As Big 12 moves west, Vegas isn't far from mind of conference leadership

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LAS VEGAS — No topic in college football brings eyeballs quite like conference realignment.

But Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark wasn't focused on any rumors, reports or discussions of new additions to his league.

Truth be told, the third-year head of the league has enough on his plate with eight newcomers in the past two years, several of which open up an abundance of opportunities in the western United States.

The Big 12's past is in Texas, its headquarters remains in Dallas, and the men's and women's basketball tournaments will be in Kansas City through at least 2031.

But as the conference kicked off the 2024 football preseason Tuesday at Allegiant Stadium in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip, Yormark wasn't ruling out any further trips to the west, either.

The late scheduling adjustment was the result of a conflict with the league's regular home at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but it may foreshadow a greater presence in the west — likely welcome relief to fans of Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Utah and Colorado.

"It's indicative of our appetite to move a little west with some of our tent-pole events," Yormark said. "Being in Vegas is critically important to us. Even before last year's realignment, I said we had to be in Vegas and a little more west. This is the entertainment and sports capital of the world right now. It's incredibly important for our brand and business, and we'll continue to explore opportunities to take some of our tent-pole events, championship events, more to the west coast if the opportunity presents itself and if it makes sense."

Las Vegas presents plenty of opportunities for the league, which will be represented by Utah during the Vegas Kickoff Classic against Miami in 2027. The commissioner didn't mention basketball as a landing spot for the league, but he did mention another postseason affiliation with the city.

"I'm confident at the right time we will have a formal affiliation with the Las Vegas Bowl," Yormark said bluntly. "This market is critically important. Scott Draper (Big 12 chief football and competition officer) is working on that, but I'm very comfortable and confident in what that outcome will bring for our conference. We need to be here in Vegas for all the right reasons. I said earlier it is the entertainment and sports capital of the world, so critically important marketing for us in the future."

The third-year commissioner added that additional "tent-pole" conference events could be held in the west "if it makes sense," but was quick to stamp down any immediate plans to expand further west.

Obviously, in the world of conference realignment, no doors are permanently shut, but after taking over a 10-team conference in 2022 that swelled to 14 last year and will formally grow to 16 on Aug. 2 despite losing Texas and Oklahoma, Yormark is bullish on the future of his league.

"I say this often: We're one of the three best conferences in America, and we're getting better," he said. "Think about where we were just 24 months ago, and think about where we are today. I will not stop until we're the No. 1 conference in America. That's my ambition; I shouldn't have anything but that, but that's the ambition of our conference, of our presidents, of our ADs.

"Why would we be doing what we're doing if we don't aspire to be No. 1? But we're continuing to get better, and I like where we're going."

Yormark has previously "doubled down" on Kansas City, extending the conference's basketball tournament with T-Mobile Arena through 2031 while adding a two-year deal with CPKC Stadium to host the women's soccer championships in 2024 and 2025.

He's also bullish on the league's core footprint in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, renovating the league offices in Dallas and extending the conference baseball tournament with GlobeLife Field through 2028.

The league also continues to look for new revenue streams, including a potential naming rights sponsor for the conference, new sponsorship and ticketing measures implemented for football and basketball, and potential partnerships with private capital.

One stream could include more international games: Kansas State and Iowa State will open the 2025 football season in Ireland, which could signal a move away from portions of the previously announced Big 12 Mexico initiative.

That initiative, Yormark added, will focus immediately on women's soccer and baseball. So the league won't be afraid to move around — both geographically and with vaguely hinted "new television windows" — to get more eyeballs on its teams.

At the same time, Yormark wants moves that make sense — like the additions of Utah to pair with archrival BYU and the Territorial Cup rivalry in Arizona did.

"I think rivalries are critically important," he said. "We have a scheduling committee, and they have been focused on the rivalries that mean something, not only to the history of the conference but also to our fans. I think we landed in a great place."


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