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A year in as Big 12 commissioner, Yormark says 'open for business' was about more than expansion

Brett Yormark
Posted at 7:31 PM, Jul 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-12 20:31:10-04

ARLINGTON, Texas — Brett Yormark was definitely trying to send a message during his introduction as the Big 12 commissioner last year when he said the league was “open for business.”

A year into the job, Yormark said that statement was more than just about ongoing realignment and the potential of additional expansion during a transformative time throughout college football.

“I think people took that as, my god, this guy’s new and he wants to go and disrupt, I guess, in some respects,” Yormark said Wednesday at the start of Big 12 football media days. “Open for business was that we were going to explore every and all possibility to grow revenue, to diversify our conference and do things that hadn't been done before. And we did a lot of that."

And, yes, there is still a plan for expansion, even though Yormark doesn't really want to talk about it.

The Big 12 is already bigger after BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF officially became members July 1, about 17 months after their invitations to the evolving conference. There will be 14 teams this fall with Texas and Oklahoma, the league's only remaining national champions in football, playing their final seasons before heading to the Southeastern Conference next summer.

“We do have a plan and hopefully we can execute that plan sooner than later,” Yormark said, without being specific. “I love the composition of this conference right now. ... And if we stay at 12 (teams), we’re perfectly fine with that.”

Yormark said the Big 12 isn't chasing a certain number of schools.

Before becoming commissioner, Yormark had never had a job in college athletics. He came from Jay-Z's Roc Nation, where he was the chief operating officer on the commercial side of the business. He is a former CEO of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and also worked for NASCAR.

“When I took this job, it was the first time I really experienced college football. And candidly, I’m hooked,” he said.

At the end of the Big 12's spring business meetings last month, Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec said there was a great deal of enthusiasm about the state of the conference and prospects for the future.

“The general sense is that when we hired Brett Yormark we hit the jackpot,” Schovanec said. “It was a little less than a year ago when we were conducting the search and we were considering our possibilities. Some were identified as moderate reward, moderate risk. One was identified as high risk, high reward, and we went with the high risk, high reward, and we’re benefiting.”

The Big 12 last fall extended its media rights deal with ESPN and Fox Sports through the 2030-31 school year, which Yormark said created stability and clarity for the league. That deal was set to expire in two years, after the departures of Texas and Oklahoma.

The Big 12 recently completed its first conference-wide strategic plan since 2011, the first year as a 10-team league. A business advisory board was formed, and plans were announced for a league-wide Pro Day with the NFL and men's and women's basketball games in Mexico City late next year with the possibility of a football bowl game in Monterrey.

“It’s been a very busy 11 months, but it’s not necessarily about where we've been,” Yormark said. “For all of us, it’s about where we’re going as we look forward. We will continue to innovate, create and positively disrupt, living at the intersections of culture, sports and business.”

A record record revenue distribution of $440 million will be split among the 10 current schools for the past academic year, and those numbers are expected to grow moving forward with additional teams. Asked about where he felt the Big 12 ranked among the Power Five conferences, Yormark said he's not really competing with other leagues.

“I want the Big 12 to be the best version of ourselves. And if we can do that, we’re in a great place,” he said. “So it’s not about ranking us within the Power Five. But I can tell you this, there’s been no better time to be a part of the Big 12 than right now. And this thing is going to grow..”

Yormark said he anticipates 2023 being a season of celebration in the Big 12, which saw TCU reach the national championship game last year where it lost to Georgia.

“We’re going to celebrate our continuing eight (members), we’re going to celebrate our new four," he said. "And, in fact, we’re going to celebrate Texas and Oklahoma and all the contributions they’ve made to this conference since day one, because they’ll always be a big part of this conference.”