Brett Yormark wants to make the Big 12 a “younger, hipper and cooler” conference after he officially takes over as commissioner early next month.
Notice he didn’t say “hipper, cooler or younger.” He’s aiming for all three.
How will Yormark, a college sports outsider who has spent most of his professional life working with the NBA and Jay-Z’s talent agency ROC Nation, approach that kind of makeover? Good question. The league that Kansas and K-State call home is fighting for future relevance as the Big Ten and the SEC attempt to leave every other conference in their wake.
It will be interesting to see what kind of strategy Yormark leans on to help the Big 12 keep pace and project a new image.
But if we’re being honest, handling the first part of that award will take care of everything else.
The youngest, hippest and coolest thing that the Big 12 can do right now is position itself as the nation’s No. 3 conference. Here are three ways the Big 12 can go about doing exactly that as conference realignment continues to shake up the college sports landscape.
1. Look to the Pac-12 and expand
One option is already off the table, according to a report from ESPN. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have no interest in merging their conferences. Whether it be by pooling resources, scheduling juicy crossover games or creating the nation’s largest league, they don’t think a partnership makes fiscal sense.
Both conferences discussed all those possibilities, but Big 12 leaders reportedly informed the Pac-12 they didn’t want to proceed.
It was an ironic end to those negotiations, seeing as how the Big 12 asked to partner with the Pac-12 last summer and got turned down in much the same way when their roles were reversed.
Now the Big 12 must decide if it wants to make a run at inviting a handful of Pac-12 teams into the fold or standing pat with its current membership.
Expansion would make sense for two main reasons. It would provide the Big 12 strength in numbers and seriously weaken the Pac-12 as a power conference, which would create less competition.
Many have speculated that the Big 12 is interested in Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. Oregon and Washington are two other schools that would make sense.
In the past, Pac-12 schools haven’t shown much interest in the Big 12. Heck, Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 little more than a decade ago. But now that UCLA and USC are heading to the Big Ten, the Big 12 can provide more stability than any league on the West Coast.
Expanding to 16 or more members would give the Big 12 a larger presence across three time zones and potentially give it a leg up on the ACC.
Just because the Big 12 passed on an opportunity to partner with the Pac-12 doesn’t mean it has given up on poaching its Pac-12 schools of choice. But it will have to make fiscal sense, with the new teams bringing in new value.
“We could maybe be the hunter this year,” K-State athletics director Gene Taylor said last week. “We all feel that way. With a new commissioner, we are just trying to figure out the best way to go about it.”
2. Lock up a lucrative TV deal
Outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced last week that the Big 12 distributed a record $42.6 million to each of its members in revenue last year.
That number is bound to decline after league heavyweights Oklahoma and Texas leave for the SEC in 2025. But by how much?
In the past, Bowlsby has suggested that the conference would lose half its TV value without the Longhorns and Sooners. But that was before BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF accepted invitations to join the league.
Armed with new members and an evolving media landscape, perhaps Yormark can negotiate a new TV deal that ranks ahead of both the ACC and the Pac-12.
NBC is reportedly interested in expanding its college football programming on top of Notre Dame home games. Adding the Peacock streaming network to a list of bidders for Big 12 football would be a good thing for the conference. Imagine a Big 12/Notre Dame doubleheader Saturday when the Fighting Irish play at home and a standalone Big 12 game in prime time when the Irish are on the road.
Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, having NBC involved could drive up the price for ESPN or Fox to continue broadcasting Big 12 games. CBS will also be in need of product after the SEC moves completely to ABC and ESPN. It’s also possible a streaming service such as Apple TV or Netflix could enter the picture.
There are no guarantees that any of those networks will offer the Big 12 a head-turning deal. But negotiating one could eliminate the need for expansion.
Then again, the Pac-12 will know what its media rights are worth without UCLA and USC in the next few weeks. If the number underwhelms, the Big 12 will gain leverage.
3. Just win baby
Let’s say we have entered the eye of conference realignment’s storm and no more major moves are charging fast on the horizon.
There is one other, albeit slower, way the Big 12 can prove it belongs with the Big Ten and SEC even as they try to separate from the pack. Big 12 teams can win big on the football field.
The Big 12 proved itself as the nation’s top men’s basketball conference when Baylor and Kansas won back-to-back national championships. It can show it belongs on the football field in much the same way, by winning important bowl games and sending teams to the playoff.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team that has ever made the playoff, so it won’t be easy for someone new to carry the flag. But Cincinnati reached the big stage last season as a member of the American. It can be done.
We could also see the playoff expand beyond four teams in the not-so-distant future.
Someone has to fill the void left behind by Oklahoma and Texas. If new powers emerge and the Big 12 establishes a new presence in the playoff, it will be well-positioned to succeed.