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University of Arizona football debuts at Big 12 Media Day

EDITOR’S NOTE: Full interviews from KNXV/Scripps News Phoenix

Brett Yormark believes the Big 12 has clearly established itself as one of the nation’s top three conferences during a period of drastic change in college athletics, and the commissioner said the expanding league is more relevant than it has ever been in its nearly three-decade history.

“We’re truly a national conference in 10 states, four time zones, and all eyes are now on the Big 12 for all the right reasons,” Yormark said at the start of the league’s football media days Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Arizona Head Coach Brent Brennan Full Interview

Arizona Head Coach Brent Brennan Full Interview

While the league’s former national champions, Oklahoma and Texas, left for the Southeastern Conference, a move that became official last week, Yormark touted the additions of four corner schools from the Pac 12: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. These schools participate in media days before their Big 12 membership formally begins in early August to make it a 16-team league for the first time.

“On the football front, we’re going to be the deepest conference in America. Every week is going to be important,” Yormark said, repeating that for emphasis before moving on. “We have star power and parity. We have some of the best players and coaches in the game. November will be incredibly exciting and we will label it as a race for the championship.”

Arizona Athletic Director Desireé Reed-Francois full interview

Arizona Athletic Director Desireé Reed-Francois full interview

SEC and Big Tenthe richest and most powerful conferences, have worked together and at one point this year had proposed several automatic bids for their conferences in College Football Playoffswhich expands from four to 12 teams this season.

Arizona QB Noah Fifita full interview

Arizona QB Noah Fifita full interview

Yormark, who is entering his third year as the Big 12 commissioner after years in the entertainment industry, including a stint as CEO of Roc Nation, said his only thought every day is to make the Big 12 the best version of itself. The Big 12 in 2022 extended its media rights agreement with ESPN and Fox Sports during the 2030-31 school year, a move that came with two years left on the old deal and created stability and clarity for the league.

“Everything else doesn’t really matter. And if we take care of business, we’ll be fine,” he said. “Not only have we had a great 24 months, but we keep getting better.”

The Big 12 announced last month that the 14 schools that participated in the 2023-24 school year shared a record $470 million income split, an increase of about $30 million from the previous year. Without providing specific numbers, Yormark said Big 12 sponsorships grew 79% in the first year after it was streamlined to be handled directly by the conference instead of outside parties and that ticket sales were up 23% league-wide.

Arizona WR Tetairoa McMillan full interview

Arizona WR Tetairoa McMillan full interview

Yormark said the league’s top priority as a business is growth and creating value for its schools.

“As we build our brand, we’ll continue to build our business,” he said. “We’re not going to stumble into this new post-settlement era. In fact, we’re going to be aggressive and very proactive.”

That settlement was agreed upon by the NCAA and the country’s five biggest leagues in May pay nearly $2.8 billion to settle a slew of antitrust claims. That decision sets the stage for a groundbreaking revenue-sharing model that could begin directing millions of dollars directly to athletes, expected to be more than $20 million per school per year, as soon as the fall semester of 2025.

“We’re going through a change, but I’d rather call it a necessary reset,” Yormark said. “In 10 years, I think we’ll look back on this period as a positive moment in collegiate athletics history.”

Arizona LB Jacob Manu full interview

Arizona LB Jacob Manu full interview

The commissioner said the settlement provides a very “crystal clear future and path forward” for college athletics and the Big 12.

“I often refer to our league as a mature startup,” Yormark said. “This means our brand can be younger, more progressive and innovative compared to some of our peers.”

Yormark said the league is exploring all options, including Big 12 naming rights and private equity. But he didn’t want to open a conversation about private equity, saying later that nothing is imminent about naming rights.

Arizona DB Gunner Maldonado full interview

Arizona DB Gunner Maldonado full interview

When he became the Big 12 commissioner two summers ago, Yormark was the head of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and a former CEO of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. He spent nearly 15 years with the Nets and was previously with NASCAR, where he oversaw a $750 million deal with Nextel Communications for naming rights to the circuit’s premier racing series.

“Do I believe in naming rights? I do. I’ve done a lot in my career,” Yormark says. “I see the value, if they have the right naming rights, and it’s the right partner. So we’ll explore it and we’ll see where we land.”

Story by Stephen Hawkins/AP

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