The Big 12 will not add Gonzaga and UConn, two basketball powerhouses, after initial conversations about the potential moves, commissioner Brett Yormark said Wednesday.
Yormark joined John Ourand and Andrew Marchand on the “Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast” to discuss the conference’s evolution after the Big 12 recently added former Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado. Last year, the Big 12 announced the additions of Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and BYU.
The commissioner said talks about possibly adding Gonzaga, a West Coast Conference powerhouse, and UConn, the reigning national champion in men’s basketball and the most dominant force in women’s basketball over the past 20 years, have ended due to those recent expansion moves.
“I did have conversations with UConn and Gonzaga, and unfortunately, things didn’t work out, only because the dream scenario unfolded for us, so those conversations are no longer,” Yormark said on the podcast. “I’m a big admirer of both of those programs. They’re fantastic for all the right reasons, but I’m focused on the transition of those four [new schools] right now.”
Yormark’s moves have not only enhanced the league’s football strength — despite Oklahoma and Texas being set to leave for the SEC in 2024 — but also increased the power of America’s best men’s basketball league. The Big 12 has finished first in KenPom’s conference rankings in eight of the past 10 seasons and captured two of the past three national championships. The addition of Arizona and Houston should allow the Big 12 to maintain that crown for the foreseeable future.
Yormark said he believes basketball is “undervalued” in the expansion conversation.
“We are the deepest conference, I think, in America when it comes to football, but arguably, we are the No. 1 conference in basketball, and I’m excited about that,” he said.
He also said basketball is key to the Big 12’s plans for international partnerships. Kansas and Houston will play in Mexico in 2024, the league recently announced.
Overall, Yormark said expansion has changed the Big 12’s value in future TV negotiations.
“We feel now — being in 10 states, having over 90 million people in our footprint, being in four time zones — gives the Big 12 a chance to do some amazing things when we get back into that next TV negotiation,” Yormark said on the podcast. “So the No. 1 guiding principle for us was value creation, and it will always be that as we think about expansion or, for that matter, anything else we do.”
Yormark said he has spoken to Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff after recent expansion moves jeopardized the future of the latter’s conference. Yormark said he told the other Power 5 commissioners a year ago that there would be times when they would “compete” and other times when they would have to unify.
“I still have a little bit of a knot in my stomach,” Yormark said. “I never want my gain to be anyone else’s loss. On the heels of not just Colorado but of all Four Corner schools coming, I texted [Kliavkoff], reached out to him. … He and I spoke last week and, effectively, I said, ‘I’m sorry it came down to this and I’m sorry I put you in a tough position, but this was something we had to do. … And I’m sorry that my gain is your loss.’ And we had a very collegial conversation. [Kliavkoff] was fantastic.”