New commission: Big 12 open for business amid realignment talks

ARLINGTON New Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark declared the league “open for business,” saying that while nothing is imminent, all options will be explored as he takes over with a conference realignment that is once again shaking up college sports.

Yormark made his opening remarks Wednesday at the start of the Conference Football Media Days at AT&T Stadium. He was announced as Bob Bowlsby’s successor two weeks ago. The next day, it was announced that Southern California and UCLA would be leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten in 2024, setting off all kinds of speculation about what moves might follow.

“We’re exploring all options and we’re open for business,” Yormark said when asked if the Big 12 was actively engaged in negotiations with any of the Pac-12 schools.

“Optional is good and we’re checking all of them,” he said, without talking specifically about the schools. “I think it’s fair to say I’ve had a lot of phone calls, a lot of interest. People understand the direction of the Big 12 and we’re exploring those interest levels.”

With the Pac-12 down to 10 teams, any further significant loss of members could deal a fatal blow to a conference that was officially founded in 1959.

The former Roc Nation executive and Brooklyn Nets CEO officially starts on Aug. 1, but he’s already been quite busy with Big 12 business.

“What excites me most about joining the Big 12 is the transformative moment before us all today,” he said. “We have an opportunity to grow and then build the Big 12 brand and business. … Moments like these don’t come around often and we have to seize them and make the most of them.”

Along with the realignment, Jormark emphasized adding revenue streams and the opportunity to nationalize the Big 12 brand, be more aspirational and appeal to the youth culture of “getting younger and hip.”

He also mentioned “seeing the true professionalization of college sports” at a time when name, image and likeness compensation for athletes is entering its second year.

The Big Ten’s move west was another seismic shift in conference realignment, similar to when it was revealed a week after Big 12 media days last summer that Texas and Oklahoma were moving to the Southeastern Conference no later than the 2025 season.

“I’m sure Brett is deeply appreciative of the way he’s been welcomed into the Big 12 with, again, conference realignment at the top of the list of things to deal with,” said Baylor President Linda Livingston, part of a three-member Big 12 board executive committee that spearheaded the search.

Livingston spoke with Yormark by phone a few days after he was named, which was after the UCLA and USC news.

“Well, welcome to college track and field and you think working for Jay-Z is really exciting,” she told him.

Yormark described himself as actively involved in the realignment, with input from across the conference.

The Big 12 enters its 12th and final season as a 10-school league. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are joining next summer after being approved for membership last September.

The impending departure of two of the Pac-12’s biggest brands came as a huge surprise, just as it did a year ago when the only national champions in Big 12 football decided to leave the conference.

Yormark said the eventual addition of more teams to the Big 12 would not necessarily affect any decision involving the Longhorns or Sooners leaving before the expiration of the league’s media rights deal, which has three more football seasons.

“I’m sure there will be a time when we sit down and discuss the future,” Yormark said of Texas and Oklahoma. “But in any situation like this, I’m always looking for a win-win scenario. That being said, it is important that whatever happens is in the best interest of this conference.”

Yormark plans to visit the current Big 12 schools and the four that will join next summer in August and September.

Livingston said Yormark rose to the top of a strong field of candidates during the search process.

“We can say that with his experience in professional sports and sponsorships, and in media, in entertainment, given where college athletics is going and all the changes that are going on, with our upcoming media rights negotiations, that Brett, in combined with the really strong athletic directors that we have throughout the conference would be a great combination to position us really well for the future,” she said.

This will be Yormark’s first job in college track and field, though he said it’s a career he’s often thought about taking.

The 55-year-old was a sales executive at Jay-Z’s Roc Nation after previously working with the Nets and managing the Barclay Center, their home arena, for more than a decade. He previously served as NASCAR’s vice president of corporate sponsorships.

“I’ve always had a vision of being in college sports. Honestly, I thought it might be an ad, I wasn’t sure,” Jormark said. “But I was in love with the space. It was fueled during my stay at the Barclays Center. When this opportunity came up, I said, let’s give it a great shot, and luckily it all worked out.”

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