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Colorado athletics: Phil DiStefano confident in future of Buffs, Pac-12

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Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano is the chair of the Pac-12 CEO group.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano is the chair of the Pac-12 CEO group.

When UCLA and Southern California announced in June their decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024, it sent shock waves around college athletics.

There were immediate reports (although not all true) that the remaining schools in the Pac-12, including Colorado, were scrambling to figure out what to do next. Could the Pac-12 survive? Would the Big Ten poach more teams? Would the Big 12 scoop up some of the Pac-12 members?

In the three months since the decision by UCLA and USC, the initial panic has subsided. And, at least at Colorado, there is optimism for the future.

“I’m very confident in CU’s position,” Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano said in an interview with BuffZone.com this week. “When UCLA and USC left, people were talking about, ‘There’s not going to be a Pac-12 anymore; other schools will leave and go to the Big 12, go to the Big Ten, go to the ACC.’

“The 10 schools are sticking together and I believe we’ll end up with a very favorable media rights (deal) coming up.”

DiStefano’s confidence is shared by Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who spoke this week on the Canzano & Wilner podcast. Kliavkoff is confident that if other schools were going to leave for the Big Ten, it would have happened already and he maintains belief that no Pac-12 schools will leave for the Big 12.

Earlier this month, the College Football Playoff’s board of managers voted to expand the playoff from four teams to 12 in 2026. That is viewed by Kliavkoff as a win for the Pac-12 because it opens the door for more CFP opportunities, and increases the value of the regular season because more games will have CFP implications.

The Pac-12’s current 12-year media rights deal with ESPN and Fox expires in the summer of 2024, but the conference is in the midst of negotiating its next deal. DiStefano is optimistic that the Pac-12 and CU will land on their feet.

“I’m very confident about where we’re going to end up with media rights,” DiStefano said. “We have enormous confidence in George Kliavkoff to work through our media rights and get the best deal for us. I’m extremely pleased with the work that George has been doing, given his background in entertainment sports at MGM, and his work with Major League Baseball and other areas. I believe he’s definitely the right person at this point to lead us into the future. I see a very positive outcome for media rights negotiations for the Pac-12.”

While losing the Los Angeles schools decreases the value of the Pac-12 brand, DiStefano believes the Pac-12 Network – which is 100% owned by the conference – is a “valuable asset” in negotiations. He also sees opportunities with digital partners as the Pac-12 explores options with streaming services, such as Amazon.

“I think digital could be an opportunity not only for the Pac-12 but for all of us (in college athletics), either now or down the road,” DiStefano said. “We’re just seeing more and more, especially with the younger population, of going to streaming services. So I think everyone should be looking at that, not just the Pac-12. All of sports, whether it’s professional or college, should be looking at that as an opportunity.”

Expansion could be a key to Pac-12’s future, as well, and have an impact the media rights negotiations. Although the Los Angeles schools are leaving, there could be opportunities and benefits to adding schools such as San Diego State or SMU.

DiStefano wouldn’t talk about specific schools, but said, “I believe that as we work through a media deal that at some point during that time we should talk about expansion.”

Only time will tell which schools wind up in the Pac-12, but DiStefano is confident CU is in good position within the conference and that the conference will secure a strong media rights deal in the near future.

“Obviously, people want to know now and we want to get the best deal we can get,” DiStefano said. “If that takes us another month or two or longer to do, that’s fine with me. We need to get the best deal that we can get. We’re looking at a contract that might be five or seven years, so to get the best deal, let’s take our time and do that.

“It’s difficult waiting, but it’ll happen.”

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