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What happened during BYU's first spring meetings with the Big 12

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby walks to the podium to speak during the Big 12 football media days July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. The conference is holding its spring meetings this weekend, where Bowlsby figures he is down to 30-90 days on the job.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby walks to the podium to speak during the Big 12 football media days July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. The conference is holding its spring meetings this weekend, where Bowlsby figures he is down to 30-90 days on the job. (LM Otero, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

PROVO — When BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and university president Kevin Worthen walked into the boardrooms at the Big 12 Conference's annual spring meetings in Dallas, Texas, he took a seat at a table with fellow college athletic directors in a Power Five conference for the first time in the Cougars' athletic department history.

It may have been the longest walk of his life, too.

But finally, after a decade of wandering in the wilderness of football independence, and after roaming the college athletic hinterlands of the Mountain West, Western Athletic and even Skyline conferences (to name just a few), the Cougars finally had something they've been looking for: a seat at the table.

Holmoe didn't vote in any proceedings during the two days' worth of meetings of his cohorts as they charted the future of the league, for both next year and beyond, in those rooms. But he did have a voice, similar to fellow newcomers Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, and had the ability to argue on BYU's behalf of one of the top-five conferences in North American college sports.

"This is everything BYU has tried to get," BYUtv analyst Dave McCann said earlier this week. "All this time, it's been, 'How do we get in the room?' They went independent as a means to put them in the best position to some day get invited in the room."

So what happened in Dallas that is so important? There was no final decision made on the lingering question surrounding a return to divisions, either in football or in other sports, and some topics involved discussion among all 14 members, the new Big 12 allotment, after Texas and Oklahoma depart for the Southeastern Conference no latter than 2025.

New faces in the league

BYU is scheduled to join the Big 12 on July 1, 2023; and while it's been assumed that the three current members of the American Athletic Conference would join them, that's been doubted somewhat lately as the three schools work through a buyout process with the league that would otherwise keep them locked into a grant-of-rights until July 1, 2024.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby used the word "aspirationally" when referring to the three AAC schools, and Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec added that an early departure of OU and Texas is "premature," at best.

"It would be premature to even speculate how that might play out," Schovanec said, per Tulsa World columnist Guerin Emig.

Speaking of Bowlsby, the long-time college athletics administrator is retiring before BYU joins the league next summer, and Schovanec said the conference is trending to finalize his replacement by the time they meet again for football media days in July. The long-time athletic administrator even estimated he has between 30-90 days on the job.

"Everything tracks that direction," Schovanec said.

New TV deal

Of course, that also tracks with the timeline for the Big 12 to begin negotiating a new television and media rights deal with ESPN, or whichever broadcaster makes the best pitch to the league (be it FOX, CBS, Amazon, Google, et al).

The league's current deal with ESPN runs through June 30, 2025; and while official negotiations on a new deal won't begin until early 2024, there are preliminary conversations to be held before then, and the new commission will be the face of those conversations.

"That is crucial to the conference," Schovanec told the Dallas Morning News. "We all recognize the marketplace is evolving and there are shifting places in the media landscape. As we begin to develop a media strategy, the new leadership needs to have a voice in that, they need to bring leadership to that conversation."

Of course, how much the new league is worth without Texas and Oklahoma is also up for debate. The Big 12 announced that average distribution to each member school for the 2021-22 fiscal year at $42.6 million, which represents a 20% increase from the COVID-affected 2020-21 year.

That's more than all but two other conferences from the same period, according to USA Today's Steve Berkowitz: the SEC made $105 million last year, and the ACC $82 million. The Big 12 lost around $53 million after operating costs, per Berkowitz, while the Big Ten lost $89 million and the Pac-12 $190 million.

It should be noted that both of those latter two leagues also run their own conference networks, though the Big Ten Network is subsidized by part-owner FOX. The Big 12 operates a streaming sub-service — Big 12 Now on ESPN+ — and BYUtv has had preliminary discussions about meeting the school's content demands with the service.

"They have told us that they intend to defer to us," Bowlsby said. "I think eventually we will roll their ESPN package into the Big 12 package; we haven't had those discussions yet, but we'll have them with both BYU and ESPN. It really is not very material … and relative to BYUtv, BYU will have the same obligations to put content on Big 12 Now that all the other members do. That's where our men's and women's basketball are, and a few football games. They'll fully participate in our package."

Part of that loss could be offset by the new members, including a Cincinnati team coming off a College Football Playoff appearance and the broad national reach of BYU and its affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"BYU, perhaps with the exception of Notre Dame, they have the biggest worldwide reach of any university in the country and have been a traditional power in football," Bowlsby said, per the Houston Chronicle.

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks to Ochai Agbaji during the first half of a college basketball game in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Chicago.
Kansas head coach Bill Self talks to Ochai Agbaji during the first half of a college basketball game in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Chicago. (Photo: Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press)

New hoops spaces

While football and media coverage without Texas and Oklahoma may be up for debate, what is less debatable is this: the new Big 12 will be one of, if not the, best basketball conferences in the country — one that includes reigning national champion Kansas.

And that conference will stay in Kansas City for conference basketball tournaments for at least four years after BYU joins the league.

The Big 12 signed a two-year extension to an agreement with the Kansas City Sports Commission to host the men's and women's basketball championships at the 19,000-seat, downtown T-Mobile Center through 2027.

That includes the women's tournament, which will tip off one week before the men's tournament in the same venue after being held at nearby Municipal Auditorium.

"Kansas City has been a valued partner, showcasing a true dedication to making these tournaments the best postseason basketball event in the country," Bowlsby said. "As we prepare to welcome four new schools in the coming years, I'm confident Kansas City will continue to deliver a first-class championship experience for our athletes, administrators, fans and partners."

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.

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