KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark doesn’t lack for energy. In two days at Big 12 Basketball Media Days, he did every interview possible.
He did the ‘made-for-TV’ interviews with ESPN. The radio hits with Big 12 Radio. The walk-off interviews with scores of writers. He even did some one-on-ones.
By the time the men’s media day wrapped up at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, he could be seen walking out of the T-Mobile Center, leather briefcase in hand, off to what came next in his desire to nationalize the Big 12.
Yes, that’s right. Yormark wants to make the Big 12 a “national” conference. Unlike other college conference commissioners, who seem to speak in soft language about their goals, Yormark’s words are sharp and get to the point.
“I want to nationalize the conference,” Yormark said last Tuesday to a group of reporters after his ESPN interview to kick off the women’s media day. “I want future student athletes to vote yes for the conference for all the right reasons. I want us to show up in places we haven’t been before.”
What “nationalizing” a conference means is an open question. It bucks the traditional model of regionality. But, to be fair, the trend of regionality has been bleeding out for quite some time.
The SEC now runs from Florida to Texas. The ACC has a foothold in Indiana for all sports but football. The Big Ten stole USC and UCLA to build a foothold on the west coast. The Big Ten is the first Power 5 conference with a footprint that extends from the east coast (Rutgers) to the west coast (USC and UCLA).
If Yormark has his way, the Big 12 will be the second.
In Kansas City, when asked directly about expanding into the Pacific Time Zone, Yormark said that he would like to pursue it. But, he also said he wants expansion if it’s “additive.”
When he spoke at an event in Waco, Texas, on Tuesday, he made it even clearer.
“I’m going to telegraph it, I’m going to be very transparent to take action to expand, and I’ve done that,” Yormark said.
With BYU joining the conference next year, the Big 12 will have its first school in the Mountain Time Zone. Adding at least one school in the Pacific Time Zone would allow the conference to provide television inventory to its partners for all four game windows on a typical Saturday. As Yormark continues to talk with ESPN and Fox about a possible extension of the league’s TV deal, that possibility is sure to come up.
That deal, by the way, could be done in a couple of weeks, if Yormark’s comments to Big 12 Radio last week are any indication.
But Yormark doesn’t see “nationalizing” the Big 12 as just extending its reach in terms of membership. It’s about extending the league’s reach in terms of the consumer of college athletics along with its student-athletes.
The SEC is college sports’ biggest brand. The league has accomplished that largely through its excellence on the football field. But, the league’s expansion moves have been strategic, going all the way back to adding Arkansas in 1992, a move that precipitated the demise of the Southwest Conference a few years later. Plus, its long-standing relationship with ESPN — including the SEC Network — makes it impossible for anything of consequence to happen in college athletics without the SEC being involved.
In the SEC, “It Just Matters More,” as the slogan goes. Yormark has to show the country why the Big 12 matters.
“It’s all about opportunity right now,” Yormark said. “You know, I live in a world where things where life is half full. And I’m really bullish on this conference.”
Yormark has started by restructuring the Big 12 office. He’s already hired a chief marketing officer, Tyrel Markham — a first for the league — along with a new brand communications officer in Clark Williams. The league’s branding is likely to change in the coming months. He said the full weight of the changes will be seen next summer.
The Big 12 did its first media blitz in a non-Big 12 market earlier this month, as Baylor basketball coach Scott Drew and West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins accompanied Yormark for interviews with various media outlets.
Yormark said more of those blitzes will happen in the coming months.
In the next six months, Yormark said he intends to lay out an international strategy for the Big 12, something he says is “critical.”
Part of this, Yormark said, is about driving as much commercial value for the league as possible.
Another part of it, he said, is about telling the Big 12’s story in a different way, something he acknowledged was behind the league’s partnership with Translation.
Plus, it’s about student-athletes, at least from his perspective.
“I want student athletes from coast to coast to vote yes for this conference,” Yormark said. “Right now, they vote for schools. I want to give them another reason to vote for this conference. I want them to recognize us and like all the things we’re doing and where we’re going. Right now, I’m not sure that’s happening, but hopefully, you know, in a period of time, you know, we’ll have that dynamic.”
Whether Yormark can actually accomplish that is an open question. But it’s not only clear that the Big 12 is open for business, but that it’s no longer business as usual.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard