‘Nothing imminent’: New Big 12 commissioner addresses expansion, visiting ‘all 14 campuses’ and more at Big 12 media days
Brett Yormark says the conference BYU will join in 2023 is ‘open for business’ and exploring all of its options in regard to expansion
ARLINGTON, Texas — New Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said the college athletics conference that will add BYU and three other schools in 2023 is “open for business” and “exploring all of our options” in regard to further expansion in light of the announcement last month that USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.
Giving his introductory address and answering questions at the league’s football media days on Wednesday morning at AT&T Stadium, Yormark cautioned that “nothing is imminent” even as some media outlets continue to report that the Big 12 has had discussions with at least six Pac-12 schools, including the University of Utah, about joining the conference.
Despite not officially starting until Aug. 1, Yormark said he has been “very involved with the stakeholders, both inside and outside the Big 12, regarding our path forward and opportunities to grow both the Big 12 brand and business.”
“Everything we do must create momentum for these (GOR) negotiations.” — New Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark
Baylor president Linda Livingstone also appeared at the kickoff news conference and said the Big 12 is back in “a position of strength” after the stunning announcement 51 weeks ago that longtime Big 12 members Texas and Oklahoma were leaving for the SEC.
A few months after that, the Big 12 added BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati, a move that outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby defended later Wednesday as an expansion decision that was appropriate and improved the Big 12’s brand.
Regarding BYU, Bowlsby said the school owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a “true worldwide reach” and will be a “valuable” asset to the conference.
In what was something of a farewell address, Bowlsby joked that last year at these same meetings he told participants that the Big 12 was experiencing “calm waters” and in a good place nationally. Eight days later, Oklahoma and Texas announced they were heading to the SEC.
“So you can take my assessment of calm waters for what they’re worth,” Bowlsby said. “… Indeed, the seismic shifts are continuing in college athletics.”
Livingstone, the Big 12 vice chairman, praised Bowlsby’s work in bringing in the four newcomers, saying the outgoing commissioner “deserves tremendous credit for (acquiring) BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston … to prepare us for where we are today.”
But Wednesday morning was Yormark’s time to shine and lay out his vision for the league that finds itself further behind the Big Ten and the SEC with the developments of the past year. The former chief operating officer of Roc Nation, and before that CEO of the Brooklyn Nets from 2005-19, said the upcoming media rights negotiations will guide the conference’s leadership in all it does the next couple of years.
“Everything we do must create momentum for these negotiations,” Yormark said.
Bowlsby said the conference distributed $42.6 million apiece to member schools last year.
The Big 12’s grant of rights to various broadcast entities expires in 2025. However, the new commissioner told a smaller group of reporters later that he is “not against” having discussions with all parties involved earlier if they are ready. That includes departing members Texas and Oklahoma.
“But it has to be in the best interest of the conference, obviously,” he said. “… Any situation like this, I always look for a win-win.”
Yormark said when it comes to negotiating media rights contracts, the focus will remain on linear networks as opposed to streaming services.
Asked about his opinion on an expanded College Football Playoff, Yormark said he is in favor of an expanded format, but didn’t want to give specifics until he speeds up on the issue in the next few weeks.
“The structure of (what) that looks like is certainly something that we all need to discuss,” he said. “I am looking forward to having meaningful conversations with the other Power Five commissioners. … Generally speaking, I would like to see expansion.”
Yormark’s initial contract is for five years. He asked media members to give Bowlsby a round of applause — a request that wasn’t fully granted — and told Bowlsby “you will be an incredible resource for me.”
As expected, most of the questions directed toward Yormark involved expansion. Asked what his initial response was when he heard USC and UCLA were bolting the Pac-12, he replied: “I was excited by it, in many respects, because I saw there was opportunity.”
He said he has received “a lot of phone calls, a lot of interest. Nothing is imminent. … We will leave no stone unturned to drive value for the conference.”
Yormark said he will visit “all 14 campuses” within the next two months, which obviously includes the four newcomers in 2023, including BYU. He said it will be a “listening tour.”
“I am bullish on the conference,” he said. “What we look like today and what we look like when we enter those negotiations could be very different. But I am looking forward to that moment.”
Yormark spoke at length about making the Big 12 more of a national brand. Asked to expound on how he will do that, he said he would like to make it “younger, hipper, cooler” and “more contemporary … by diversifying some of the things” that the Big 12 does. He wants to appeal more to “youth culture” to build the brand.
“Exploration and optionality is at the forefront of what we are focused on,” he said. “Anything considered (in regards to expansion) must be additive and not dilutive.”