KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Big 12 will operate without divisions in football next season when the arrival of Central Florida, Cincinnati, BYU and Houston create a 14-team conference and ends its current round-robin scheduling framework.
Commissioner Brett Yormark held a call with Big 12 schools Tuesday to announce the plan. Every school will play nine conference games, just like they have since it became a 10-team league, and schools will play each other at least once in each two-year period. Traditional rivalries, or at least those left after realignments, will be preserved.
“Excited about what it will look like,” Yormark said during Big 12 women’s basketball media day at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. “Looking at geography, you know, from a student-athlete perspective and travel, all those principles are part of the decision-making, but we’ll end up in a great place.”
From its formation in 1996 until the departure of Nebraska and Colorado in 2010, the league’s teams were split into two six-team divisions, with eight conference games each year and the divisional winners meeting in the league title game.
The division format was scrapped when the Huskers left for the Big Ten and the Buffaloes for the Pac-12, and everybody played each other in a round-robin format. That continued with the arrival of West Virginia and TCU and the departure of Texas A&M and Missouri for the Southeastern Conference in 2012.
The conference championship game resumed in 2017 with the top two teams from the regular season playing.
When it comes to basketball, Yormark said, the 14-team conference would continue with an 18-game schedule, only it will no longer be the double-round robin system where schools play each other home and away each season.
Oklahoma and Texas, which are tied to the Big 12 until July 2025, are reportedly discussing ways to join the SEC earlier. But Yormark said the league’s relationship with both schools remains positive, and that both have expressed a commitment to the conference. Each is already on the hook for $80 million in exit fees when they depart, and any deal to depart earlier would send that number soaring higher.
“My conversations with Oklahoma and Texas have always been about, you know, being great members until they leave, which is in ’25,” said Yormark, who has visited each once already and plans to visit them again before the end of the football season. “And the experience has been very positive so far.”
Yormark, who was hired in June to replace the retiring Bob Bowlsby, has been busy as the league tries to solidify its place in the college athletics landscape. He stated the Big 12 was “open for business” when it came to attracting other teams, which the Pac-12 took as an affront, and he doubled down on that statement Tuesday.
“We’re open for business in every respect, expansion being part of that,” he said. “If there’s an opportunity that something presents itself that’s truly additive, and creates value, extend your geographic footprint, potentially puts us in a fourth time zone, why not? But it’s got to be all about the value creation.”
Yormark also has been busy in discussions with television partners ESPN and Fox about the possibility of striking a new media rights deal almost two years before the current contract expires. The exclusive negotiating window does not open until February 2024 with current contracts set to expire that June.
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has said his being next in line for a media rights deal after the Big Ten announced its $7 billion contract with three networks was an advantage his league had over the Big 12.
“The economics matter,” Yormark said, “but I want a real partnership, and we have a great partnership with both. But everyone needs to step up their game – more marketing, more promotion, more support of our student-athletes in all the right ways. More storytelling. Economics matter, though. But it’s those fringe benefits that, you know, make make a deal or don’t make a deal. But we’re getting to a pretty good place. And again, if we don’t do a deal now, it’s OK.”
Yormark did say that the loss of Oklahoma and Texas, two of the premium brands in college sports, would not decrease the value of the next media rights deal. In fact, he said, “We’re going up. The question is, `How far up?'”