Dear Mr. Yormark
First off, let me welcome you to the Big 12. I think that you will find that the new makeup of the Big 12 consists of enthusiastic programs focused on growth for both their own institution and the conference they find themselves in. The programs don't have the ego baggage you may find elsewhere and the fanbases truly love college athletics.
That being said, I must admit that we are all a bit jaded right now. We have trust issues. These trust issues have come about because many of us have found our programs at risk of being left out of the party by programs that constantly focus on squeezing every dollar they can out of their athletics umbrella.
I will be the first to say that I do not blame them for doing so. Every negotiation requires equity. By equity, I do not mean an equal distribution of revenues. If someone is willing to pay a valuable program more than we are, then it would be foolish for them not to consider making a move. If anything, we should blame ourselves for their wandering eyes by recognizing that stability comes from paying based on value as opposed to structuring our conference revenue distribution in the image of Chairman Mao.
As a loyal fan concerned with the future, I would task you with the following priorities when undertaking your newfound role:
1. Work to establish stability for our league in the future by creating the most compelling and competitive football product possible. This should be something that stands up over time and isn't in jeopardy every time the next TV contract comes due. Success across other sports is great but, if we are honest, football is always the driving force for stability.
2. Be creative with our media rights. Throw away the pride. This league should pride itself in the fact that our programs know that maximizing the value of our football product is the only way to continue to have a seat at the table and to keep up with the arms race exacerbated by NIL (it has been there long before it was legal).
3. Act quickly and decisively. How many of us would like to have Louisville as part of our conference right now? In the last round of realignment, the big 12 passed. There is strength in numbers because the more market share represented in our TV contracts, the more attractive we are in negotiations. This doesn't mean that we should take anyone, but if it’s a decision that comes down to the wire, I generally regret not moving on it more times than I have buyer’s remorse. Additionally, we are in a season of transition with the TV contracts. The leagues will stabilize surrounding grant of rights agreements and the opportunity to gain ground for greater position with the TV contracts will disappear with that stability. Aggressors are seldom the victim.
Building off point number three, you find yourself at a time where you don't have time to slowly acclimate to the temperature of the water. The iron is hot. We have stopped the bleeding with four programs I am exceptionally excited about having in our conference. That being said, the job isn't done. If we hold with status quo, then we will find ourselves continuing to be hounded by aggressors. We fall further behind the bigger conferences every year we make less money than they do. You are the hammer, or you are the nail. We can’t afford to continue to be the nail.
To help, I would like you to consider two possible plans to accomplish these goals. They are radical. They may not work. Barriers of perception and hurdles built by naysayers and major networks will have to be overcome. I have heard it said that you are the best salesperson in the entertainment business. If this is true, you should not be daunted by swinging for the fences when approaching the task of making it less feasible to pick off the programs that are valuable to our league.
Plan One: Buddy up to survive
The way I see it, the SEC and Big 10 are stable. They have the programs and the money to attract major programs with equal revenue shares. The ACC has found contractual stability with their unreasonably log grant of rights agreement. While this will wane over the next ten years or so, it still makes attacks on their league very difficult.
Problems in the Pac 12
If you have taken this job, you are aware of the limiting factors of the Big 12. We are aware of those more than most, but we are not the only conference that finds itself facing real challenges moving forward. The Pac12 needs help with a few things, and I think the Big 12 can fill some of those holes.
1. The PAC 12 finds itself lagging in TV revenues as well due to decreased total market viewership from being on the West Coast where pro sports rule, and because their compelling matchups are so late at night that they go un-noticed by the rest of the country that would have probably watched the games if they were at a reasonable time.
2. The PAC 12 network finds itself in dire straits because of the lack of programming and limited network distribution because of the lack of major media markets across different time zones.
3. Bad TV times and being geographically far away from the rest of the country make finding quality non-conference schedule partners difficult. BYU, who played 5 nonconference games against PAC 12 opponents is no longer available so that further exacerbates the problem. Non compelling tier three media rights games makes an already lagging network even less viable.
4. By not airing games in other time zones, the PAC 12 recruiting efforts outside of the west coast become increasingly difficult. Having a consistent recruiting disadvantage could be part of the reason we have seen the PAC 12 fall so far being in putting teams in the College Football Playoff in recent years.
The Big 12 finds itself needing added revenue for different reasons but both conferences could potentially team up to create a solution. By doing the following:
Create a scheduling Alliance
The new college football playoff gives rise to greater access and more forgiveness for programs wishing to compete for a national championship. Right now, they are incentivized to play multiple easy non-conference games (I am looking at you SEC with your 8-conference game schedule) to pad the win column and get more bowl eligible teams. The focus is now trending towards playing either more conference games or a higher quality non-conference schedule throughout the year to create more compelling matchups. The Big 12 and Pac 12 play 9 conference games which is good for TV contracts. The tier three rights are retained by each team in the Big 12 but, as pointed out before, the more inventory you bring to the negotiating table, the more leverage you have. If the two conferences agreed to 3 nonconference games annually and bargained with a network for exclusive rights to air those games, a significant amount of extra value could be added to both TV contracts. The SEC and Big 10 are still pursuing the traditional model of non-conference scheduling so there is opportunity here to potentially close the gap in the monetary arms race for the conferences. This would be especially attractive to TV partners if:
1. The matchups were played throughout the year instead of just at the beginning of the year
2. The matchups were played in three timeslots with minimal competition for viewership:
a. 5:30 on Thursday Night
b. 7:30 on Thursday Night
c. 8:00PM on Friday night
3. Streaming providers were considered for distribution channels
Create a Joint Venture to save the Pac 12 (plus Big 12) Network
While the Tier one and two rights are valuable enough to the TV providers to go it alone, both conferences could benefit from sharing a TV network. This would give the Big/Pac 12 network access to content in all four time zones. It adds the number 5, 10, 19, 21, 31, 32, and 33 media markets for potential subscribers to the network. It adds a substantial number of games to the inventory of content. In all ways, this makes a network on the verge of being abandoned turn into a major player in college football game inventory. The PAC 12 looked at the Big 12 and liked some of the advantages of the partnership but decided that most teams didn’t add enough to justify growth. While I would recommend the opposite if I were in their position, I think that a partnership may be more palatable than a merger.
Plan 2: Eat, Don’t be Eaten: a Big 8 (7) Revival
While the previous solution may be more viable, it doesn’t change the long-term stability of the Big 12. It can patch some revenue gaps and make it harder to poach programs from both conferences, it still places the two conferences in a scary position. There will always be a cloud looming where the choicest bits of the conference could be absorbed by a bigger fish, and where the leftovers are relegated to the group of 5. As a TCU fan, this is a very real outcome to me. This is not only a possibility for the Big 12. The PAC 12 is one Big 10 phone call to USC away from being in the same boat with fewer viable options to replace marquee programs.
Make them an offer they cant refuse
The last time the Big 12 was a victim of conference realignment, the culprit was no different than it is today. Texas could get a better deal somewhere else, and no one did anything about it. Sure, the Big 12 survived by inventing the grant of rights TV contract. They lost some very valuable programs to the instability though. Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M bolted for safer pastures. This move was made, not only for stability, but also out of resentment for the burnt orange negotiating tactics they had endured since the merger of the Southwest Conference and the Big 8. Looking back, this seems to have panned out especially well for Nebraska, Missouri, and A&M. With the next round of TV contracts coming up fast, there is a VERY tight window where some earth-shaking moves can be made.
1. Make Nebraska and Oklahoma offers to be, or continue to be members of the Big 12
a. Guarantee them that their annual distribution will have a floor of the first-year media rights distribution of their current or potential conference. They will not move and make less money. They are, however, worth the money they make and more to stabilize and give credibility to the Big 12. No one leaves the Big 12 out of the college football playoff. They also add a substantial amount of value to the conference with each game they play. If we lose our seat at the table, what does money matter.
b. Guarantee that the annual rivalry matchup between the programs will be in prime time on a Saturday night or even Thanksgiving Day if they want it. They were furious about their 2021 matchup being at 11:00am. Put it in the contract with our Tier 1 media provider. It will never happen again.
c. Allow Oklahoma to retain the media rights to its annual nonconference Rivalry matchup with Texas. This is a super valuable game. The media rights for this game would let the Big 12 offer a better deal than the SEC by matching Tier one and two revenues and putting a very large burnt orange cherry on top.
d. Of course, we would let them out of the deal if any of the other 3 targets did not accept the invitation
2. Make offers for Colorado and Utah to become members of the Big 12
a. Make them the same guarantee that the new Big 12 contract will not pay less than the Pac 12. There is not a tremendous amount of risk here if Oklahoma and Nebraska sign on. You would have an unquestionably strong 16 team conference at this point. Our TV deal may very well rival that of the Big 10 and SEC with these moves so there is no real reason why this wouldn’t pan out financially for these two programs
b. Allow them to choose in conference rivals. Both of these programs have more historical rivals inside of the Big 12 than outside of the Big 12.
c. The offer would be contingent on all 3 other teams agreeing to move
3. Do not make this same offer to the University of Texas
a. I get that UT is the most valuable college football property in the country. The Big 12 hasn’t been able to give them a deal they are happy with and I don’t know that anyone can handle them politically. They are a great program and I wish that we were able to keep them but they have destabilized this league at every turn and sometimes you love someone and still have to let them go. No hard feelings.
b. The instability that they create is a deterrent to other programs like Nebraska and Colorado. No one wants to get on a sinking ship. The Big 12 was a great conference with natural rivalries and fantastic travel partners. They didn’t leave because they though the other conferences made more sense, they just didn’t want to be subject to the whims of burnt orange nation.
4. Skip Missouri – I know I made a big 8 reference, but I don’t think its viable to guarantee SEC money to Missouri. They just aren’t valuable enough to the conference.
Now its easy to ask why any of these programs would consider leaving lucrative and stable conferences for what was, only a year ago, a dumpster fire. I will do my best to give you some talking points when you go out to sell this.
Easy travel for the fanbase
Nebraska, Colorado, and Oklahoma are all geographically located in the heart of Big 12 country. Reading other posts from fanbases, Nebraska and Colorado are looking at 10-hour drives to get to their closest away game. This is completely solved with this move. Lincoln to Ames is cake. Oklahoma fans get to make the trip to DFW, Stillwater, or Manhattan and not have to stay in a hotel. The same is true for Colorado. I admit that Utah would probably have a push here but if the new conference advances their money, it’s a coin flip we will win.
Reinstatement of Historic and Natural Rivalries
The Big 8 had some great rivalries. Those were retained during the merger with the Southwest conference, but many were lost in the last 20 years of realignment. The holy war between Utah and BYU, Nebraska and OU on Thanksgiving, Kansas State and Colorado are a few rivalries we put back together. We also get to keep bedlam which the state legislature of Oklahoma would be thrilled about.
It is no secret that Nebraska has struggled since going to the Big 10. Losses have piled up and the fanbase may be looking for a change. You can blame in on bad coaching hires but, lets face it, Big 10 country isn’t as fertile as the Big 12 for recruiting. The Big 12 is specifically positioned for success with 4 schools in Texas, a school in Ohio, and a school in Florida to poach some of the best prospects from the most talent rich states in the country. The distribution across three time zones also guarantees opportunities for recruits to be exposed to the brand on a weekly basis.
Strength of Schedule
The two hardest sells in this scenario are also the two that would benefit the most from the schedule in the Big 12. I am not saying the Big 12 is easy. It is a meat grinder where there are no sluff off weeks. Oklahoma has, however, shown the path to the college football playoff and national prominence is consistently reachable with the Big 12 schedule. Remaining competitive is possible in the SEC but dominating the conference is another story. Look at the Aggies. They are quickly approaching the resources of the University of Texas and they have yet to dominate the SEC. OU is a storied and fantastic program, but their brand is valuable because they have been winning. The prospect of winning is not as likely in the SEC versus where they are now. Just ask Lincoln Riley. Nebraska benefits in the same way as Oklahoma. While these programs have plenty of street credit across the nation, the only reason top recruits are going to go to Lincoln or Norman is if they think they are going to win. These programs have the history, but as travel destinations they fall short. I think this was ultimately the downfall of Nebraska.
If you like my suggestions, I would love to see you try to make them happen. If you can’t make this dream a reality, I am waiting with baited breath to see what you can come up with to make the Big 12 conference a success for years to come. Whatever you do, just know that half measures and small adjustments only end with the gap between the members of the Big 12 and the other power 5 conferences (minus the Pac 12) increasing over time. We need a big thinker. We need a bold leader. We need a rain maker. I am hoping you are the guy we need.
Good Luck and God Bless,