After a decade with Bob Bowlsby leading the way for the Big 12, new commissioner Brett Yormark took the stand today at Big 12 Media Days as his debut to the conference media. In these days of uncertainty surrounding the future of conferences and college football as whole and the potential of conference expansion, Yormark’s opening press conference was maybe the single most anticipated event of the entirety of Big 12 Media Days.
Early and often, Yormark stressed that the Big 12 is taking a more aggressive approach moving forward to modernize and expand the conference’s brand.
“One thing is for sure: The Big 12 is open for business. We will leave no stone unturned to drive value for the conference,” said Yormark to open the press conference.
This type of rhetoric from the Big 12 commissioner is in stark contrast to the Bowlsby era, which often felt as though the conference was willfully entrenched in a reactionary state, attempting to navigate obstacles as they come rather than take a proactive approach to eliminate the obstacles altogether. If you believe that Bowlsby was, at times, a but spineless or incompetent in his leadership for the large portion of his tenure, Yormark’s remarks today seemed to be specifically worded to be a counter to that.
Conference realignment and media contracts are obviously the hottest topic right now in the wake of the Big Ten scooping up USC and UCLA and sending the Pac-12 into further turmoil, and the Big 12 has two different angles to address for the issue.
First and foremost, the conference will need its own new media deal going forward when the existing contract expires in 2025. Regardless of which members are involved, the conference needs to create value and expand the wider appeal of the conference to younger and broader audiences. That means establishing a conference identity that it has never really been able to solidify since it was originally created out of a merger with the Big 8 and the Southwest Conference.
Multiple times during the conference, Yormark mentioned an effort to make the Big 12 identity “younger, hipper, and cooler.” What exactly that means is anybody’s guess, but this is the first time we’ve heard the conference place an emphasis on modernizing the conference’s brand and media presence, so, at minimum, we should be getting ready to see so more out-of-the-box thinking from the Big 12, which is in a position to secure itself as the third best conference in college football for the foreseeable future.
However, the burning questions primarily surrounded conference expansion, especially the addition of Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado. Yormark said he’s field numerous calls on the matter, but said nothing is imminent.
While the conference is undoubtedly interested in making whatever moves it needs to make to continue to create value for the conference, Yormark mentioned multiple times that conference expansion doesn’t automatically generate more value for each school. “Exploration and optionality is at the forefront of what we are focused on. Anything considered must be additive and not dilutive.”
All of this is to say that the Big 12 appears to be headed in a new direction and taking a more aggressive approach as the new contract negotiations approach, and Brett Yormark seems to have the right mindset to get the conference headed down a prosperous path. As first impressions go, he did about as well as you could ask. However, his toughest days as commissioner of the Big 12 are certainly still ahead of him.
Keep an eye out as we cover more of Big 12 Media Days, especially tomorrow when Matt Campbell takes the stand.