The Big 12’s expansion negotiations with Gonzaga, among others, are expected to take center stage later this week at the conference’s spring meetings in West Virginia.
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark and other league officials continue deep discussions with the Zags as well as with the school’s consulting firm Navigate, sources tell Sports Illustrated. Navigate is a data-driven company that is assisting Gonzaga in a potential move from the West Coast Conference and into a Power 5 league.
Yormark began conversations with the school several months ago as part of his pursuit to expand the conference and add value to what is already the country’s strongest college basketball league. Gonzaga basketball is a national powerhouse under coach Mark Few, making eight Sweet 16 appearances since 2015.
As SI reported in a story published May 15, the Big 12 is also targeting another basketball power out East: five-time national champion UConn. A pairing of the two would give the league dominant hoops programs on either coast.
The potential shifts are part of a larger scale realignment wave rippling through the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC, the three Power 5 leagues trying feverishly to close the gap between them and the SEC/Big Ten.
Big 12 presidents and athletic directors will meet Wednesday through Friday in a gathering that is expected to focus on Yormark’s desire to grow the league to as many as 16 members. In his first year presiding over the conference, Yormark is following an aggressive agenda with three primary goals, two of which are complete. The Big 12 inked a new long-term television deal last fall with ESPN and FOX and struck a deal with Texas and Oklahoma to move them out of the league a year earlier than scheduled.
The remaining goal is clear: expand the conference.
At meetings in Phoenix a month ago, Big 12 athletic directors discussed various expansion targets at length, including UConn, San Diego State and UNLV as well as the possibility of adding Pac-12 schools, the most likely of which seem to be Colorado and Arizona.
The Big 12’s pursuit of Gonzaga, UConn, San Diego State and UNLV is somewhat contingent on whether the league can grab any Pac-12 defections. The conference’s new TV contract calls for a pro-rata share for any Power 5 expansion members. Additions from the Group of 5 could mean splitting the television revenue by however many programs are added—a potential issue for some officials.
The Pac-12 is in the midst of negotiating its new television package—an agreement that, if not suitable enough both monetarily and from a visibility perspective, could spark departures. Last week in an interview with BuffZone.com, Colorado athletic director Rick George gave some of his most poignant public comments yet about the situation.
“In a perfect world, we’d love to be in the Pac-12, but we also have to do what’s right for Colorado at the end of the day,” he said. “We’ll evaluate things as we move forward.”