’ve valued our 12 years as proud members of the Pac-12 Conference. We look forward to achieving new goals while embarking on this exciting next era as members of the Big 12 Conference.” 

Colorado was a founding member of the Big 12 when the league formed in 1996. The Buffaloes remained in the Big 12 until 2011, when, along with Utah, they joined the Pac-12.

Colorado’s departure for the Big 12 next year will leave for Pac-12 with nine members in 2024, with blue blood programs USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten next summer.

The move, meanwhile, leaves the Big 12 with 13 members beginning with the 2024 season. The conference added BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati this summer, but will have blue bloods Texas and Oklahoma leave for the SEC next summer.

Colorado’s return to the Big 12 will have an impact on both Utah and the Pac-12, as well as BYU and its new league.

What it means for BYU and the Big 12

BYU shared its own statements of support following Thursday’s news that will give the Big 12 two teams — BYU and Colorado — in the Mountain time zone once they join the league.

“We are excited for Colorado to join the Big 12 and hope the Buffaloes feel as welcome as we have as new members of the conference,” BYU president Shane Reese said in a statement shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“This is a great addition to the Big 12 that will continue to make the conference stronger. We look forward to many great Big 12 competitions between BYU and Colorado within the Intermountain West in the years ahead,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said.

The addition of Colorado gives BYU a likely travel partner in a conference where the Cougars will travel nearly 13,000 miles during their inaugural Big 12 season.

The conference will reportedly be in the market to add more than just Colorado.

Not long after Colorado announced the move, Action Network’s Brett McMurphy reported that the Big 12 will look to add one to three more schools to join Colorado in 2024.

“The odds of remaining at 13 schools in 2024 is slim,” a source told McMurphy. “We need to get to an even number for 2024, and our long-term vision is 16.”

The Big 12 will first look at adding other Pac-12 members, according to McMurphy — with Arizona the most likely candidate — before looking at possible other additions from the Group of Five if nothing materializes there.

Other Pac-12 schools that McMurphy listed as potential expansion candidates include Utah, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington, with the Four Corner schools of Utah, Arizona and Arizona State being the Big 12’s “dream scenario.” 

What it means for Utah and the Pac-12

Colorado’s departure, along with USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, means the Pac-12 will lose 25% of its current membership next year.

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan recently reaffirmed the school’s commitment to the Pac-12.

“Our words and actions speak for themselves. We are a proud member of this conference and look forward to its future success,” he said last week during Pac-12 football media day, as the Deseret News previously reported.

During media day, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was asked about expansion — both San Diego State and SMU have been linked as potential candidates since last summer’s announcement of USC and UCLA’s departure.

At the time, Kliavkoff said the Pac-12’s first focus was on getting a new media rights deal done — the TV deal negotiations have dragged on since mid-2022 and were reportedly a source of frustration for Colorado as it contemplated a move away from the conference.

The Pac-12 released a statement on Thursday night that echoed that approach, reiterating the league’s focus is to first get the media rights deal done before exploring expansion further.

“We are focused on concluding our media rights deal and securing our continued success and growth,” the statement read. “Immediately following the conclusion of our media rights deal, we will embrace expansion opportunities and bring new fans, markets, excitement and value to the Pac-12.”

The statement followed reports from earlier in the day that the Pac-12’s CEO group called a meeting for Thursday afternoon, as first reported by veteran Pac-12 journalist John Canzano. 

Per Canzano, a member of the CEO group said they would “discuss the opportunity to ‘trade up’ through expansion given Colorado’s decision.”

ESPN’s Pete Thamel explored the domino effect of what Colorado’s decision could do, including possible expansion and/or other shakeups for the Pac-12.

For San Diego State to join the league by next season, it would have to pay its current conference, the Mountain West, a $35 million exit fee.

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It’s unclear what kind of exit fee SMU may face with the American Athletic Conference if it were invited to join the Pac-12 next year.

Another factor to consider is what Oregon and Washington are thinking. Both schools, along with Utah, are widely seen as the Pac-12’s most attractive programs once USC and UCLA depart. Both Oregon and Washington have been linked with having interest in joining the Big Ten, if the Big Ten ever decides to expand again.

“The Pac-12 is veering toward a precarious place where other leagues in flux over the past generation have been — the ambitions of the league’s clear bell cows colliding with what would work best for the league as a whole in the long term,” Thamel wrote.

“The simple solution for the Pac-12 would be to add San Diego State and then explore a few other brands to plant seeds and grow as a 12-team conference. SMU has been visited by the league and has indicated it would open its wallet as an incentive. But even if SMU came for a giant discount for a few years, is that really in the best short-term interest of Oregon and Washington?”

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