MORGANTOWN — Brett Yormark’s, “Open for business” slogan he used in 2022 to describe the Big 12 was once met with a ton of optimism if not outright laughter.
No one is laughing at the Big 12 now since the conference has brought back Colorado, bringing the league to a strong 13 teams in 2024, once Texas and Oklahoma bolt for the SEC.
In the span of one year, the Big 12 has gone from being left for dead to becoming a player in the game of whatever college athletics will look like in the future.
Not only that, but Big 12 commissioner Yormark has secured an impressive TV deal with both ESPN and Fox that will be lucrative — we’ll get into that in a moment — for the conference, even after Texas and Oklahoma leave.
For that, Yormark deserves major kudos. We would throw out he needs a lifetime contract extension, except it will be his next moves that will determine that.
Before we get to any of that, a breakdown is needed for what once was.
The Big 12’s current TV deal with ESPN and Fox — the one with O.U. and Texas still involved in a 10-team league — was worth a base of $22 million per school.
That doesn’t sound like much, especially compared to the SEC and Big Ten, but once you add in money earned from bowl games, the College Football Playoff and NCAA tournaments (obviously the men’s hoops tourney is the main one, but money is earned in all of the other ones, too), the Big 12 earned a record $440 million.
Split that 10 ways and the $44 million per school for the 2022 fiscal year was a record for the Big 12. In comparison, the SEC handed out $49.9 million per school. The Big Ten will hand out a projected $58.8 million.
The Big 12 is clearly No. 3 among the Power Five, with Pac-12 schools earning $37 million in its final year of its current TV deal, while ACC schools are set to earn $38 million from its deal with ESPN that runs through 2036.
OK, so that’s the baseline we’re working from here.
Texas and Oklahoma are leaving the Big 12 in 2024, while BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati are joining now.
Here’s what Yormark accomplished: The Big 12’s base with ESPN and Fox will go from $22 million per school to $31.7 million, even after Texas and Oklahoma leave.
Add up all the extra potential money — including a more lucrative 12-team football playoff that begins in the 2024 season — and Big 12 teams will likely surpass $50 million per season.
That doesn’t change once Colorado comes into the league in 2024. Yormark negotiated the TV deals with ESPN and Fox in that adding new members will add revenue to the base, so by adding Colorado, it adds an additional $31.7 million, rather than the Buffaloes cutting into the league’s pie.
Any new members that would come in during the six-year deal would simply add another $31.7 million to the Big 12.
Which leads us to Yormark’s next move.
Further expansion simply can’t be about adding more teams, although that’s the most interesting part.
The part of the revenues that will get cut up by adding more teams is the “potential monies,” i.e, the bowl games, the NCAA tournaments and College Football Playoff money.
How do you make up for that? Yormark will need to add to the Big 12’s bowl-game allegiances, which currently stands at seven (not including the New Year’s Six or the playoff.)
If the Pac-12 is in ruin, that league currently has attractive ties with the Holiday Bowl and the Sun Bowl. If those can become Big 12 bowls, they’re certainly more attractive than the Guaranteed Rate Bowl and it also adds more funds to divvy up.
If you’re adding more teams, the more likely more teams will get into NCAA tournaments in all sports, so there will be additional funds there, too.
So now we get to the guessing game: Who else will the Big 12 add?
You’ve read what I’ve read. The majority of the remaining Pac-12 teams are on the horn with Yormark. I would guess schools such as UConn, San Diego State and Memphis are begging to be included.
The best advice Yormark can follow right now is don’t set expansion to a certain number.
Talk on the street is the Big 12 wants to add one more school for 2024 to have an even 14.
That sounds OK in the near term, but you have to be able to see the forest through the trees. If the Big Ten and the SEC have proven anything it’s that they’ll never just sit idle.
The Power Five will eventually become the Power Three.
When? The guess here is at the very least in 2036, when the ACC’s ridiculous contract is up with ESPN and those schools have become severely ticked off they’re making so much less than most everyone else, if that’s not already the situation.
Rather than an even 14, Yormark needs to be thinking, at least, an even 20.
The six-year deal the Big 12 just secured, well, those six years can go by pretty quick.
Do you want Oklahoma State to come into play to being poached in six years? How about a major TV market in Houston or a warm-weather destination in UCF?
Yormark and the Big 12 can avoid that by becoming as strong as possible as quickly as possible. Don’t just stop at adding teams, but he’s got to go after bowl games, too.
Eventually college basketball will become a focus of conference realignment. There was talk last year the Big 12 was talking to Gonzaga about becoming a basketball-only member. Make it happen as soon as possible.
When 2036 rolls around, be ready to pounce on schools such as Clemson, Louisville or Pitt, if not before 2036. Don’t be afraid to give Notre Dame a call. What’s the worse that can happen there?
Just randomly adding one more university and then going into a holding pattern really doesn’t do the Big 12’s future much good, other than some nice headlines.
Yormark has the opportunity right now to make the Big 12 a national brand, one that would be hard to poach again in the future, and more importantly, one that would be a clear No. 3 behind the SEC and Big Ten.
Here’s hoping he makes the most of that opportunity.