Now that Big 12 head coaches and some of their players wrapped up the two-day event known as Media Days July 13-14, it’s time to review what was learned. Headed into the event, I shared my five questions in the hopes of getting answers. Here’s what is known:
- Television contracts and the possibility of a conference network. So much of this comes down to the exit and exit fees of Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC. The good news is there appears to be a timeline thanks to UCLA and USC bolting for the Big 10 from the Pac 12. In other words, few reporters can see ESPN allowing Fox Sports to get a jump on the Big 10 during the 2024-25 school year with the Bruins and Trojans joining that conference at that time while the Sooners and Longhorns spend another year in the Big 12. Therefore, it’s believed ESPN will step in and help broker a deal that benefits the Big 12 members and Oklahoma and Texas. The one bargaining chip mentioned? The Longhorn Network becoming the Big 12 Network, though this sounds more like a Texas-and-Oklahoma-driven idea than a conference leaders’ idea. New Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said he wants win-win scenarios. Currently, Big 12 brass are unwilling to negotiate an exit and want to keep Oklahoma and Texas in the conference until July 1, 2025 when the current grant of rights expire. The reason is because athletic departments construct budgets based on revenue projections that include television money distribution. In short, they can’t let Texas and Oklahoma leave early without paying the fee (Chip Brown of Horns247.com said it’s around $150 million) because they have to take care of their own. The one dark horse here when it comes to television partners? The streaming services. Yormark sounds more modern in his approach to business and giving more insight on what he seems to know best — branding and marketing and how that can help the conference. He left me with the impression that he is willing to have conversations with anyone and will entertain the possibilities. To me, only one reason exists to keep cable and satellite — sports — since I can catch movies and television shows on reruns, streaming services and anytime I’m available. I say that because while television networks are still powerful, more and more people are going to streaming services and are being rewarded with specific programming that gives them choices. Let’s face it. Would any of us have thought that we’d be watching Thursday Night NFL games on Amazon Prime a year ago? And yet that’s happening in 2022.
- Yormark did well in his first appearance in front of the Big 12 press corps. As mentioned above, he was more specific on branding and marketing, how important social media is in extending the footprint of the conference, and how using the conference’s most important asset — the student-athletes — is vital to its growth. He was not as specific on negotiations, expansion, alignment and other areas of importance to the conference. I’ll sum it up this way; Yormark sounded like an individual who spent his career behind the scenes in entertainment, not someone who spent tons of time in sports. That told me immediately what’s important to the Big 12’s board of directors and how they see the new commissioner’s role in the changing landscape of college athletics. One footnote here. Some reporters expressed surprise that outgoing Commissioner Bob Bowlsby was in attendance. That cleared up when word spread Bowlsby was there at Yormark’s request.
- Texas Tech’s $200 million football facilities project. New head coach Joey McGuire didn’t spend a lot of time on this topic at the expense of talking about his own players, coaches and the work they’ve put in during the offseason. But he did mention how impressed he is (and me, too) by what doing the project says about the Red Raiders powers-that-be. And that is they are committed to having the best football team in the conference and in the country.
- Conference parity. That was interesting because Baylor head coach Dave Aranda is all about the Xs and Os and illustrates my comment earlier that he won’t get outcoached. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian likes that the Longhorns are picked to finish fourth. Oklahoma lost 66 percent of its offensive production and 60 percent of its defensive production through graduation, the NFL draft or the transfer portal, and everyone else has expressed optimism headed into the 2022 season. I do believe it’s a wide-open race and should provide plenty of memories, good and bad, for fans.
- Most of my time was spent studying the Texas-based head coaches and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet most of them. There’s no question the vast majority are coming into this season confident, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and believe their players are doing the work for outstanding seasons. We’ll see if there’s another extreme turnaround such as the one Baylor put together; in 2020, the Bears won two games and in 2021, they won 12. We’ll see if Kansas can take another step forward with football and if Kansas State can be what they were under retired coach Bill Snyder. And look for Mike Gundy to drive Oklahoma State to the forefront of conference conversations where the Cowboys are the loudest in board rooms to replace Oklahoma and Texas. So fans, my advice is not to think it will be a boring a season. That’s the last thing to expect in 2022.
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