Big 12 Sports: When the Big 12 could become too big to make sense

Nov 10, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; A general view of the Big 12 logo on the floor before the game between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Texas Southern Tigers at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; A general view of the Big 12 logo on the floor before the game between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Texas Southern Tigers at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

On one hand, NCAA conference realignment might give a person a serious case of tired head.  After all, for over a decade, the shifting tectonic plates in the college landscape have caused fans to have to keep their heads on a swivel as nearly every summer, the rumblings of yet another change dominate the offseason headlines. But on the other hand, thinking about the potential of these possible moves is better than going through the rest of the summertime with the usual time-killing fodder such as top-10 lists and discussions about which players belong on a certain school or conference’s Mount Rushmore.  Of course, ground zero for all of this realignment talk is the Big 12 which is again making waves after news that the ACC and other leagues are now on shaky ground.

The newest rumor regarding Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark’s attempt to play a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos with as many mid-tier Power 5 and upper-tier Group of 5 institutions involves reported interest in UCONN.  Initially reported by Max Olson of The Athletic  (behind a paywall), Yormark has an interest in adding the Huskies, who recently made news by winning the men’s college basketball championship.

On the surface, that makes perfect sense.  Maybe not for the Big 12 but for Yormark.

Having spent a huge portion of his career in the New York City area, including a stint with Roc Nation entertainment company and 14 years as President and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment (BSE) Global, which manages and controls Barclays Center, the home of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA, it is easy to see why a school with a huge basketball pedigree (on both the men’s and women’s side) and which is close to NYC where basketball is king appeals to Yormark.

However, there’s got to be a point of diminishing returns for Big 12 expansion, and heading into the basketball-heavy Northeast might be that point.  While Yormark with his basketball background seems hell-bent on maximizing the potential revenue that Big 12 hoops can generate (which is fine) he can’t lose sight of what drives the vast majority of the conference’s and the NCAA’s finances…football.

Including UCONN, other Northeastern schools such as disgruntled ACC members Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville have also been rumored as potential Big 12 adoptions should massive college realignment tremors rock the NCAA again, especially if the woeful ACC media rights deal can be dissolved by that league’s unhappy members (something that was reported to be in the works earlier this week.)

The problem is that Yormark is starting to act like a person with an overeating problem at a Las Vegas buffet.  (Though no substantial reports have surfaced linking him with any of the unhappy ACC members, at least not yet, we can assume he’d be right in the middle of that fracas should that conference come apart at the stitching.)

No one is going to suggest that the Big 12 should simply stand pat and discontinue its attempts at making itself as strong as possible in what is almost certain to be a new college sports map in the upcoming years.  However, adding schools for the sake of increasing numbers, especially if those potential invitees bring next to nothing to the table in regard to football would be misguided.

Yes, there is a point where the Big 12 could become too big.  Not necessarily in terms of its geographic footprint as the days of regional conferences are long gone.  But rather in terms of how many mouths there will be to feed.

Sure, UCONN, Syracuse, and Louisville might make Big 12 hoops more appealing but does the conference that is already regarded as the best basketball league in the nation even before adding Houston and Cincinnati to the mix for the upcoming season need any more legitimacy in that sport?

What’s more, there is a ceiling on what college basketball will be able to generate in terms of revenue.  Or, if there is no ceiling per se, there is no denying that NCAA basketball is never going to be the cash cow that NCAA football is.

Thus, adding schools that might bring more basketball power to the league (especially a school like Gonzaga, which has also been rumored this offseason to be a potential basketball-only addition to the Big 12) makes little sense because those schools aren’t going to generate enough in the way of football television ratings to warrant a huge payout from media entities.

Yes, UCONN and Syracuse generate significant interest in the NYC market but not in football.  Neither the Huskies nor the Orange are going to move the needle in The Big Apple on Saturdays in the fall just as Rutgers does nothing for the Big 10’s football ratings.  When was the last time you checked out a football game between the Scarlet Knights and Iowa for more than 25 seconds?  The same can be said of 99% of people in the NYC media market.

In the end, adding UCONN or another northeastern basketball school to the mix is going to dilute the league when it comes to football and, more importantly, bring another open-beaked baby bird to the nest chirping and begging to be fed from the coffers that are filled by the sport that really matters in this discussion…football…which is the sport that a UCONN or a Syracuse is irrelevant in.

Yormark’s willingness to explore every option to keep the Big 12 alive and to put it in a place to thrive in the ever-evolving NCAA hierarchy is admirable and is not to be criticized.  However, there has to come a point where this conference acts not like a glutton who tries to gobble up any school with a recognizable name but instead makes wise and intentional decisions; decisions that are going to be rooted in maximizing the league’s football earnings above all else.

Yormark is putting a ton of effort into trying to inflate what the league’s basketball programs can generate, which is fine.  But he must also keep sight of the star of the show; football.  If this league continues to expand by adding the Gonzagas or UCONNs of the world, it risks making itself sick simply by becoming too big and spreading that football revenue too thin.  And just like a Vegas buffet goer, that would be an outcome that would likely result in making the league sick after gorging on every available option simply because they is there for consumption.