Big 12 Sports: Will Brett Yormark’s gimmicky ideas actually pay off?

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark attends the Texas-Oklahoma State Big 12 basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, March 11, 2023, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark attends the Texas-Oklahoma State Big 12 basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, March 11, 2023, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. /

It has been less than a year since Brett Yormark was officially installed as the commissioner of the Big 12 conference and already, the 56-year-old has brought more to the table in the form of innovation and outside-the-box thinking than his predecessor, Bob Bowlsby, did during the entirety of his sleepy decade at the helm of the conference, a tenure during which the league nearly died on Bowlsby’s watch.

While many of Yormark’s moves have been well-received, his latest attempts at pushing the envelope in the name of enhancing the conference’s profile feel more like gimmicks than solid decisions that will have a meaningful impact.

Perhaps the boldest move Yormark has made in recent months is the idea of taking his conference’s football and basketball product to Mexico, a possibility reported on by numerous media outlets earlier this week.  In fact, all indications are that this plan is essentially fait accompli with 2024 being the likely start of the league’s business doings south of the border.

What we are yet to know are the details of this international expansion.  There have been no official announcements from the Big 12 as to how many years this potential deal would be for, which teams will be featured, or (most importantly) how much revenue this will net the league.  But make no mistake, this is an attempt at exploring new markets in search of the type of revenue that this conference will need to generate in order to remain competitive with the other Power 5 leagues after Oklahoma and Texas bolt for the S.E.C. next summer.

However, this idea just doesn’t feel wise.  In fact, it is likely to draw the ire of Big 12 fans who stand to lose valuable home games (especially in football) and who aren’t going to be particularly pleased about seeing one of the more important events on their yearly athletic schedule shipped off to a foreign country.

Sure, the league could stand to benefit from a multi-million-dollar payday were these games to be sponsored by Mexico-based companies.  But that would also mean that communities like Lubbock, Ames, Provo, and Morgantown…communities that are largely dependent on the money circulated by high-profile conference football games…will lose one of the most valuable revenue-generating weekends of the year.

So while Yormark and his global perspective might be happy to have a few million more dollars in the conference’s coffers, hotels, restaurants, and small businesses in Lubbock would lose a valuable opportunity to stay in the black while people a country away benefit.  While it would be unlikely that any school would forfeit more than one home game in the span of a few seasons, even missing out on one such weekend could be impactful to the good people of these college towns whose livelihoods often revolve around their local university’s home games.

What’s more, how much impact would a random game between Kansas and West Virginia have on the people of Mexico?  In a country where futbol is king, there is little chance that playing football games between two entities that most Mexican citizens have never heard of will suddenly turn our neighbors to the south into rabid enough Big 12 football (or basketball) fans to carve out a new and emerging television market capable of moving the television ratings needle enough to impact the Big 12’s bottom line in the long term.

Yes, the NFL has taken its product to Mexico in recent years but the draw of worldwide brands such as the Kansas City Chiefs or the Las Vegas Raiders have far greater appeal to international audiences than the Baylor Bears or the Iowa State Cyclones.  Generations of young Mexican children are not going to grow up loving the Big 12 just because Cincinnati and Central Florida once had a tickle fight in front of 10,000 uninterested fans in Monterey.

What’s more, imagine if a crucial conference tilt was taken away from a Big 12 community and played in Mexico City.  That’s a possibility given that the league is now facing a future with no dominant program meaning that every season, an unexpected title contender could emerge.  What a shame it would be for Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to play for a spot in the Big 12 championship game in Mexico instead of in Stillwater or Lubbock simply because Yormark and some beer company decided to strike a deal that would net the league some money that likely will never filter down to either of those institutions, at least in the form of a meaningful amount.

Ultimately, the potential short-term gain of this plan is minimal.  College athletics is a phenomenon that is unique to the United States and there seems little possibility that the people of Mexico would embrace Big 12 football or basketball in a way that is meaningful enough to truly transform the league’s financial future.  So why not keep the Big 12 games where they belong?  In the communities that have rabidly supported these programs for over a century.

Speaking of moves that don’t seem to have any potential long-term financial benefit, Yormark also wants to revolutionize Big 12 television broadcasts by possibly putting mics on coaches, adding more in-game interviews, and extending lockerroom coverage.   Isn’t that just what we’ve all been waiting for?  Hearing Lance Liepold or Gus Malzahn mic’d up is really going to bring fans to a Big 12 game on FS1 when Alabama is squaring off with Georgia on ABC.

When was the last time any sports fan watched an in-game interview and was completely blown away by what they found out?  What’s more, these ideas have already been pioneered by the XFL and USFL reboots only to see the novelty wear off quickly leading to almost no appreciable ratings increases.  Also, even if these changes did make some type of impact, we could be sure that the other conferences would just copy them thus negating the Big 12’s innovation.

In the end, moving games abroad or tricking up the broadcasts are just gimmicky ideas from a commissioner who prides himself on being a trendsetter but who also has a background in entertainment as much as in sports.  While no one wants Yormark to stop trying to come up with new ideas or pushing the envelope to better this league’s financial situation, he must first and always consider what will make the teams in the conference more competitive on a national level.

When the Big 12 teams start competing for and winning national titles in football with regularity, then, and only then will the league’s future truly be revolutionized.  Playing a football game in Mexico and being able to hear the coach gripe about the poor conditions of the playing surface during the third quarter certainly isn’t going to be the moves that turn the Big 12 into a big-boy conference.  In fact, they are gimmicks that make it appear as if this league already believes that after next season, that’s exactly what it won’t be anymore.