Thursday, July 18, 2024

Big 12 renews pursuit of adding Gonzaga to conference after previous realignment talks stalled

A possible union between Gonzaga and the Big 12 is back on the table in a move that would further bolster the league’s reputation for excellent basketball, sources confirm to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. Longtime staples of the West Coast Conference, the Zags are one of the premier basketball brands outside the sport’s evolving major conference structure.

Gonzaga and the Big 12 flirted previously, but those talks cooled when the conference picked up new members Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah from the Pac-12 — additions that will take effect ahead of the 2024-25 athletic season. However, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark is leading a renewed push to land the Bulldogs, sources tell Dodd. CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis first reported on the development for The Messenger.

Yormark would like to have Gonzaga join the Big 12 — along with the four Pac-12 acquisitions — in time for the 2024-25 academic year.

“It’s a thing. It’s still kind of … we’ll see,” a Big 12 source told CBS Sports. Yormark was not immediately available for comment. 

Gonzaga joining the Big 12 now seems to be a matter of negotiation. During the summer Gonzaga received a $15 million annual valuation from its consultants, industry sources told CBS Sports, should it join a power conference for basketball. That’s less than half of what full-ride Big 12 members will receive ($31.7 million) beginning in 2024. 

Expanding to 17 basketball teams would create scheduling problems, especially with regard to a conference tournament format. But adding the Zags would solidify the profile of what is widely regarded as college basketball’s top conference. Though Oklahoma and Texas are exiting the Big 12 for the SEC after this season, national power Houston is about to embark on its first season in the league and will soon be joined by another huge basketball brand in Arizona.

Other new or forthcoming Big 12 members such as Cincinnati and Utah also have rich basketball histories, as do several longtime members, including recent national-title winners Baylor (2021) and Kansas (2022). Gonzaga has entertained the possibility of departing the WCC for years but has been cautious about leaving a geographically sensible league that it often dominates. But joining the Big 12 would further elevate the national profile of a program that has made eight straight Sweet 16 appearances under coach Mark Few, who is entering his 25th season as coach of the Bulldogs.

 “I think it’s the best basketball league right now, depth-wise, and I always felt like the Pac-12 fit until UCLA and USC left,” a coach told CBS Sports this summer as part of the Candid Coaches series when asked about a possible move by Gonzaga to the Big 12. “I think there are too many unknowns there, and by default, you go to the next one over. The Big 12 is so deep and competitive. [The WCC] is working in certain areas … but I think it’s like dominating the JVs and you always want to play on the varsity.”  

It’s no secret Yormark has a distinct, long-term basketball vision, one that ultimately includes separate media rights contracts for basketball and football. That’s never been done, at least in the modern era of the Power Five. Basketball has always lagged behind in valuation with the football being the primary revenue generator.

Yormark believes, with the interest of streaming properties on the rise, college basketball will be worth more to more suitors in the future. There are those in the industry who disagree. One key issue: Any movement in separating media rights would have to wait at least seven years until the Big 12’s new media rights deal expires in 2031.

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