2023 Big 12 Tournament Preview The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast

It's the toughest league in college basketball, but will the Big 12 Tournament also be the best conference tourney around? Before the action begins in Kansas City, Nick Farrell, Anjelica Trinone and Ryan Decker set the table for what promises to be a tremendous week of action. 

KANSAS CITY — Speaking before the Big 12 Championship tipped off Wednesday with West Virginia’s game against Texas Tech, new commissioner Brett Yormark recapped his first nine months in charge.

Yormark, who officially began his tenure with the conference at the beginning of August, said he has prioritized three major topics: securing a new and lucrative TV deal for the league, effectively navigating the departure of Oklahoma and Texas and exploring the possibility of further expansion.

Here are some of his thoughts on those topics and others:

The Big 12’s new TV rights deal

At the end of October, the Big 12 reached a new, six-year media rights deal that activates in 2025 and run through 2031. The projected value of that deal exceeds $2.2 billion over the course of its lifespan.

The timing of that deal was “critical,” according to the commissioner.

“I just felt we live in such an unpredictable world, and it was important to have some clarity and to stabilize the conference,” Yormark said. “I thought the best way to do that was to get a deal with ESPN and Fox. Thankfully, they were willing to go early, and we found common ground.”

Both ESPN and Fox Sports are involved in that new TV deal. While the Big 12 and Fox Sports already partnered for football broadcasts, Yormark indicated Wednesday that the addition of Fox as a media partner for basketball is a huge win for the conference.

“When you think about 2025, when the new deal kicks in, we’ll be the only Power 5 conference that is both with ESPN and Fox,” Yormark said. “So, when you think about marketing and unprecedented promotion, we’re with the best in the business, so I’m thrilled about that.”

ESPN has served as a long-time TV partner with the Big 12. In 2019, the two entities announced an expansion of previously existing media rights, ushering in the online streaming platform Big 12 Now on ESPN+, the subscription service that provides live games and other content to fans across the league.

The Oklahoma and Texas situation

When these two Big 12 “blue bloods” announced their joint move to the SEC several years ago, they were initially obligated to stay put until 2025. The two schools recently negotiated and agreed to an earlier exit, meaning they’ll each join the SEC after the conclusion of the 2023-24 academic year.

The terms of that exit agreement were a “win-win” for the conference and the schools, according to the commissioner.

“I think that’s where we landed. It was good for all parties, and that’s why we did the deal,” he said.

According to reports, the two departing schools will pay the Big 12 a total of $100 million in “foregone distributable revenues” as part of that exit agreement. That money will be split between the eight continuing league members, including WVU.

The commissioner also indicated that he’s still mulling the possibility of additional expansion, but wants to ensure another wave of expansion would be “additive.”

“I love the four new schools coming in in July, the continuing eight. I think we’re in a great place,” Yormark said. “But, if there’s a chance to get better, it’s incumbent on me as the commissioner to explore those possibilities, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

On courting Gonzaga

On the subject of expansion, Gonzaga was at one point rumored to be within Yormark’s crosshairs, but the commissioner didn’t elaborate much on the likelihood of adding the Bulldogs as a conference member for men’s basketball.

“Obviously, a great program. My focus right now is to see what happens throughout our industry,” Yormark said. “There’s a lot of moving parts. I continue to have conversations with Gonzaga, but as I prioritize what our next move might be in expansion, there’s other things right now that I’m focused on.”

Adding Gonzaga would mean adding one of college basketball’s premiere programs. The Bulldogs advanced to the national championship game two years ago and were undefeated before losing to Baylor in the final.

Why Big 12 basketball is the best of the bunch

Everyone from WVU coach Bob Huggins to basketball analysts like Joe Lunardi have hailed the Big 12 as the strongest league in college basketball this season.

Unsurprisingly, the commissioner agrees.

“[It’s] nothing short of spectacular,” Yormark said. “On the men’s side, probably unprecedented when you think of the strength of this conference, the national narrative.”

He added that men’s basketball ratings on ESPN increased by nine percent.

“The level of fandom and passion for basketball in this conference is unrivaled,” he said.

He also praised the level of parity the Big 12 provided in women’s basketball this season.

“The strength of this conference in basketball, again, I think is unrivaled,” Yormark said.

Yormark expects seven or eight men’s teams to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, as well as up to seven women’s teams.

The NCAA Tournament bracket will be revealed Sunday night.