Big 12 prepare to pounce on Four Corners schools as doubt mounts over Pac-12 viability

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Brett Yormark rushed into a waiting car service Tuesday night, it was perhaps the first time he was recognized outside of the office in his still-new job.

“He’s the commissioner of the Big 12!” sprung a group standing on a street corner as if Paul McCartney had just passed.

In general, college commissioners are not recognized on the street. At this rate, Yormark could quickly become a rock star in this town.

The freshman boss sees possibilities for his league reflected this week in the Big 12 tournament. Thanks to Yormark, the scene involves much more than basketball.

Saturday night Shaquille O’Neal (hired by the Big 12) will be seated courtside at the T-Mobile Center before his Saturday night DJ appearance in conjunction with the event. This is after a Friday night concert by rapper Fat Joe.

Yormark has commissioned a Big 12 basketball anthem, “No Nights Off,” which will play on loop around the arena this week.

“My vision for this conference is that we will live at the intersection of culture and sport,” Yormark told media on Wednesday.

If the 208 floor seats Yormark repurposed (media seats) are any indication, the best basketball conference in the nation is about to become what Yormark promised: hipper, younger, sexier. A Las Vegas on the Plains. Yormark took those seats, sold them for $5,000 each to high rollers, and created a championship club under the bleachers where only they can enjoy what amounts to an upscale speakeasy.

Four new fan groups — those from BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF — are already feeling the timing.

“Whatever there is to improve our product, let’s do it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the commissioner Wednesday before the tournament began. “… From a promotional standpoint, anything that’s doable, he’ll do.”

It may not stop at the entertainment aspect. Yormark continues to pursue the Pac-12 Four Corners schools: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. There have been “weekly” conversions between the Big 12 and these four programs as talk has heated up, a league insider told CBS Sports.

Big 12 sources were eagerly awaiting to hear the results of a Colorado Board of Regents meeting held to discuss the program’s future in the Pac-12. The UC regents met in a special session, according to multiple reports.

According to Big 12 sources, it may only take one of the Four Corners schools to leave the Pac-12 for the other three to follow.

“To me, that’s the one we have to get,” Self said of Arizona.

“I always thought the schools in Arizona, Colorado and Utah were a great fit for us,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “Who doesn’t want to visit Arizona?”

Rarely has a conference taken on the personality of its commissioner without realizing it while worshiping him.

The Pac-12 has been mostly quiet since last summer when USC and UCLA announced they were leaving for the Big Ten.

The Big 12, however, hired a negotiating whirlwind that didn’t shy away from doing much. The league will play with 14 teams in 2023-24 as Texas and Oklahoma play the string and the four newcomers settle. After that?

“Who knows where the expansion takes us?” said Yormark.

The conference once dubbed the Pure Prairie League (because of its Great Plains roots) might as well be renamed “Nationwide.” That’s if Yormark succeeds and becomes the only FBS conference with teams in all four time zones.

Going coast to coast is part of the motivation to get bigger. The same goes for potentially getting to 16 teams, which would at least put the Big 12 on par with the two superpowers (SEC, Big Ten) in terms of membership. It would be a sign of stability. It could also mean a renewal of the underrated Holy War rivalry in the same conference for the first time since 2010.

It’s not Duke-North Carolina, but how’s it going at ACC roughly now?

Stability is definitely something the Pac-12 cannot claim at the moment. Cracks appear. Yormark and the Big 12 offer a haven of peace. It all seems inevitable this week at the Big 12 tournament.

Will there be other realignments?

Four Corners Schools: Last week, three senior industry sources told CBS Sports they believe Yormark will be successful in attracting at least a combination of Four Corners schools. Some went further speculating that the Pac-12 was weeks away from disbanding.

“The fucking breakup, in a way,” a source said.

So did the confidence in the Pac-12 to get a new media rights deal that will keep all 10 schools together.

The irony is that the Pac-12 had two chances to break the Big 12 starting in 2010. That year, former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott failed in his bid to attract half of the Big 12 in his league. In 2021, when Texas and Oklahoma left, the Pac-12 chose not to tackle what was left of a crumbling Big 12. Former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby moved quickly that summer to add BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.

Oregon and Washington: The Ducks and Huskies’ future as members of the Pac-12 may be tied to outgoing Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren. There are indications that at least one Big Ten media rights holder won’t engage in expansion talks until Warren officially leaves the conference for the Chicago Bears on April 17. This could create a tricky transition for Pac-12 schools if they have their eyes on the Big Ten.

The belief is that the future of the Pac-12 will be clear long before April 17th. What will happen to Oregon and Washington if they are in some sort of purgatory awaiting their fate at the conference? They were near the top of Warren’s list as he pushed the Big Ten to grow further after the conference finalized its new media rights deal in August.

At the time, Big Ten athletic directors and presidents were against such a move that would have included Stanford and California. Without Warren being there to lobby for these schools, it may work to their advantage. Eventually. (The Big Ten has yet to announce Warren’s replacement.)

Pac-12 extension or backfill? The Pac-12 CEOs would have authorized the expansion of up to four teams. However, an industry source notes that this decision may not be about expansion, but rather about filling the league if the Pac-12 loses those Four Corners schools — or more. In other words, the states of Colorado and Fresno would not expand the Pac-12, they would keep it standing.

The Pac-12 cannot sustain the loss of “even two” teams and remain a viable Power Five conference, veteran media consultant Neil Pilson told CBS Sports recently. “I don’t think they can afford to lose even two more schools. I think if they go back to Pac-8 or Pac-10, [it will not be good]”Pilson said.

Opportunity lost? There have been recent rumors that the Pac-12 could have received the same deal as the Big 12 in October ($31.66 million per team) if they had acted more aggressively to renew their media rights. It probably would have solidified the league for years. However, Yormark jumped past the Big 12 with an October deal which was initially criticized for being below market. Well, there’s below market and it’s still viable as a conference.

The Big 12 is guaranteed to have at least 12 loyal members through 2030-31 starting this fall. The Pac-12’s survival is by no means guaranteed.

“It’s not black and white,” Pilson said. “The market can force you to make tough decisions. If it was an easy choice, [the Pac-12] probably would have done this months ago. If they really had a good deal, they probably would have taken it.”

Adding to the Pac-12 woes, there could be more layoffs to come at some media giants. This begs the question: if the parties had waited, would ESPN have entered into the existing Big 12 deal at the time? If not, what does this mean for the Pac-12’s ability to come close to Big 12 money in the present?

“You think about media companies and layoffs and their challenges,” Yormark said Wednesday. “The fact that we were able to cement a six-year extension with two of the biggest media partners in the industry [Fox, ESPN]. …When you think about marketing and promotion, we’re with the best in the business. »

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