WILLIAMS: Yormark brings his fastball to Vegas, and the evolution of a 16-team Big 12 Conference

LAS VEGAS — Over the last 15 years, I became obsessed with conference realignment and more broadly, the future of college athletics. 

This wasn’t my plan. 

When I got into this business I was excited to bring readers the most in-depth coverage of Iowa State athletics in the world. I wanted fans to know everything about the Cyclones – from the third string middle linebacker’s story to who the point guard would be three years from now. All Cyclones. All the time. That’s what we do at Cyclone Fanatic. 

But this Big 12 Conference evolution has been a massive underlying story – and in many cases a distraction – for 15 years. 

About a year after deciding to take the plunge and do this independent media thing full-time, the 2010 Big 12 Missile Crisis hit and our world has never been the same. I care deeply about Iowa State University and Cyclone athletics. It’s a major part of who I am. However, the selfish side of me had no clue what I would do if Iowa State ended up in the MAC or something like that.

That’s when my addictive personality (reading and consuming every piece of information I could find on the topic) took over, making the formation of the now 16-team Big 12 so fascinating to me.

My podcast partner, Brent Blum, is generally a glass half-full guy. I am more of a skeptic when it comes to what the suits are telling us. I’ll never forget getting back from a work conference in Nashville on July 21, 2021. That’s the day that reports surfaced about Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. 

I landed in Des Moines and rushed home to meet Blum for our first podcast since the news broke. Blum, who has more Iowa State in his blood than white cells, was visibly shook. After all the league had been through, Blum really believed this COULD be the final death blow for the league we all love so much. After all, Texas and Oklahoma were the money. And in college athletics, one is always wise to follow the money. 

But then some guy who wears tight suits (that cost more than my annual mortgage payment) from New York took over. 

During his annual “state of the Big 12” meeting with the media on Tuesday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Brett Yormark once again brought his fastball. He’s the only commissioner in the history of sports with a catchphrase: “Two years later I guess you can say, we are still open for business,” Yormark eloquently delivered. 

Yormark compared the Big 12 to a “mature start-up,” and rival conferences to older, more established business that can’t be as progressive and nimble moving forward. 

Yormark talked about why this event is happening in Las Vegas this year. 

“We need to be here in Vegas for all the right reasons,” Yormark said. “It’s the entertainment and sports capital of the year. It is critically important that we are here.”

The commissioner also hinted about a future relationship between the league and the Las Vegas Bowl. 

The story coming out of media days a year ago was if Yormark could successfully lure the “Four Corners” schools away from the Pac-12. 

Checkmate. That conference is now deceased. 

What’s next? 

It’s hard telling, but don’t ignore what’s happening out east. 

On Monday, the Tallahassee Democrat reported the following: “In a proposed court order, the Atlantic Coast Conference would have to provide Florida State University’s legal team a copy of the highly confidential ESPN agreements as the battle between the conference and the school continues in Leon County.”

I don’t see any way Florida State and potentially Clemson suing the ACC ends well with the Big 12’s latest round of competition in this game of high-dollar musical chairs. Florida State wouldn’t be spending money on all of these legal fees if it didn’t believe it had a good chance to get out. Once the cat is out of the bag, Clemson, and eventually North Carolina, are sure to follow. You better believe that those middle of the pack ACC schools (like those from out west a year ago) are looking around, and Yormark is making plans. 

The relationship between college athletics and the media has been one of great interest dating back to 1985. That’s when the Supreme Court decided that the NCAA no longer had the authority to control television rights. This power then moved to the schools and conferences. Hence when the realignment era began. We have all been watching a snowball rolling down a massive hill ever since. 

I point that out because a lot of what lies ahead in this bizarro world will happen because of what the money wants and where the money is. 

Will that be with ESPN and FOX, as has been the case for decades? Or will technology giants like Netflix and Amazon step up and have a say. 

I will continue to be obsessed with all of this big picture stuff going forward. The ongoing Big 12 dramas have shaped who I am as a commentator and journalist. 

But that sick-to-my-stomach fear factor of where Iowa State might end up is all but gone.

The Big 12—while very different—appears to be in a very solid spot for the foreseeable future.