Commissioner Brett Yormark says Big 12 has solidified itself as one of nation's top 3 conferences

Tue, Jul 9, 2024
NCAAF News (AP)

Commissioner Brett Yormark says Big 12 has solidified itself as one of nation's top 3 conferences

Brett Yormark believes the Big 12 has clearly solidified itself as one of the nation's top three conferences in a period of drastic change in college athletics, and the commissioner said the expanding league is more relevant than it has ever been in its nearly three-decades history.

"We are truly a national conference in 10 states, four time zones, and all eyes are now on the Big 12 for all the right reasons," Yormark said at the start of league's football media days Tuesday in Las Vegas.

While the league's past national champions, Oklahoma and Texas, left for the Southeastern Conference, a move that became official last week, Yormark touted the additions of the Four Corners schools from the Pac 12: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. Those schools are participating in media days before their Big 12 membership formally begins at the start of August to make it a 16-team league for the first time.

"On the football front, we will be the deepest conference in America. Every week will matter," Yormark said, then repeating that for emphasis before moving on. "We have star power and parity. We boast some of the top players and coaches in the game. November will be incredibly exciting and we will brand it as a race to the championship."

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The SEC and Big Ten, the wealthiest and most powerful conferences, have worked together and at one point this year had proposed multiple automatic bids for their conferences in the College Football Playoff, which expands from four to 12 teams this season.

Yormark, going into his third year as the Big 12 commissioner after years in the entertainment industry, including a stint as CEO of Roc Nation, said his only thought each day is making the Big 12 the best version of itself. The Big 12 in 2022 extended its media rights deal with ESPN and Fox Sports through the 2030-31 school year, a move that came with two years left on the old deal and created stability and clarity for the league.

"Everything else doesn't really matter. And if we take care of business, we're going to be just fine," he said. "Not only have we had a great 24 months, but we continue to get better."

The Big 12 last month announced that the 14 schools that participated in the 2023-24 academic year shared a record $470 million of revenue distribution, an increase of about $30 million from the previous year. Without giving specific numbers, Yormark said the Big 12's sponsorship business grew 79% in the first year after that was streamlined to be handled directly by the conference instead of outside parties and that ticket sales grew 23% across the league.

Yormark said the league's top priority as a business is growth and creating value for its schools.

"As we build our brand, we will continue to build our business,: he said. "We will not stumble into this new era following settlement. In fact, we will be aggressive and very proactive."

That settlement is the agreement in May by the NCAA and the nation's five biggest leagues to pay nearly $2.8 billion to settle a host of antitrust claims. That decision sets the stage for a groundbreaking revenue-sharing model that could start steering millions of dollars directly to athletes, expected to be more than $20 million per school per year, as soon as the 2025 fall semester.

"We are going through a change, but I would rather call it a necessary reset," Yormark said. "In 10 years, I think we look back at this period as a positive moment in collegiate athletics history."

The commissioner said the settlement provides a very "crystal clear future and path forward" for college athletics and the Big 12.

"I often refer to our league as a mature startup," Yormark said. "This means our brand can be younger, more progressive, and innovative compared to some of our peers."

Yormark said the league is exploring all options, including Big 12 naming rights and private equity. But he didn't want to get into a conversation about private equity, then later said nothing is imminent on naming rights.

When he became the Big 12 commissioner two summers ago, Yormark was an executive with Jay-Z's Roc Nation and a former CEO of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets. He spent almost 15 years with the Nets and previously was with NASCAR, where he oversaw a $750 million agreement with Nextel Communications for naming rights to the circuit's top racing series.

"Do I believe in naming rights? I do. I've done quite a few in my career," Yormark said. "I see the value, if they're the right naming rights, and it's the right partner. So we're going to explore it and we'll see where we land."

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