Why did CU get $2.5 million Big 12 signing bonus but others did not?

LAS VEGAS –  Big 12 Conference commissioner Brett Yormark was asked a question Tuesday about what actually went down behind the scenes one year ago, when he helped convince four schools from the Pac-12 to leave that league and join the Big 12 instead.

He didn’t want to talk about it.

But documents obtained from the schools by USA TODAY Sports – and brief remarks by Yormark here Tuesday – paint a picture of a cutthroat strategy to destabilize the Pac-12 last year to the point that it fell apart to the Big 12’s benefit.

According to the documents, the University of Colorado was offered a $2.5 million signing bonus from the Big 12 Conference last year as an added enticement to get the Buffaloes to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big 12 instead, starting on Aug. 2, 2024.

But here’s what’s curious about that: The other three Pac-12 teams that followed Colorado’s path into the Big 12 a week later apparently didn’t get any signing bonus, according to their Big 12 admission agreements.

Why not?

Was Yormark hoping that by sweetening the pot for Colorado and getting the Buffs to jump first, then the others would do the same out of fear of being left behind in a crumbling Pac-12?

“I’m not going to discuss my negotiating tactics, but listen, we were thrilled that Colorado was the first mover,” Yormark told USA TODAY Sports Tuesday at the Big 12 football media days event. “Ultimately one got us four, you know, when you think about it. Whatever we did in those negotiations seemed to work out pretty well for us.”

How it factors into the realignment timeline

Colorado announced its move to the Big 12 on July 27 last year – the first of eight defections from the Pac-12 last year that all but destroyed it. A week later, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah also announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 12, but not because of Colorado’s departure by itself. It was because the Pac-12 failed to produce a new media-rights deal that was good enough to convince the remaining members to stay, including Washington and Oregon, who decided to leave for the Big Ten that same week after Colorado’s announcement.

By throwing in a $2.5 million bonus for a “first mover,” Yormark still could have been hoping that the outcome would be that “one got us four,” as he described it, even if the dominoes didn’t fall that way exactly. At the time, the Pac-12 still had 10 members and was trying to decide whether to hold together and even expand.

But like a game of musical chairs, college football realignment is stoked by fear of being left behind without a seat at the table of a stable and viable league. After Colorado said it was leaving, that left the Pac-12 with nine members, adding to the sense of uncertainty. Then the Big Ten pounced on Washington and Oregon, triggering a last rush for the exits. At that point, the Big 12 likely didn’t need to offer bonus money to land Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. There was no attractive alternative.

And now the Pac-12 is down to two schools who weren’t invited elsewhere – Oregon State and Washington State. By contrast, the Big 12 is up to 16 members after having only 10 teams two years ago.

What did the Big 12 admission agreements say?

It’s on the second page of Colorado’s 78-page agreement.

“Colorado shall also receive a membership transition bonus upon execution of this Agreement of Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($2,500,000),” states Colorado’s admission agreement with the Big 12, effective July 31, 2023.

The Big 12 admission agreements for Arizona, Arizona State and Utah don’t mention any such bonus.

Yormark didn’t spell out exactly why but he might have said enough.

“First mover.” “One got us four.”

Colorado declined comment.

“We’re not going to get into specifics with respect to negotiations between CU and the conference,” spokesman Steve Hurlbert said.

The four new members of the Big 12 officially join the league Aug. 2.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

This post appeared first on USA TODAY