KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Big 12 is preparing to play a 20-game conference schedule in men’s basketball, and an 18-game women’s schedule, when the league loses Texas and Oklahoma but welcomes four additions from the Pac-12 beginning next season.
The arrival of Arizona, Arizona State and Utah along with former Big 12 member Colorado from the latest round of conference realignment has created new challenges in scheduling. The league will stretch across all four time zones, which was one of Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark’s goals, but that also means some long and time-consuming road trips.
“Scheduling and travel are a major priority for the conference,” Yormark said Tuesday at the start of two days of basketball media days at T-Mobile Center, which for the first time will host both the men’s and women’s conference tournaments this season.
“For basketball, it’s looking like a 20-game schedule and 18 for women is in our future, and on the football front we’re working diligently as well,” said Yormark, whose league is losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. “Our schedule is being guided by a few key parameters, including geography, competitive balance, historic matchups and rivalries.”
That could mean the continuation of the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State.
“We haven’t come up with any definitive decisions,” Yormark said, “but rivalries and historic matchups are critically important to us. They’re part of our guiding principles. It’s most likely that will occur but nothing has been cemented yet.”
The men are expected to play two conference basketball games more than the women because of the preferences of Big 12 coaches and the fact that the women’s conference tournament will take place a week before the men’s championship.
Yormark reiterated the Big 12 is doubling down on basketball, particularly with the arrival of hoops heavyweight Arizona next season. The league intends to begin playing games internationally beginning with the 2023-24 season, and the league is looking into alternative broadcasts and streaming options that could better bring the game to younger demographics.
When it comes to streaming, Yormark said “volume is key. Big 12 basketball and its depth provide that better than anyone.”
The Big 12 has finished atop KenPom’s conference ranking eight of the past 10 seasons, and Baylor and Kansas — the preseason No. 1 team this season — have given the league two of the past three national championships.
“I said before, I think basketball is undervalued, but it goes beyond monetizing it,” said Yormark, who has previously worked for the Pistons and Nets. “No sport connects better with culture than basketball. It is also a great catalyst for international growth, and it will continue to grow and play a huge role in the future of our industry.”
In fact, Yormark so values college basketball as a product that he considered its future in the latest of TV negotiations, which resulted in a deal with ESPN and Fox Sports worth about $2.3 billion that goes through at least the 2030-31 season.
“We gave ourselves some optionality when you think about our back-end rights, not only to renew our traditional format but to potentially break apart football from basketball,” he said. “Our job is to explore all options and further monetize what we do, and create value for our member institutions.”
Given its focus on college basketball, it is only natural to ask whether the Big 12 would renew conversations with West Coast Conference power Gonzaga and reigning national champion UConn, which is a member of the Big East. Yormark said earlier this year that those talks had ended in part due to the latest round of realignment involving the Pac 12.
Yormark declined to take questions about future expansion, but did say that “no different from last year, if an opportunity presents itself to strengthen this conference, I’m going to explore it.”
“There’s nothing imminent,” he said, “but I do explore all options that come to me, and if it creates value for membership both short- and long-term, we’re going to explore it even more.”
Yormark also was quick to defend the Big 12 as the nation’s premier basketball conference after UConn coach Dan Hurley said on a recent podcast that the Big East was “the best conference in the country and it’s not particularly close.”
“I mean, listen, history speaks for itself. The data speaks for itself,” Yormark said. “Our ratings, the tournament, where we have been the last five years — I don’t think there’s a deeper conference in America right now. Danny is a great coach, UConn is a great program, but I would certainly debate him on that.”
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball