The University of Colorado is officially in its final year in the Big 12 Conference after the Board of Regents approved a deal Tuesday negotiated by Chancellor Phil DiStefano that will allow the school to part ways with the conference one year earlier than initially planned.
The regents approved CU's move to the Pac-10 in June, but the plan then was to change conferences in 2012. However, Nebraska followed by announcing it was leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten in 2011 and Utah agreed to leave the Mountain West Conference for the Pac-10 in 2011. Those moves led to CU engaging in several months of negotiations to also leave the Big 12 early and join the Pac-10 on July 1 next year.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the compromise was the final cost. CU will forfeit only $6.863 million in conference distributions it would have received from the Big 12, but the Pac-10 has agreed to front CU the same amount so that there is no shortfall in the athletic department budget.
"Knowing we were getting that support from the Pac-10 certainly helped us because I certainly didn't want to use state funds or do things like raise fees or anything like that," DiStefano said. "Given the economic situation that we have here at the university, I thought it made sense to work with the Pac-10 and look at a loan against future revenues."
Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn said the Big 12 already withheld $530,805 of the $6.
CU officials initially believed it could cost between $9 million and $14.5 million when it announced in June it was switching conferences. DiStefano said Big 12 officials began negotiations asking for as much as $15 million. He said CU had determined it would be comfortable paying as much as $9 million to get out a year early.
"I felt good leaving the meeting (Monday)," DiStefano said about the savings after a recent mediation session.
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott confirmed the league pledged up to a $10 million loan to CU last spring to help pay any exit fees to the Big 12. Scott also was pleasantly surprised by the number DiStefano was able to negotiate.
Nebraska announced Tuesday that its move to the Big Ten will cost $9.25 million. The difference in cost between the two schools is based on Nebraska's average earnings being higher than Colorado's throughout the time in the Big 12 and the fact that CU gave two years notice of its intention to leave, while Nebraska gave only one.
Nebraska and CU initially said they did not believe they owed the Big 12 anything for leaving the conference because the conference couldn't prove it had been damaged in any way. Big 12 Conference commissioner Dan Beebe said the conference was damaged by the departures of both schools even as he continues to paint a bright future for his 10-team league.
"We thought it could be closer to $30 (million). They thought it was zero," Beebe said on a conference call Tuesday evening. "That's where we started."
Two weeks ago it appeared a deal might not be possible any time soon. CU officials had started to plan for two more full school years in the Big 12 because the two sides were so far apart. Scott told reporters at the Cal-Colorado football game in Berkeley, Calif., on Sept. 11 that he believed there was less than a 50 percent chance the Buffs would join his league before 2012.
"It's nice to have certainty," Scott said. "All of our planning had been on parallel tracks anyway in terms of 2011 or 2012 and not knowing when they're coming. But now we can focus and we can concentrate our efforts knowing in 2011 we're going to be a 12-team conference."
Those plans will include a football championship game, with the top team from two divisions squaring off, in December 2011. The location of the game has yet to be determined, but the conference will consider having the higher-seeded team host or playing at a neutral site.
DiStefano said the key in bringing everyone together and ultimately finding resolution was the addition of a mediator, who worked with Colorado, the Big 12 and Nebraska over a day-and-a-half.
"I think having a mediator really helped," he said. "I look at mediation as going to the dentist's office. You don't want to go and you don't like being there, but when it's done, you feel relieved."
DiStefano said the mediator asked not to be identified.
Beebe characterized negotiations with Colorado and Nebraska as difficult at times but professional. He said it never became ugly and no one threatened to go to court to resolve differences.
"One of the major points as we all talked about this was the delay in going forward in the form that we want to as a 10-member conference was going to be problematic," Beebe said. "So that is what motivated us to work hard to make sure we could go forward next year as soon as possible."
Beebe said the approximately $16 million withheld from the two departing schools will be distributed to the remaining 10 members of his league. He said the Big 12 Board of Directors will decide how the money is split at its October meeting.
So what's next for the Buffs and the Pac-10 -- or Pac-12 as it will be?
Scott said establishing a revenue sharing system, dividing the league into divisions and solving future scheduling issues in all sports are at the top of his list of items to be resolved by an Oct. 21 meeting of chancellors and presidents in San Francisco.
Scott said he has been advocating an equal revenue-sharing plan for all members because he believes the current system in use in his league, which mirrors the one being used in the Big 12, is "antiquated." Both plans award schools with more television appearances more money.
"We've got agreement in our conference that we need to modernize our method of revenue sharing and get away from how many appearances you have on TV and what not," Scott said. "The discussion is still underway in terms of exactly how we'll split the revenue."
Colorado now knows it will definitely play a 13-game regular season football schedule in 2011, including a road game at Hawaii to start the season. It was scheduled to play host to California in nonconference play, but that game will now likely become part of the conference slate, though, until divisions are decided it's impossible to say for sure if the Buffs and Bears will even play next year.
Colorado has maintained a pledge to its fans and season-ticket holders that it will hold at least six home games at Folsom Field each year. For that to happen in 2011, the Buffs must schedule another nonconference opponent to replace Cal, and it must be given five home games in the nine-game conference schedule. CU will have to add two nonconference home games in 2012 as well.