Gonzaga bid, Pac-12 future, Texas exit plans, Oklahoma on deck with Big 12 to meet

When the Big 12 presidents and athletic directors begin meeting Thursday at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Grand Hyatt, you might as well bring the popcorn.

On the agenda is Gonzaga’s potential basketball membership. That in itself has realignment implications beyond the Big 12. There will also be some discussion about the possible early departure of Texas and Oklahoma for the SEC.

Entering its first season with new members BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, the Big 12 will discuss perhaps its only 14-team sports year. This is also a Texas-Oklahoma issue.

Expansion is still a work in progress, especially until the Pac-12 signs a new media rights deal.

Gonzaga’s candidacy

Basketball typically brings about 20% of the value of any media rights deal. That’s why football is so much more important. It’s also why no Power Five conference has a basketball-only member.

But this is Gonzaga, a national power, and this is commissioner Brett Yormark, who wants to make a mark in his new role and is pursuing the school as more than just basketball. (Bulldogs don’t play football.)

After spending 43 years in the West Coast Conference, there are indications that Gonzaga wants to play at a higher level of competition — and get paid to do so. Numerous reports show the strength of the West Coast at least given its options with the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big East all potential landing spots.

“I would guess that if [the Big 12] wanted Gonzaga, they were going to have Gonzaga,” a person familiar with the media rights deals told CBS Sports.

Perhaps. The school’s end said the decision largely rests with coach Mark Few, who has led the Zags since 1999. The program is currently in the middle of a rights deal with ESPN and CBS that expires in 2026-27.

At the end of the Big 12, Yormark tried to sell his ads on the concept of a basketball-only member. They had already seen a presentation regarding Gonzaga’s membership, but it did not include any financial details. Don’t be surprised if advertisers tried to find the cost of Gonzaga’s inclusion with the league’s media consultant Endeavor.

“I think that’s probably the lesson that’s been taught to me over and over again is that we underestimate the power of our brand nationally,” Gonzaga AD Chris Standiford told the AP in December.

Gonzaga has negotiated to receive a weighted share of NCAA Tournament revenue from the WCC because it is by far the league’s most consistent postseason player. From 1999 to 2019, Gonzaga produced more than 70 percent of the WCC’s 75 “units” — revenue that comes from the NCAA for every tournament win.

In the Power Five, most (if not all) tournament revenue is distributed evenly among conference schools.

The attraction between the two sides is obvious. The Big 12 is already the best basketball league. It would get even louder with Gonzaga. Membership would insulate the Zags should the tournament field grow and the likes of the WCC lose automatic qualifier status. That was speculated when the NCAA Transformation Committee released its recommendations last month.

In exchange for the introduction of its brand, Gonzaga will receive security and access to NCAA tournament revenue, which exceeded $32 million in 2020. The WCC and Gonzaga have remained tight-lipped about what the league and program currently make in media rights revenue.

“All the money they get [from the Big 12] it has to be more than what they do,” said an industry insider.

As for the financial impact, Gonzaga won’t get anywhere near a full share of the Big 12’s revenue, which now averages $31.66 million a year. Some believe college basketball will increase in value down the road due to streaming. More streaming interest means more money.

Current discharge comes from oversaturation. With 363 Division I teams, there are too many televised games that mean nothing.

The biggest issue may be what to do with Gonzaga’s minor sports. The WCC is unlikely to allow them to stay in the conference without basketball. Joining the Big 12, if even possible, would create significant travel costs with teams located everywhere from Florida to West Virginia to West Texas.

In 2019, when Gonzaga renegotiated his deal, he used the Mountain West suitor as leverage. Now the stakeholders are bigger, better and richer.

How about the Pac-12?

Geographically, the Pac-12 makes the most sense for Gonzaga. But a league that remains unsettled in several key areas could bring Gonzaga and some of the Pac-12’s own schools to the Big 12.

Pac-12 presidents and chief administrative officers ended a regularly scheduled meeting Monday without a resolution in ongoing media rights negotiations. The Pac-12 needs to settle this before moving on to anything else.

The current media agreement with Fox and ESPN expires on July 1, 2024. It is extremely late in the negotiation process (after 17 months) to still be this far from an agreement given that there is an expiring deal.

“I would not say [it’s] concern,” the Pac-12 AD said. “We’re in the process. … Panic or impatience will not make a difference.”

Meanwhile, the Big 12 — specifically Yormark — continues to be interested in those four corner schools: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. While Pac-12 programs have declared varying levels of loyalty during this uncertain period, the longer these negotiations continue, the more questions will enter the minds of members. Jormark has said publicly several times that he wants a West Coast presence to spread his conference across all four time zones.

Beyond Gonzaga and those Pac-12 schools, San Diego State remains a Pacific option for the Big 12. A new Pac-12 deal could come in the first quarter of 2023 involving ESPN and Amazon.

The situation in Texas, Oklahoma

Texas and Oklahoma recently made an offer to the Big 12 and Fox to leave the league a year early for the SEC, sources told CBS Sports this week. It was rejected. The nature of the offer was not clear.

CBS Sports previously reported that the Big 12 rights holder will need to get healthy because it lost the Longhorns and Sooners early in its schedule. This may include a series of non-conference games featuring both schools playing in Big 12 stadiums after Texas and Oklahoma joined the SEC.

Fox and ESPN hold the Big 12’s linear broadcast rights through 2024-25. ESPN owns 63 percent of the value of the new $2.3 billion deal that begins in 2025. As such, it gets top picks with the four best football games each season, six of the top eight, eight of the top 12 and 12 of the top 20, according to SportsBusiness Journal. Fox, which owns the remaining 37% of the deal, gets 26 games per season. It’s unclear whether Fox would gain access to any of those ESPN picks if a deal were to be made.

There was speculation that Tuesday’s release of 2023 Big 12 schedule was related to the Texas-Oklahoma issue. In other words, nothing could happen until it was known when the programs would leave the league.

Not true. The league faced an early February deadline from their rights holders to meet the schedule. Fox and ESPN had to start scheduling games themselves.

Meanwhile, time is running out for a potential early exit. As CBS Sports reported, Texas and Oklahoma want to leave earlybut the complications are numerous.

The pair first made it clear in August 2022 that they wanted to leave the Big 12 for the SEC at the end of the 2023 season. For now, they are forced by the current media rights deal to continue through the 2024 campaign before moving on forward.

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