If the report is true that Brett Yormark will be the next Big 12 Commissioner, it flies in the face of everything that Big 12 athletic directors have publicly stated they wanted.
Yormark is currently the COO of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, where he has spent the last three years as the co-CEO with his twin brother. Before that, Yormark ran the Brooklyn Nets and before that he had a significant role in NASCAR.
There’s nothing wrong with his career path, per se. He appears to be well-respected in the industry.
But his credentials are missing something that Big 12 athletic directors have said are vital — college athletics experience.
Yormark has none. NONE.
Big 12 Candidates
When I put together our list of potential Big 12 candidates to replace Bob Bowlsby, Yormark obviously wasn’t on it. It leaned toward candidates with the experience that the Big 12 athletic directors stated publicly they were looking for.
One of the conference’s most respected voices, Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor, stated that preference in May. Taylor said that “most Big 12 leaders” felt that way, too.
The reasons were simple — there is a lot for the Big 12 to navigate the next few years. Oklahoma and Texas are leaving. BYU, Houston, Cincinnati and UCF are entering. There could be more realignment and more expansion. The Big 12 has a new TV contract to negotiate. Relationships within the industry are everything right now.
My personal top choice, if we’re being honest, was West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons. He not only had experience as an athletic director, but he also had a decade of experience working in the ACC. That’s the sort of experience I thought the Big 12 would try and tap into. And maybe they tried and it didn’t work out.
But, this is definitely different, and if we’re being honest, a little scary for the conference.
The Pac-12’s hire of George Kliavkoff was a mold-breaker. He used to run MGM Resorts International. I’m not prepared to say that it’s paid off for the Pac-12 to this point. The league was going for a new line of thinking, and I don’t think it’s taken hold.
Same goes for the Big Ten, which hired Minnesota Vikings executive Kevin Warren to succeed Jim Delaney in 2020. Now, Warren had more going for him than Kliavkoff. He had been a pro football executive. Plus, Warren took over a conference that was on stronger footing.
But, the highest-profile thing the two commissioners have done to this point is the ‘Alliance,’ which they put together with the ACC last year in response to OU’s and UT’s departure to the SEC. What as the ‘Alliance’ yielded? To this point, a lot of ambiguity as to what the ‘Alliance’ actually is and their votes against expanding the College Football Playoff in March, something that was wildly popular with college football fans.
Bowlsby told ESPN that their votes against expansion were not a ‘block’ vote, as some suspected after their no votes were revealed.
“I can only respond with what they told me,” Bowlsby said, “and what they asserted as their concerns and questions were not at all the same. In fact they were all unique to them, so I didn’t get any sense that they were a voting bloc.”
But the immediate impact that many in the Pac-12 had hoped Kliavkoff would have hasn’t transpired. When you take a new job, there is an inevitable learning curve. Kliavkoff’s was pronounced because he didn’t have college sports experience. I think he’s still catching up.
What will Yormark Bring?
Will Yormark be any different? There’s no way to say that for certain. I could see his experience with Roc Nation being a valuable piece of helping the Big 12 navigate Name, Image and Likeness. His relationships from his time at the Nets might help with TV negotiations. He would have had some experience with that, even on the periphery, as a Nets executive.
But he doesn’t appear to have any relationships within the college sports landscape, and he enters at a time of mistrust among those that run the sport, primarily because of what happened with Oklahoma, Texas and the SEC.
In other words, he’s entering dysfunction central, which at any other time would have adequately described the Big 12, but now describes college football as a whole. And, let’s not kid ourselves — that’s what this is all about. The Big 12 can make all the noise it wants about its other sports, many of which have had great seasons. But, football pays the bills. And the Big 12 appears poised to hire someone that, at the least, doesn’t know a bit about how this works.
A risky hire? You bet.
One that has to pay off? You better believe it.
A hire the Big 12 has to get right? Absolutely. The league’s future depends on it.
Matthew Postins can be found on Twitter @PostinsPostcard