KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As Brett Yormark ducked into a waiting car service Tuesday night, it may have been the first time he was recognized outside the office in his still-new job.
"That's the Big 12 commissioner!" gushed a group standing on a street corner as if Paul McCartney had just walked by.
In general, college commissioners aren't recognized on the street. At this rate, Yormark may graduate quickly to rock star status in this town.
The first-year boss sees possibilities for his league reflected this week by the Big 12 Tournament. Thanks to Yormark, the scene involves way more than basketball.
By Saturday night, Shaquille O'Neal (hired by the Big 12) will be sitting courtside at the T-Mobile Center prior to his Saturday night DJ appearance in conjunction with the event. That's after a Friday night concert by rapper Fat Joe.
Yormark commissioned a Big 12 basketball anthem, "No Nights Off," that will play in a loop around the arena this week.
"My vision for this conference is that we were going to live at the intersection of culture and sports," Yormark told media on Wednesday.
If the 208 floor seats Yormark repurposed (from media seating) are any indication, the nation's best basketball conference is about to become what Yormark promised: hipper, young, sexier. A Las Vegas on the Plains. Yormark took those seats, sold them out for $5,000 each to high rollers and created a Championship Club underneath the stands where only they can enjoy what amounts to a high-end, pop-up speakeasy.
Four new sets of fans -- those from BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF -- are already smelling the big time.
"Whatever there is to make our product better, let's do it," Kansas coach Bill Self said of the commissioner Wednesday before the tournament tipped off. "... From a promotional standpoint, anything that is doable, he'll do."
It may not stop with the entertainment aspect. Yormark continues to pursue the Pac-12's Four Corners schools: Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. There have been "weekly" conversations between the Big 12 and those four programs as talks have heated up, one league insider tells CBS Sports.
Big 12 sources were waiting anxiously to hear the results of a Colorado Board of Regents meeting held to discuss the program's future in the Pac-12. The CU regents met in a special session, according to multiple reports.
It may only take one of the Four Corners schools to bolt from the Pac-12 for the other three to follow, Big 12 sources say.
"That, to me, is the one we have to get," Self said of Arizona.
"I've always thought the Arizona schools, Colorado and Utah are a natural fit for us," Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. "Who doesn't want to visit Arizona?"
Seldom has a conference taken on the personality of its commissioner without realizing it yet loving the hell out of it.
The Pac-12 has been mostly close-mouthed since last summer when USC and UCLA announced they were leaving for the Big Ten.
The Big 12, though, hired a deal-making whirlwind who hasn't been shy about much of anything. The league will play with 14 teams in 2023-24 as Texas and Oklahoma play out the string and the four newcomers settle in. After that?
"Who knows where expansion takes us?" Yormark said.
The conference once nicknamed the Pure Prairie League (because of its Great Plains roots) might as well be renamed "Nationwide." That is if Yormark gets his way and becomes the only FBS conference with teams in all four time zones.
Going coast-to-coast is part of the motivation of getting bigger. So is potentially getting to 16 teams, which would at least put the Big 12 on par as the two superpowers (SEC, Big Ten) from a membership standpoint. That would signal stability. It could also mean a renewal of the underrated Holy War rivalry in the same conference for the first time since 2010.
It's not Duke-North Carolina, butright about now?
Stability is definitely something the Pac-12 can't claim at the moment. Cracks are showing. Yormark and the Big 12 are offering a safe haven. There feels like an inevitability to it all this week at the Big 12 Tournament.
Will there be further realignment?
Four Corners schools: Three high-ranking industry sources in the last week told CBS Sports they believe Yormark is going to be successful in luring at least some combination of Four Corners schools. Some went farther speculating the Pac-12 was a couple of weeks away from dissolving.
"The dam breaking, in a sense," one source said.
As is confidence in the Pac-12 getting a new media rights deal that will keep the 10 schools together.
The irony is the Pac-12 had two chances to essentially break apart the Big 12 starting in 2010. That year, former Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott failed in his attempt to lure half of the Big 12 to his league. In 2021, when Texas and Oklahoma left, the Pac-12 chose not to go after what was left of a crumbling Big 12. Former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby moved quickly that summer to add BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
Oregon and Washington: The future of the Ducks and Huskies as members of the Pac-12 may be tied to outgoing Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren. There are indications at least one Big Ten media rights holder won't engage in expansion talks until Warren officially leaves the conference for the Chicago Bears on April 17. That could create an awkward transition for the Pac-12 schools if they have eyes on the Big Ten.
The belief is there will be clarity about the Pac-12's future long before April 17. What will happen to Oregon and Washington if they are in a sort of purgatory awaiting their conference fate? They were near the top of Warren's list as he pushed the Big Ten for further expansion after the conference finalized its new media rights deal in August.
Back then, Big Ten athletic directors and presidents were against such a move that would have included Stanford and California. Without Warren being around to push for those schools, it may work out for their advantage. Eventually. (The Big Ten has yet to announce Warren's replacement.)
Pac-12 expansion or backfill? Pac-12 CEOs have reportedly authorized expansion by as many as four teams. However, one industry source notes that move may not be about expansion but rather backfilling the league should the Pac-12 lose those Four Corners schools -- or more. In other words, the likes of Colorado State and Fresno State wouldn't be expanding the Pac-12, they would be keeping it upright.
The Pac-12 cannot suffer the loss of "even two" teams and remain a viable Power Five conference, veteran media consult Neil Pilson told CBS Sports recently. "I don't think they can afford to lose even two more schools. I think if they end up back as the Pac-8 or Pac-10, [it will not be good]," Pilson said.
Opportunity lost? There have been recent rumblings that the Pac-12 could have received the same deal the Big 12 did in October ($31.66 million per team) had it acted more aggressively in renewing its media rights. That probably would have solidified the league for years. However, Yormark jumped in front of the Big 12 with an October deal that was at first criticized for being below market. Well, there is below market and staying viable as a conference.
The Big 12 is assured of at least 12 loyal members through 2030-31 beginning this fall. The Pac-12's survival isn't guaranteed at all.
"It's not black and white," Pilson said. "The market can force you into difficult decisions. If it was an easy choice, [the Pac-12] probably would have made it months ago. If they really had a good deal, they probably would have taken it."
Adding to the Pac-12's woes, there may be more layoffs coming at some media giants. That begs the question: If the parties had waited, would ESPN have done the existing Big 12 deal at this time? If not, what does that say for the Pac-12's ability to get anywhere near the Big 12 money in the present?
"You think about media companies and the layoffs and their challenges," Yormark said Wednesday. "The fact that we were able to cement a six-year extension with two of the biggest media partners in the business [Fox, ESPN]. … When you think about marketing and promotion, we're with the best in the business."