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Conference realignment continues as CU and CSU kickoff college football seasons

Ripple effect of teams moving from conference to conference being felt nationwide
Posted: 8:45 PM, Sep 01, 2023
Updated: 2023-09-02 09:30:21-04
Deion Sanders

BOULDER, Colo. — When CU Boulder announced NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders as head football coach this past offseason, alums, former players, and students alike could hardly contain their excitement.

“People are hungry and starving for wins here,” said former CU standout Lance Carl.

CU senior Brad Gall shared a similar sentiment.

“Oh my God, yeah. My parents were looking at a game for (this) year and it’s like $300 a ticket,” Gall said. “It’s the same as going to see a headliner at Red Rocks.”

Preparations for the Coach Prime era at CU football began immediately.

“It brings a whole set of problems and issues that we haven’t faced in a long time,” said Alec Roussos, chief of staff for the CU athletics department football program. “We’re going to have a sold-out stadium for every single one of our games and that comes with different issues that we need to mitigate. But again, we are all excited. They’re all great problems to have, right? It’s going to be a really, really exciting fall here in Boulder.”

The offseason moves didn’t end there for the Buffs.

This summer, the Buffs also ditched the PAC 12 and headed back to the Big 12.

“(CU athletic director Rick George) gave the PAC 12 every opportunity to present a media friendly deal that would benefit the University of Colorado, and when it didn’t come to fruition on PAC 12 media days, I think that was the final straw for Rick,” Carl said.

Darian Hagan, quarterback of CU’s only national championship team back in 1990, told Denver7 when the Buffs joined the PAC 12, the team was "a little bit out of our element."

“The Big 12 is a perfect fit for the University of Colorado and that’s what it’s all about," Hagan said.

CU’s departure triggered a wave of movement among other schools from conference to conference and that’s where our 360 look at the college conference shake-up begins.

"The days of the regional conferences are gone"

“The landscape of college athletics has just shifted,” Roussos said. “And it happens really, really quick.”

Mega-conferences have now emerged nationwide and the PAC 12 has all but vanished, first losing USC and UCLA to the Big 10, then CU to the Big 12, followed by Oregon and Washington to the Big 10, and then Arizona, Arizona State and Utah to the Big 12, and finally Stanford and Cal to the ACC, leaving only two schools left, Oregon State and Washington State, in the crippled PAC 12.

“The days of the regional conferences are gone,” Roussos said. “If you rest on your laurels and say, ‘Oh man, this is a bad thing for college athletics,’ then you’re just going to fall behind.”

The ripple effect is being felt everywhere, including just 50 miles north of Boulder in Fort Collins, where Colorado State University is preparing for a new season and schedule that includes a renewed in-state match-up this year with CU.

“We have a bunch of in-state players that are really excited about having that game back on the schedule,” said CSU head football coach Jay Norvell. “I think it’s great for the state of Colorado – the excitement of that game. Coach Deion, he brought a lot of excitement, but I think that’s really good for the state of Colorado and us for get to play that game on ESPN.”

In just his second year at CSU, Norvell has high expectations of himself and his team.

“And we’re a full inch taller at every position,” Norvell said. “Offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, receivers, tight ends, so we’re a much different looking team.”

As for the conference shake-up, Norvell and Sanders are measured in their responses to that.

“Everybody just needs to relax really,” Norvell said. “It really is about building a quality program and a championship program. The winner of our league is going to probably get a chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl, on New Years Day and that’s what we’re focused on. “We want to be best in the Mountain West.”

Coach Prime himself had this to say.

“Man, I don’t care about no different teams moving,” he said. “We trying to win, man. I don’t care where we play. I don’t care what conference, who we’re playing against, we’re trying to win.”

Conference realignment continues as CU and CSU kickoff college football seasons

An attitude shared from sport to sport here at CSU.

“You hear it, you understand the landscape of college athletics, it’s changed unbelievably here in the last couple years,” said Niko Medved, head basketball coach at CSU. “But the way I look at it is, the best thing that you can do is be the best at where you are right now.”

In Boulder, the conference shake-up is also welcomed from sport to sport.

“I think there will be some excitement to go to different places and to play in different venues against different competition,” said Danny Sanchez, head soccer coach at CU.

“The Big 12 is the No. 1 RPI conference last year and had the national champion come out of it,” said Jesse Mahoney, head volleyball coach for CU. “So, it’s going to be, it’s not like it’s a step down in any way – it’s going to be great volleyball.”

Former players like CSU basketball standout Nico Carvacho, who is in town for this summer’s alumni game, say better competition should always be the goal.

“Obviously – you want to go to the highest level,” Carvacho said. “You want to play the best players, best competition, have bigger teams come in. You can never go wrong moving up or going to a better league, you know – whatever it is. It would be really cool to see.”

A big win for student athletes

Back at CU, the move back to the Big 12 is viewed as a huge win for the student athletes – especially when you consider travel time.

“We looked at it from every single lens,” Roussos said. “And on average – our athletes will be traveling less for each of the conference opponents that they’ll be playing."

Roussos says on aggregate, student athletes will now spend less time traveling and more time in the classroom.

“We didn’t want to make a move that we would be putting our women’s lacrosse team on a flight that would be crossing three time zones on a regular basis,” he said. “And if you just look at the football time slots that the Big 12 is going to occupy – a 7 p.m. kickoff on the east coast is a lot better than a 7 p.m. kick on the west coast. You’re getting back around midnight as opposed to sometimes on the west coast getting back at 3 or 4 in the morning. And that can ruin an entire week for a student athlete.”

The move didn’t come without controversy.

Oregon head football coach Dan Lanning said CU would hardly be missed.

“I took it as disrespectful,” Hagan said. “We’ve had our ups and downs in the PAC 12, but I don’t think he needed to say anything. Most of the guys he inherited – he didn’t recruit.”

Carl, the former CU standout, didn't think much of that statement.

“He’s a new coach in the conference – he’s played us once or twice, defeated us handily,” Carl said. “He looked at our record in the PAC 12 and gave his honest assessment of where he thinks we are. I didn’t think it was a controversial statement. I think he’s an honest guy. We’ve got to make some corrections here and I think Rick George has made those corrections by hiring Coach Prime.”

Both Hagan and Carl are now part of the athletics staff here at CU – a program they still believe in whole-heartedly.

“I was part of Bill McCartney’s first recruiting class in ’83,” Carl said. “Back when Bill McCartney was here, it was the McCartney way or the highway. And I see similar attributes with Coach Sanders, as well.”

Hagan said they both share some similarities.

“He’s not going to sugar-coat anything,” Hagan said. “Coach McCartney didn’t sugar coat anything either.”

One thing is certain at both CU and CSU, fall football always holds a promise that these revamped programs can be bring college football prowess and prominence back to Colorado.

“We have to start the season fast,” Norvell said. “The sense of urgency has been turned up in Fort Collins.”

Carl is as equally excited for what it means for college sports.

“I’m excited for our alums, I’m excited for our donors and our fans who fill the stands weekly,” Carl said. “They want that feeling back because there’s nothing like watching a football game at Folsom Field in the fall. Nothing like it.”

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