Coach Prime’s arrival in Boulder should have the Buffs dreaming bigger

Dec 9, 2022, 6:44 AM

CU football Ralphie...

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

For the first time in two decades, Colorado Football is relevant on a national level. Sunday’s press conference announcing Deion Sanders as the new head coach garnered more attention than anything on the gridiron in Boulder since 62-36. Coach Prime and his Louis luggage are coming, and the Buffs faithful have been rescued from the depths of college football obscurity.

After a 1-11 season, fans are not just hopeful, but are expecting an immediate turnaround with the new coaching staff and overhaul of the roster. Shadeur Sanders more closely resembles Kordell Stewart than any quarterback we’ve seen in Boulder since Slash. Coach Prime’s transfers and high school commits are expected to look more like Mike Pritchard, Rashaan Salaam, Deion Figures, David Bakhtiari and Chad Brown than Dan Hawkins and Mike McIntyre’s mid-major hustlers.

Don’t even bother asking the question, will it work? It already has. The Coach Prime spotlight in Boulder has gone viral. Four- and five-star players that would have never considered the Buffs are seeing what CU has to offer for the first time, and they’re realizing it’s incredible.

It may result in six- to eight-win seasons, or even eventually a 10-2 or even 12-0 record, but there’s no doubt the football program will improve. Athletic director Rick George swung for the fences and hit a grand slam when the school needed it most. Now, I don’t mean to sound greedy, but George’s action and the university’s recommitment to football indicate that CU is ready to dream even bigger.

Imagine the domino effect this could create. The university’s pledge to not only pay for Sanders and his staff, but to change transfer guidelines and offer more athlete-friendly majors shows their determination to evolve with the sport, not get left behind, and to compete with the big boy club of college football.

If you’re a casual college football fan, or you’ve tuned it out in recent years as CU and CSU have struggled, the big boy club refers to the football schools in the haves category versus the have-nots. The blue bloods, the big names, the money programs.

Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, and the rest of the SEC schools they’ve carried the last 15 years are in the club. Texas and Oklahoma are headed there to join them. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin who have nine-figure annual football budgets are in the club. USC and UCLA are abandoning the conference they’re the face of to join them. And the handful of programs outside of the SEC and Big 10 that have committed the resources to try to keep up are doing everything they can to hang on in the ever-changing college football landscape. The gap between the haves and have-nots gets larger every year, and media rights deals are responsible for the chasm.

By recommitting to football, CU is showing its seriousness about its athletic future. The SEC and Big 10 are poised to cannibalize the rest of college sports, and CU can’t afford to get swallowed up. C.R.E.A.M. Cash Rules Everything Around Me is the college football soundtrack, and it’s dictated by conference television contracts.

The Pac-12 had projected an increase to $41.6 million annually per team on its next TV deal, but now may actually see a decrease to around $30 million per school with the departure of the Trojans and Bruins. Losing the L.A. TV market has put the entire future of the conference in jeopardy.

By contrast, the Big 12’s new media rights deal pays about $31.6 million annually to each member school, similar to the ACC. Meanwhile, each SEC school collects over $55 million a year, and that number will exceed $70 million in their next contract.

That brings me to the Big 10. The lead dog in the new landscape of college football has completely blown up the model. By adding the L.A market to New York, D.C./Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and everywhere in between, each Big 10 school is going to collect between $80 to $100 million per year on media rights alone. It’s pretty easy to see why the Grand Canyon between the haves and have-nots keeps getting wider.

In addition to the money, the Big 10 has also cornered the spotlight. Beginning next season, they’ll have a football game on a different network in each of the three marquee Saturday time slots. Noon eastern on Fox, 3:30 on CBS, and a primetime game on NBC. Coast-to-coast, all day and night, across channels, every Saturday. There’s only one thing missing in their grand plan – the mountain time zone.

Speculation is the Big 10 isn’t done expanding its footprint. If that’s the case, CU checks all the boxes:

Major research university ✅

Strong academic reputation ✅

Large enrollment public university ✅

Association of American Universities member ✅

Financial and institutional commitment to athletics ✅

Major TV market ✅

Those last two could be game-changers for the future of Colorado athletics. The financial and institutional commitment wasn’t there for the better part of two decades until George inked Sanders. And despite being a stone’s throw from Denver, the Buffs have never delivered an audience in the Denver TV market on a national level.

The great teams of the 1990s drew local attention, but that was before every game was part of a conference national TV package. The late, great Les Shapiro called the infamous 5th down play at Missouri on a local broadcast on channel 4.

Final drive. Missouri. 1990. 5th down.

During the Bill McCartney heyday, CU didn’t have an opportunity to be on national TV every week, much less the chance to cash in on it. Not to mention, there are more than three times as many TV households in the Denver market now as there were during the national championship season.

The Coach Prime spotlight has captured the No. 16 market in Denver, and the rest of the country’s full attention. It’s a valuable asset that CU’s never had the benefit of, even at the peak of the football program. If and when the Big 10 decides to truly go coast-to-coast and connect the Midwest to the West coast, Colorado is the missing piece to complete that puzzle.

Hiring Sanders in an unstable, cash-poor, Pac-12 was a critical recommitment to athletics. Imagine what could happen in Boulder if their annual conference payout more than tripled as a member of the Big 10.

National skeptics scoffed at the thought of Coach Prime coming to 1-11 Colorado before George made it happen. They’ll do the same at the hint of Colorado football joining the club with the sport’s biggest spenders. The Big 10 is mum on extending any new invites anytime soon. But when they decide to expand again, the Buffs have put themselves in Prime position to join the club. Dream big Colorado.



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