During BYU visit, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby discusses conference divisions, Texas and Oklahoma, TV contracts

Senior Big 12 officials visited Provo for first time since conference expansion.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University athletic director Tom Holmoe, right, is joined remotely by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, right for the announcement of BYU's acceptance into the Big 12 conference at a press conference in Provo, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

The Big 12 Conference is in transition as it prepares for the arrival of four new member schools, including BYU.

This summer will likely be filled by member institutions agreeing to new bylaws, finalizing schedules and negotiating new television contracts. It will also include more details on when Texas and Oklahoma plan to leave the conference; either before or after the 2025 season.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby visited BYU in person on Friday for the first time since the conference expanded. During an interview with BYUtv, he addressed a number of these topics while in Provo.

Finalizing scheduling

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of BYU’s transition to the Big 12 has been scheduling. As a current independent, BYU will have to remove or reschedule eight-or-nine games a year through the 2026-27 season to make room for a conference slate.

As a whole, the Big 12 is also experiencing a logistical hardship with scheduling. Bowlsby expects the conference to have 14 members in 2023 — including SEC-bound Texas and Oklahoma. This means playing a round-robin schedule, where each team plays one another, is out of the question.

Bowlsby sees the conference breaking into divisions in football to deal with the large number of schools. At the Big 12 meetings in Las Vegas last month, conference officials discussed the possibility of two, seven-team divisions. The winner of each division would then play each other for the conference title at the end of the regular season.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we played divisions in football,” Bowlsby said, noting basketball scheduling may not feature divisions.

Athletic directors from each school will get together this summer to vote on having divisions, and what those divisions would be. Big 12 senior associate commissioner Ed Stewart said last month those divisions could either be split up by geography or by level of competition. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said he does not have a preference.

Beyond that, another consideration is if the Big 12 will adopt an eight-game conference schedule or nine games.

“I think the quality of our conference is good enough [to play nine games],” Bowlsby said. “That’s a valuable thing for us. You want to minimize the number of no plays you have.”

The Big 12 will release its 2023 schedule, tentatively, in October.

Going to court over Texas and Oklahoma?

Texas and Oklahoma’s departure to the SEC set off the Big 12′s expansion. Now, it is a waiting game to see when the two schools will leave the conference.

Right now, both schools are contractually obligated to stay for the next four years. But there have been a number of reports indicating they could leave before the 2023 season.

Bowlsby is expecting both institutions to stay through 2025. He pointed to the media rights contract — that Texas and Oklahoma signed — which runs through the 2025 season.

He also pointed to the conference bylaws, which state if a school leaves early, it must pay two years worth of revenue back to the conference before it leaves. It would mean Texas and Oklahoma would have to pay around $75 million to the conference respectively.

“I expect them to be here through 2025. Whether that happens or not, I don’t know,” Bowlsby said. “I suppose that there could be bumps in the road along the way. But they’ve told us they’re going to be here and we expect that they’ll be here.”

Bowlsby mentioned the court system as a potential remedy if either school tries to leave before 2025. The media rights contract is centered around the federal copyright law. So, a breach in contract could be heard in federal court.

“We feel like we have pretty good law on our side,” Bowlsby said.

A new media contract

The media contract with Fox and ESPN runs through the 2024-25 season for the Big 12. This summer, the conference will start planning ahead to see where it will lend its media rights in the future.

Bowlsby indicated the conference is open to leaving Fox and ESPN for a different company. The Big 12 won’t necessarily box itself to only linear networks. It is also looking at streaming options as the media landscape changes.

The Big 12 was the first conference to put over 100 games on ESPN+, a streaming platform.

“It’s a little bit of a new day,” he said. “And we need to negotiate in ways that reflect it.”

Bowlsby sees value in streaming football, and live sports, on traditional cable channels. Football generates about 80% of the revenue for the Big 12.

“Owning live sports is a good thing,” Bowlsby said. “[Linear channels are] always going to be valuable. [They] just fit differently than they have in the past. We’ll welcome a group of suitors out there and I think we will do well when it’s time to go to auction.”