KU’s Girod says that Big 12 Conference wants to get to ‘at least’ 14 members and that league will need to be nimble in the future
The Big 12 Conference is interested in adding “at least” one more member and will “keep communications open” with Pac-12 or other schools, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said Wednesday.
Girod, in a brief interview with the Journal-World, did not mention any schools that the conference is targeting, and he said the conference does not feel like it needs to meet any particular timeline for expansion. Girod and fellow conference presidents and chancellors last week unanimously agreed to accept the University of Colorado into the conference, which will be the 13th school when it enters in 2024.
“I think we ultimately would like to at least get to 14 so we have an even number and we can continue to schedule the way we schedule,” Girod said. “I think we are kind of looking at all options of what that means. Obviously the Pac-12 is trying to decide what it is doing right now. So, we will keep communications open, whether it is Pac-12 or otherwise.”
There has been much national speculation that the Big 12 Conference wants to add a 14th member but perhaps was not open to having the conference grow to more than 14 schools. Girod, in his brief comments, left the door open to a conference larger than 14, saying the conference wanted to get “at least” to the 14-member mark. He did not elaborate on how big the conference might become, but he said past periods of conference realignment had taught university leaders they have to be open to a lot of possibilities.
“Having been twice through the fire drill of having departures that have created some instability, we think we have done a good job of creating stability,” Girod said of past realignments that have seen schools including Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M and soon Oklahoma and Texas leave the league. “But we don’t take that for granted. That is why we are continuing to look for opportunities going forward.”
Recent speculation has centered on the University of Arizona being the next university to leave the Pac-12 to join the Big 12. Regents for Arizona’s higher education system called a special meeting on Tuesday evening, just hours after having been briefed on a potential media rights deal for the Pac-12. Arizona Regents promptly went into a closed-door executive session and didn’t make any decisions or statements upon returning to the open meeting, according to multiple reports.
Girod gave no hint to who the Big 12 might be targeting as possible additions. But he did address several attributes that a new member should possess.
“Leadership and culture is important for us,” Girod said. “We don’t need to introduce a bunch of controversy into our conference. We want good partners. Obviously, we want brands that are strong and bring value from a media conversation and perspective.”
New members also should be ready to entertain “outside-the-box” thinking, Girod said. The chancellor noted how the Big 12 Conference is in a stronger position than many outsiders expected a couple of years ago when Texas and Oklahoma surprised the sports world by announcing deals to jump to the Southeast Conference.
The college sports world got shocked again last year when UCLA and USC announced a pending move to the Big Ten Conference. Those moves created nervousness about whether the Big 12 Conference would stay together, and KU leaders openly stressed that KU’s overall health depended greatly on the school remaining in a powerhouse athletic conference, due to the national exposure and media dollars such an affiliation brings.
Girod said he was pleased with the stability the league seemingly has during this latest round of college athletics realignment. But he acknowledged the Big 12 Conference likely will significantly lag the Big Ten and the SEC in terms of what member schools will receive in media rights dollars for years to come.
Big 12 schools are expected to receive a little more than $30 million a year during its next media deal. The Big Ten and SEC reportedly will receive more than $50 million a year, with some scenarios getting the payouts closer to $70 million per year in later years.
“We probably are not going to be able to match their media contracts,” Girod said.
That’s why new and existing Big 12 members should be prepared to embrace “out-of-the-box thinking beyond media contracts,” Girod said. One of the more recent examples, Girod said, was the Big 12’s decision to play college basketball games in international markets. Both the KU men’s and women’s basketball team will play new conference member the University of Houston in Mexico City in December 2024.
Having the right members on board for that type of thinking will be important, Girod said.
“We just need to be far more nimble than we have been in the past, or quite honestly, far more nimble than our colleagues in the (Power 5) conferences,” Girod said. “We can do that because we have a really strong group of leaders in the Big 12 who work well together and trust each other.”
As for Colorado, who will join the league in the 2024-2025 academic year, Girod said he was happy to have the Buffaloes back in the league. Colorado was an original member of the Big 12, before bolting in 2011 when there was concern about whether the Big 12 would stay together following a round of conference realignment.
Girod said it was important to add another university in the Mountain Time Zone to complement BYU, which is a new entrant into the Big 12 this season. He also said Colorado was “culturally a good fit” for the conference.
He thinks KU fans also will be happy to have the Buffaloes back on the schedule, as many would make the trip to Boulder for KU basketball games, often filling the arena on the Colorado campus.
“It was a big rivalry. It was one of our best, frankly,” Girod said. “Of course, we always talked about Allen Fieldhouse West.”