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Brett Yormark’s Rucker Park initiative is latest splash move by Big 12 commissioner

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos03/23/23


Brett Yormark is a New Yorker.

He was a Brooklyn Nets executive for 14 years, including overseeing the Nets’ move from New Jersey. He negotiated a swath of deals for the Barclays Center, too, bringing UFC and the NCAA tournament to the arena.

Amidst an ownership change with the Nets, he took over as CEO of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. And when he was announced as the Big 12’s fifth commissioner in August, NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s praise was included in the release.

At the time, the move seemed to be a carbon copy of the Pac-12’s move to bring on George Kliavkoff in May 2021. Neither was a college sports executive when he was hired as commissioner. But in the eight months since Yormark entered college athletics, he has made sure to separate himself from his West Coast counterpart.

A year ago, there weren’t many positives with the Big 12. Oklahoma and Texas already had announced they were headed to the SEC, and the conference did not have a TV contract in place. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF were coming aboard as league newcomers – news that was announced under predecessor Bob Bowlsby – but not much else was set.

The narrative has been flipped. The Pac-12 is struggling to find a TV deal, with University of Utah president Taylor Randall saying “we’ve still got a ways to go” earlier this week on ESPN 700 radio in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, Yormark announced a TV deal at the end of October. The Big 12 reached a new media rights agreement with Fox and ESPN; the six-year extension runs through the 2030-31 season and is worth more than $2.2 billion and puts the league on much better TV footing than the ACC and Pac-12.

When Yormark was hired, he also vowed to “shape the future of the Big 12 brand.” He’s lived up to that in recent weeks. He tried to reinvigorate the conference’s basketball tournament this year with a custom food menu and a Shaquille O’Neal concert. The rapper Fat Joe also played for a VIP audience one night.

Brett Yormark continuing to brand Big 12

Yormark didn’t wait long to drop his next idea. Last week, the conference unveiled plans to hold its own “Pro Day” at the Dallas Cowboys’ training facility, dubbed The Star, in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, starting in 2024. Plans are in place for a fan event outside the facility along with a job fair for athletes. There are plenty of kinks to work out, but the Big 12 has roughly a year to get the plan in shape. And nobody is questioning the event’s possible success. 

“Brett is super-smart,” a source at the Big Ten recently told On3. “If he can build revenue for a sponsored event, he will sell the shit out of it.”

Thursday, with league member Kansas State set to play Michigan State in New York City in the Sweet 16, the Big 12 announced plans to position itself in the Big Apple. The conference has struck a partnership with famed Rucker Park in Harlem, allowing the Big 12 to operate clinics for youth in grades six and below.

The camps will be held on multiple days, led by coaches from men’s and women’s Big 12 basketball programs. The rollout doesn’t stop there. The league will hold men’s and women’s summer exhibition games at Rucker, pending NCAA approval.

Trying to make a splash in the New York City market has been a never-ending quest for conferences. The Big Ten added Rutgers in 2014. The ACC has Syracuse, which has a large number of alums in the city. And totable is that the Big East, which includes St. John’s, didn’t think of the Rucker Park idea first.

With the Pac-12 teetering, the Big 12 potentially has an opportunity to expand to the West Coast. But while Yormark waits that out, he’s trying to turn the conference into more of a national brand. How that looks is unknown –  remember TCU is arguably the conference’s most notable name with Oklahoma and Texas gone in 2024.

Football may not be his only focus, either. Kansas is not leaving the Big 12 anytime soon and Gonzaga appears to be a viable addition. Is that the play?

Only Brett Yormark knows. But you know he has a plan.