A day some University of Colorado alumni, faculty, administrators and fans have dreamed of for years has finally arrived. It's Pac-12 Day in Colorado.
There was no New Year's Eve-style countdown in the athletic department headquarters Thursday night marking the school's final moments in the Big 12 Conference before starting anew today along with Utah in joining the members of the former Pac-10.
But there was a sense of excitement this week in preparation for today as CU begins its future in a new league most believe it is better suited for academically, culturally and athletically.
Workers took down old Big 12 signs and emblems of schools in its former conference and replaced them around campus with Pac-12 versions. The campus bookstore began selling T-shirts boasting CU's new affiliation and Governor John Hickenlooper and Boulder Mayor Susan Osborne both issued proclamations officially dubbing today Pac-12 Day in the city and statewide.
No word on how they feel about that in Fort Collins.
“It's a phenomenal opportunity,” said athletic director Mike Bohn, the architect of the school's move. “The faculty and our alumni and so many people associated with the program who make us successful really have embraced our shoulder-to-shoulder initiative, and that's why this move is such an incredible opportunity for us because it's pulling all of those vital constituents together behind one effort.”
The Pac-12 is the eighth conference of which Colorado has been a member, but this is just the second time CU has changed conferences since 1958. However, it really is the first drastic change in that time because when CU joined the Big 12 in 1996, it did so with all of its partners in the Big Eight Conference.
The Pac-10 was the second oldest conference in the nation featuring all of its original members. The Ivy League is the only conference with a deeper history.
CU coaches and administrators will gather at Folsom Field this morning to commemorate the switch by donning new Pac-12 shirts.
Utah has a larger celebration planned in Salt Lake City, including Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who visited CU and Boulder last year when the Buffs announced they were moving.
Utah is making a big move up the college sports food chain from to a Bowl Championship Series conference from a non-BCS league. CU's move is lateral from one BCS league to another.
“Our focus is on doing everything we can to ensure we are competitive in this league and we recognize that is a large hurdle for us to be prepared for,” Bohn said. “We're dedicated to that, committed to it and our coaches are committed to it and our recruits are responding to it as well. We're encouraged.”
Officially joining the league today is just the first step of many in a long process of acclimation for the school and the athletic department in particular.
CU athletes, coaches, administrators and staff will have to adjust to different ways of doing things in the new league versus procedures they have become accustomed to in the Big 12.
They also can expect changes – some subtle, some seismic – in conference rules, funding, travel, game management procedures and scheduling.
One of the bigger changes initially will going from always being one hour behind the rest of the schools in the conference to being one hour ahead. CU athletes returning from road trips in the Big 12 could count on gaining an hour on the return trip, which often meant an extra hour of sleep. Now they will lose an extra hour of rest.
CU athletes and coaches must adjust to a nine-game conference schedule in football and an 18-game conference schedule in basketball, and the bar being raised for Olympic sports programs joining the league with, by far, the most national championships to its credit.
The biggest challenge for Bohn and other administrators now is connecting with a much larger base of support within the Pac-12 footprint than the school enjoyed in the Big 12.
To that end, Bohn has made trips to various stops in the Pac-12 at least 10 times since January. Others such as president Bruce Benson, chancellor Phil DiStefano, various CU coaches, faculty members and CU Foundation and alumni association staffers also have made numerous trips west.
“It's exciting to have that shoulder-to-shoulder mentality because that's what it's going to take to compete in this league,” Bohn said.
Last month at the Pac-12 spring meetings in Seattle, DiStefano urged CU fans to come together and support the school's athletic programs this year as they compete in the league for the first time.
“I think we need to be patient with football,” he said. “I think we have great coaches and I think they put the student-athletes through a very rigorous spring. Certainly they will do that this summer.
“I want to make sure that the fans are patient and that they come out and support us. Who knows, we may turn things around more quickly, but I think it's going to take a couple years to turn things around.”
CU fans in and around Boulder can take advantage of special deals being offered today by many of the school's corporate partners. The athletic department's “Pac-12 Prize Patrol” will be visiting most of those partners throughout the day and fans in CU gear can win prizes by meeting the prize patrol at its various stops beginning at 9 a.m. Follow CUBuffs on Twitter and Colorado Athletics on Facebook for clues to the prize patrol's whereabouts throughout the day. You can also see a full list of the corporate sponsors participating on CUBuffs.com