‘The Big 12 is open for business’: New commissioner says conference is vetting Pac-12 schools, but what does that mean?

On conference realignment, media rights contract and the issue of Texas and Oklahoma, Brett Yormark offers few specifics in his first address.

(LM Otero | AP) Incoming Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark, right, shares a laugh with outgoing Commissioner Bob Bowlsby at a news conference opening the NCAA college football Big 12 media days in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, July 13, 2022.

Arlington, Texas • If there is one thing we know about new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark, it’s that he wants to be aggressive.

Aggressive in his approach to realignment. Aggressive in the impending 2025 media rights negotiations. Aggressive in how he tries to reposition the Big 12 as the third major conference in college football.

Here is what we don’t know about the former ROC Nation executive’s plan for the conference: Just about anything else.

In fact, after declaring the Big 12 was “open for business” in his first remarks since becoming the conference’s commissioner, he offered few specifics on exactly how he plans to reach those goals.

At Big 12 media day — which served as the opening act of Yormark’s upcoming tenure — the latest disruptor of college athletics was starkly non-committal and tepid against the backdrop of his grandiose opening statement.

Just go down the list of issues facing the Big 12: Yormark acknowledged the importance of each one of them, then declined to say which direction he wanted to go in.

When it came to conference realignment, Yormark said he was having conversations about adding schools but “nothing was imminent.” He was asked directly whether he had talked to Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State. His response was neither a yes nor a no.

“Optionality is good,” he said about potentially picking off the Pac-12 schools. “And we’re vetting through all of them. I think it’s fair to say I’ve received a lot of phone calls, a lot of interest. We’re exploring those levels of interest.”

Keep going down the list of Yormark’s agenda and it was more of the same. What about Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC before 2025?

“I like win-win scenarios,” Yormark said. “It’s important that whatever happens is in the best interest of this conference. But I look forward to the right time to have those conversations.”

And then there is the media rights contract in 2025, the biggest issue staring down the college athletics newcomer. As for that, Yormark said he is open to having discussions with media partners earlier than 2025, but didn’t commit to it.

About the only thing he did commit to was wanting the Big 12 to sell its media rights to a traditional network rather than a streaming service like Apple TV or Hulu. Really, though, it will be a matter of who can pay the most money and keep the Big 12 relevant compared with the Big Ten and SEC.

“As I look forward, we will be linear because that is the reach factor that helps build your brand,” he said. But he nearly backtracked on that even, saying that streaming services are the wave of the future.

So on a day of mostly platitudes, what can be gleaned from Yormark’s opening act?

Well, it may be that the Big 12 is transitioning from a commissioner with strong opinions and little hesitancy — a college football lifer— to a newcomer who wants to take his time in truly formulating opinions.

Yormark’s predecessor, Bob Bowlsby, was the consummate insider of college sports who had outgoing opinions on just about everything. He led the national charge in trying to expand the College Football Playoff. He was adamant in wanting Texas and Oklahoma to stay in the Big 12 until 2025, vaguely threatening legal action if the schools decided against it.

He even had opinions about individual games, saying on Wednesday his biggest regret as commissioner was seeing Oklahoma give up a second-half lead in the Rose Bowl.

But Yormark is not that — or at least not yet.

He plans on visiting all 14 campuses, including BYU’s, in the next 60 to 90 days. He is going to talk to all the football coaches and athletic directors about what their vision of success is.

Yormark says his main characteristic is confidence. But for now, that confidence is tempered by a lack of initial knowledge.

And that explains why Yormark came in with a bold overall approach — of being aggressive — but is sparse on details.

The only question is how fast can he get those details. Especially in a world of realignment that is spinning faster and faster.

Remember, the last media day, Bowlsby stood up on the dias and said the Big 12 was the strongest it had ever been. Then, eight days later, Texas and Oklahoma announced plans to leave for the SEC.