Behind the scenes at Big 12 Media Days – The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast
ARLINGTON, Texas — In what was likely his final press conference as Big 12 Conference commissioner, Bob Bowlsby acknowledged a seismic change that rocked college football.
A year ago at Big 12 Football Media Days, Bowlsby said he wasn’t concerned about the potential of a new wave of realignment, adding that he thought the conference was as aligned as it had been during his decade in the league.
Just eight days later, Texas and Oklahoma surprised everyone — the commissioner included — by announcing their impending departure to the SEC.
Those fireworks marked the start of an action-packed year for the league, which managed to weather a potentially rocky situation, and rose to new heights in multiple categories.
From fleeing teams to national titles to a surge in revenue, Bowlsby’s final year as the league’s leader had a little bit of everything.
A new era nears
Shortly after the Longhorns and Sooners announced their joint departure, the Big 12 responded by adding four new teams: BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. All of those teams will join the league in the summer of 2023, meaning the conference is in line to play two football seasons with 14 squads before dropping to 12 after Texas and Oklahoma leave in 2025.
Though the Big 12 still stands to lose its two most noteworthy brands, the incoming members all have a strong football pedigree. Last season, three of those teams concluded their campaigns with national rankings, while Cincinnati qualified for the College Football Playoff.
In the meantime, the latest realignment domino dropped recently, when the Big Ten voted to add current Pac-12 schools UCLA and USC as members by 2024. Incoming Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark admitted Wednesday that while nothing is “imminent,” the conference is listening to calls and considering its options as a major multimedia rights negation looms in the coming years.
Success in several sports
Even though some dramatic events have transpired over the last two summers, it’s impossible to overlook the Big 12’s recent success on the playing surface.
As Bowlsby outline Wednesday, Big 12 schools clinched a record eight team national championships, while six more squads finished their seasons as national runners-up during the 2021-22 academic year.
“We’ve had a good year,” Bowlsby said. “Name a sport, the Big 12 is competing well nationally, and we’re competing at the very highest levels.”
For the second year in a row, the Big 12 owns the national title trophy in men’s basketball. Kansas won the championship in March by overcoming the largest halftime deficit in title game history. The year prior, Baylor won it all in dominant fashion.
The Big 12 flexed its muscles as a whole in men’s and women’s basketball, as member programs went 12-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Having teams in the last four Final Fours, I think has capably established the Big 12 as the best basketball conference in the country,” Bowlsby said.
On top of that, it was a strong year for professional athletes with Big 12 ties. Most notably, former Longhorn Scottie Scheffler won The Masters.
And on the gridiron, three Big 12 teams won 11 games last fall, something that hadn’t happened previously in the league’s 10-team era. Conference teams went 5-2 in bowl games.
“It ought to be a really good period of time between September and December on the football field,” Bowlsby said.
Responding to the pandemic
A year before off-the-field focus shifted to realignment, the Big 12 was still being closely watched.
During the summer of 2020, the Big 12 aligned itself with the SEC and ACC by pursuing fall sports amid the pandemic, something which, at the time, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were reluctant to do.
Bowlsby again applauded conference and institutional leaders for their efforts in navigating that challenging time.
“I think as much as any conference, we have done a good job of navigating through the COVID challenges, and we all know what those have been,” Bowlsby said. “But whether it was in August of ’20 when we found a path forward to continue to play games during the fall, or whether it was during the ramp-up of Omicron where we were trying to get the end of the season played and the postseason played in ’21, I think our presidents and chancellors, our athletics directors and our Big 12 staff all did a great job.”
Last month, the Big 12 distributed $42.6 million to each of its 10 member institutions, marking a record payout.
That payout marked a 20-percent year-over-year increase in revenue following the school year most strongly impacted by the pandemic, and a nine percent increase over the previous record for annual payout.
“The last thing about this year that I think was significant is after a couple of years where we were really challenged by all things COVID, we now have recovered and this year distributed $42.6 million per institution in distributable revenue. That is a record, and it’s fully 25 percent higher than what we were distributing just four years ago,” Bowlsby said.
The strong financial year for the Big 12 firmly reestablished it as the third-most lucrative Power 5 conference, trailing the Big Ten and SEC. But with Texas and Oklahoma heading for the exit, it will be challenging for the Big 12 to maintain that large of a payout after the next two years.
That’s why Yormark appears to be so focused on negotiations for the league’s multimedia rights, which expire in 2025.