Dear Colorado: You’re Welcomed Back to the Big 12, if You Want it
With all the chatter surrounding Big 12 expansion, there have been a couple schools that have topped the list of reportedly showing interest in the conference, while also being a target from a Big 12 perspective.
One of those schools is the University of Colorado.
Of course, the Big 12 and Colorado have history. Colorado was a founding member of the Big 8 (and Big 6 and Big 7 before that) from 1958 until 1996. Then, in 1996 the league expanded to become the Big 12. However, when conference realignment was bubbling over a decade ago, Colorado left the only league it had known for decades and headed west for the Pac-12.
Why did Colorado leave? It depends who you ask. Some blame Texas for being the bullies of the Big 12. Others cite Nebraska leaving for the Big Ten. Some will point to a better cultural fit with the west coast schools and the fact that Colorado was looking west as early as the 1990’s.
However, the most logical and reasonable conclusion has always been the idea that the Big 12 was on the verge of imploding, and Colorado did not want to be left behind. There were already rumors that the Pac-10 had made a serious move for Texas, Oklahoma and other schools from those two states. Colorado was on its own. The school had no “partner” program to try and become a packaged deal with. The politicians in Texas were not going to look out for or care about Colorado, preferring to save as many of their schools as they could.
So when the Pac-10 invite came (along with one for Utah), Colorado jumped ship out of self-preservation as much as anything else.
In hindsight, it was a mistake.
Colorado was already reeling for most of the years of the Dan Hawkins era, and things only got worst from there. Mike McIntyre had one good season (8-1 in Pac-12, 1st in the South in 2016), but in five other seasons in the Pac-12 he won a total of six conference games. Since then, Mel Tucker was in town for a cup of coffee (one season) before heading to Michigan State and now Karl Dorrell is trying to right the ship heading into Year 3.
But Colorado lost connections with all the Big 12 fan bases that loved to travel to Boulder as part of a weekend road trip. From 2001 to 2010, Colorado had an average of nearly 300,000 fans in attendance over their six home games. After a bump for their first season in the Pac-12 in 2011, the 2012 season saw attendance dip to its lowest levels since 1988. Colorado did see a resurgence in attendance pre-COVID, but ever since COVID, it feels like the passion for college football in the Pac-12 in general has declined.
In fact, there is solid data to back this up. Pac-12 attendance peaked at 4.29 million in 2013 and has been steadily declining since then. In 2021, the numbers were off another 5% from 2019.
Bringing back some of their former Big 12 foes would be great for Colorado and would be a welcomed long road trip for many Big 12 fans who have fond memories of traveling to Boulder. I can’t tell you how many Big 12 fans still will tell me about those trips to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The Buffaloes would be playing many familiar faces from their days in the league, especially the Big 12 North. They could get back to recruiting Texas in a significant way as well.
Meantime, from a Big 12 perspective, the league would be welcoming back a team that already has the aforementioned connections to the conference, is in a community with a large undergraduate population (nearly 30,000), and is part of one of the fastest-growing metros in the country in Denver. That’s another Top 20 TV market for the league to tap into.
This is a win-win for everybody. And while there still might be some bad blood amongst those who have spent decades around the Big 12, this is another great reason the league hired Brett Yormark to be its next commissioner. None of that will matter to him. He doesn’t care about the petty squables from over a decade ago. His job is to build the best, most stable, and most marketable conference he can build.
And bringing back Colorado to the Big 12 does just that.
So Buffaloes, the floor is yours. Welcome back, if you want it. Just remember: You don’t want to be the last man standing.