The Big 12 Conference has finally found a settling feeling of optimism and contentment after being poached and pillaged for 15 years.
That’s the view of the fourth-longest tenured athletic director among Power Five teams, Iowa State’s Jamie Pollard.
When asked by a writer for The Athletic how he felt about the league and its new additions of BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF, Pollard said, “Never have felt stronger.”
That’s a big deal for the Big 12.
“I never have felt stronger about the fabric of the Big 12,” Pollard said Tuesday during a fan excursion around Iowa. “I’ve done this for 18 years. Quite frankly, for 161⁄2 years, I still have the scars, the scabs, the bruises from the Big 12 being the conference that was ready to implode.”
As Pollard and other Big 12 athletic directors look around, for the first time they don’t have to duck or check their backs for dagger wounds. They can plan on stability.
Big thanks to @brettyormark & the entire @Big12Conference staff for hosting a great 2-day event in Arlington! Was great to hear about the vision of the conference, hear from industry leaders and connect with and build on the relationships with university and conference colleagues https://t.co/fwjkoTDTD3
— David Almodova (@DKaulana) May 24, 2023
As they look left and right they see the upheaval in the ACC with members disgruntled over revenues while stuck in a longtime rights deal.
As they look to the north, they see the Big Ten’s wealthy TV deal missing some crossed t’s and dotted i’s after the departure of commissioner Kevin Warren.
As they look west, they see the Pac-12 bushwacked by the Big Ten, robbery of USC and UCLA, absorbing the left coast’s most valuable TV markets, making the league vulnerable and stuck in a seemingly never-ending media rights negotiation with hints of defections daily.
No, the Big 12 is content.
This past week the Big 12 staged its first Business Summit in Arlington, Texas. BYU’s associate athletic director for communications and media strategy Jon McBride was present with other colleagues.
“The Big 12 Summit really was a great experience. Commissioner (Brett) Yormark wants the conference to be a leader at the ‘crossroads of culture, sport and business.’ That was apparent by the programming within the summit,” McBride said Thursday.
“We had sessions with multiple industry leaders and subject-matter experts from the NBA, WNBA, NFL and Big 12 Business Advisory Board in the fields of communications, marketing, fan experience, social media, creative solutions, media relations, influencer relations, broadcast relations, game operations and more,” he said. “Outside of the sessions themselves, we were able to make important connections with our counterparts at the other Big 12 schools.”
He continued: “Having had some digital outreach with my colleagues in these other programs, this was our first time to be together physically in the same location. It was an exciting jumping-off point, for what I’m confident will be great working relationships moving forward. There is a lot of energy and excitement for what’s ahead.”
No athletic conference in the country knows upheaval like the Big 12. Earlier this century the Pac-10 tried to court six Big 12 teams and two weeks of heightened drama led to Nebraska going to the Big Ten and Colorado accepting an invite to the Pac-12 in 2011.
With that shakeup, the door was opened for Oklahoma and Texas to listen to the Pac-12 again, promptly triggering Texas A&M and Missouri to leave for the SEC. Scrambling, then commissioner Bob Bowlsby got league presidents to invite TCU and West Virginia in 2012. But wallowing in destabilization, Texas and Oklahoma decided to bolt for the SEC in 2021.
So, if rumors are true that Colorado may bolt the ailing Pac-12 and return to the Big 12, possibly starting a domino effect that could bring other Pac-12 refugees to the Big 12, one can see how smiles could break out in this part of the country.
According to research by The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman, “Once Oklahoma and Texas exit, the Big 12 will have 12 members that are similar institutions with comparable revenues and expenses. According to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, eight of the 12 schools reported football revenues between $30 million and $60 million during the 2021 fiscal year. Texas and Oklahoma made $161 million and $131 million, respectively, in football revenue that year.”
In 2022 the Big 12 gave each school $42.6 million from its media rights and added money. This coming year that figure is projected to be more than $50 million and includes $31.5 million from the six-year media rights deal negotiated by new commissioner Yormark, money from NCAA basketball tournament revenue, expanded CFP playoff money, and tier three broadcast rights sold by individual schools.
That $50 million puts the Big 12 squarely in position three behind the Big Ten and SEC as the third-most financially viable Power Five conference.
So, if Pollard and other Big 12 administrators are anxiously looking forward to the coming sports season with far more zeal and confidence, one can understand.
Going from the edge of a deep pit to a comfortable padded perch is an understandably exciting evolution for Big 12 types.
Last summer there appeared no sane reason Big 12 commish Yormark would leapfrog the Pac-12 in TV rights negotiations — literally going out of turn. But he did, perhaps knowing there was only so much money out there. What he did was brilliant.
Houston athletic director Chris Pezman told the Daily Oklahoman, “Brett’s done an extraordinary job in a short amount of time. That TV deal, he doesn’t get enough credit. He has put us in an even more favorable position.”
“I don’t wish ill will upon any of my peers,” Pollard said. “But it is fascinating to hear, not only the Pac-12 problems, but now the ACC has got their own Groundhog Day. It reminds me of the Big 12 from 2010-12. Then even to hear the latest news out of the Big Ten about the Fox and NBC challenges, for once the Big 12 is not having issues. So it’s kind of refreshing.”
Of the new Big 12 newcomers and keepers after the departure of Texas and Oklahoma, BYU (61,647) and Iowa State (60,704) have the largest football attendance figures. With most all schools bringing in the same revenue, there is a feeling all the schools are competitively in the same sphere and tied together with like goals and challenges.
It’s a recipe for sticking together and making things work.
If the Pac-12 implodes and Arizona decides to bolt for the Big 12, that would be like adding the Lakers, Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets to the nation’s top college circuit.
One could say a year after a Big 12 team played for the college football national championship, heading into a summer where expansion candidates are settled and anxious, the league is in high cotton.