Big 12 to enter into early negotiations with TV partners FOX, ESPN
The Big 12 Conference has agreed to engage in discussions with its primary television partners, ESPN and FOX, more than 18 months earlier than expected.
ESPN.com’s Pete Thamel was the first to report the news, and the Big 12 followed up with the following statement from first-year commissioner Brett Yormark.
“It is an exciting time for college athletics and given the changing landscape we welcome the opportunity to engage with our partners to determine if an early extension is in the best interest of all parties,” Yormark said in the statement. “The Big 12 has enjoyed a fantastic relationship with its multi-media rights holders, and I look forward to having these conversations.”
Officially, the conference said the Big 12 “will be entering into discussions with its multi-media partners to explore an accelerated extension of its current agreements.”
Later in the day, Jon Wilner, who covers the Pac-12, reported that ESPN provided a statement telling him, “We regularly engage in conversation around the future with all of our partners, but to be clear, we have not opened the contractual negotiation window with the Big 12 at this time.”
The confusion there is likely a matter of semantics, with the Big 12 saying it “will be” entering into discussions with its television partners and ESPN saying the contractual negotiation window had not opened.
Both statements can be true and the two parties can still be moving forward into a period of discussion about the contracts.
The news is significant because it puts the Big 12 on equal ground with the Pac-12, which also is negotiating a new deal with the two television networks.
That, it would seem, negates whatever perceived advantage the Pac-12 had in terms of conference realignment and potential expansion. And it could open the door to the Big 12 being in a stronger position to entice potential additions should the league look to expand beyond the 12 members that will be in the Big 12 after the departure of Oklahoma and Texas and the arrival of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
Both conferences have been active in projecting future revenue from their TV deals. But until this news, only the Pac-12 was in a position to present real data to its current members and potential new members.
Now, with the Big 12 opening that door, both conferences may be able to show actual numbers to their own members and any other schools that may be interested in joining.
While survival is an important objective of both conferences, the race really appears to be about positioning for the third slot among college football’s power conferences. The Big Ten and SEC have the top two spots locked up — and neither can be touched — and the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC are battling to be No. 3.
Landing in the bronze medal position will not only be financially beneficial, but it also will present a significant amount of stability.
Yormark said during his introduction in July that the conference would be proactive and aggressive in its approach to all things, including potential expansion, and this news is certainly an indication of Yormark’s ability to put action behind those words.
None of this means the Big 12 is definitely expanding, of course. But many who cover and follow realignment have speculated that the Big 12 may be in a better position than the Pac-12 when it comes to projecting long-range television dollars for its new media rights deals. We may soon see if that was accurate.
The Big 12’s current TV deals expire after the 2024 football season and the negotiations were expected to begin in February of 2024.
If they start negotiating early, the conference essentially has two chances to strike the best deal possible, both for current members and potentially to entice new schools to join. The first could happen any time and could be a long-term deal or a short-term extension to buy some more time. The second opportunity would come in 2024 if the upcoming talks do not lead to anything that both sides like.
The most popular expansion chatter tied to the Big 12 has included Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. Reports about the interest, or lack thereof, regarding all four schools have been all over the map, but there are obvious reasons that all four would make sense for the Big 12. Most notable is the addition of BYU and how adding those four along with BYU would give the Big 12 a stronger footprint out west.
If that foursome, or even just one or two of them, were to be invited to the Big 12 and elect to join, it could be a significant blow to the Pac-12’s future as a power conference.
The race has been under way for a while now, but it appears as if the two conferences have passed the settling in point and are actually starting to run.