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Former CU Buffs QB Joel Klatt: ‘I think Colorado ends up in Big 12’

Fox Sports analyst sees former team returning to Big 12 as Pac-12 struggles to stay afloat

Fox Sports and former CU quarterback Joel Klatt on the sideline of the Big Ten Championship game.
Fox Sports and former CU quarterback Joel Klatt on the sideline of the Big Ten Championship game.

In the wake of being blindsided by Southern California and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten Conference, the Pac-12 is doing its best to stay together.

USC and UCLA announced their decision last week to leave the Pac-12 in 2024. The conference quickly responded by deciding it will explore expansion. Then came a decision to expedite the timeline for media rights negotiations. There have also been reports of a “loose partnership” with the ACC.

“Those are all like, really, spaghetti at the wall things,” Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt told BuffZone. “That, to me, views as flailing.”

While the Pac-12 searches for answers, what is the best move for Colorado? A dozen years after leaving the Big 12 to join the Pac-12, CU is now forced to evaluate its future.

S1114CUCATS3.jpgNOVEMBER 13, 2004 / BOULDER CO / Buffaloes Bobby Purify breaks out down the sideline for a nearly 20 yard run during Saturday's game against Kansas State. (MARK LEFFINGWELL / Daily Camera)
Daily Camera file
NOVEMBER 13, 2004 (BOULDER, Colo.) – Colorado Buffaloes running back Bobby Purify breaks out down the sideline for a long run during a game against Kansas State at Folsom Field. With conference realignment, its possible for the former rivals to reunite in the Big 12. (Daily Camera)

“I do know that those that are proactive tend to do much better in these types of scenarios than those that are reactive,” Klatt, a CU quarterback from 2002-05. “I know that Colorado has been proactive.

“The Arizonas (Arizona and Arizona State) and the mountain schools (CU and Utah), I think have some real urgency. I think that they want to land something quick.”

On Tuesday, chancellor Philip DiStefano and athletic director Rick George released a joint statement that said they support the Pac-12 decision to start media rights negotiations, adding, “We are committed to the Pac-12 Conference and look forward to being an active participant in those conversations.”

That doesn’t mean the Buffs have shut the door on leaving the conference. In fact, on Tuesday evening, the CU board of regents held a special executive session to discuss the situation. According to a BuffZone source, officials from athletics and campus educated the regents on the options facing CU as it looks to the future, but no action was taken in the meeting.

Those options likely don’t include an invitation from the Big Ten or SEC, which have clearly pulled away from the rest of the country. Those are the two power conferences going forward, which is why USC and UCLA bolted.

CU doesn’t bring anywhere near the same economic value to the Big Ten or SEC. In fact, there aren’t many schools that do.

“There’s really only one left, which is Notre Dame,” Klatt said. “There’s no reason for the SEC and the Big Ten to expand past where they currently are.”

So, where does that leave CU?

“I think that Colorado ends up in the Big 12,” said Klatt, who led CU to back-to-back Big 12 title games in 2004 and 2005.

With Oklahoma and Texas leaving for the SEC, the Big 12 doesn’t have any more teams that are attractive to the Big Ten or SEC, Klatt said, adding, “Which weirdly makes them way more stable than either the ACC or the Pac-12.”

Without USC and UCLA, Oregon and Washington are the marquee schools in the Pac-12. The ACC is led by Clemson, Florida State and Miami.

Whether or not the Big Ten and SEC add more teams, Klatt believes that in the not too distant future, major college football will have four conferences, with the Big Ten and SEC being at the top.

“I think that keeping the Pac-12 afloat is a fool’s errand,” he said. “Whether it’s the Pac-12 absorbing the Big 12, or the Big 12 absorbing the Pac-12, or the three of them – the ACC, Big 12 and the Pac-12 – making two conferences, it’s going to four, max: Two that are going to rule the whole thing and two that are going to be left behind.”

Former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has been blamed by many for putting the conference in this position. George Kliavkoff replaced Scott a year ago and has been praised by George and others in the conference, but now finds himself in a tough spot.

“I feel really bad for George Kliavkoff because I think he’s really good and he was dealt one of the worst hands of all time,” Klatt said.

It’s a hand that has left CU and others scrambling and many worried about the health of college football in the future.

“This is not a great situation to be in (for some), and I want to acknowledge that and yet at the same time, this was coming, and it has been coming for a long time,” Klatt said. “The reality is that college football for a long time has been too big. No one wants to hear that and I understand that that’s sad for some people and that makes them upset but that’s the reality. You can’t subsidize this many athletic departments without the ones that are doing the subsidizing just at some point saying, ‘Hey, listen, we’ve got to go and take care of ourselves.’ That’s kind of what’s going on now.”

Klatt doesn’t believe CU is in a bad spot, however. Among the Pac-12 schools, it could be California, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington State struggling to find their place.

“They’re the ones that are looking and they’re like, ‘Hold on, we’re out?’” Klatt said. “You can think, if you’re a Colorado fan, that you’re out; you’re not, because there’s still pathways back to the Big 12.”

While it’s a volatile situation now, Klatt believes college football will be better in the long run.

“As it currently stands, the current model has zero sustainability,” he said.

With the Big Ten and SEC leading the way, however, there could be a governance structure that leads to better scheduling and a defined recruiting/transfer portal/coach hiring calendar. There could also be a more clearly defined path to the postseason, even for those not in the Big Ten or SEC, with an expanded playoff.

“I personally believe that we are headed, and it might take some time, but we are headed into a direction that the sport will be much better as a whole,” Klatt said. “In my mind, I still believe that at the end of all this, it’s going to be better. … College football will be better.”

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