The Big 12 has a new commissioner, and it looked outside the world of college athletics to fill the role.
The conference announced Wednesday that it has hired Brett Yormark as the successor to Bob Bowlsby, who spent the last 10 years running the league before announcing he would step away back in April. Yormark, the fifth commissioner in Big 12 history, will officially begin his new role on August 1. He has agreed to a five-year contract.
Yormark previously served as the chief operating officer of Roc Nation, the entertainment and sports agency founded by Jay-Z. Before becoming the company’s COO, Yormark was the co-CEO of Roc Nation Unified, the side of the business that oversees licensing and branding.
Yormark also spent nearly 15 years as the CEO of the Brooklyn Nets, overseeing the franchise’s move from New Jersey to Brooklyn and the construction of the Barclays Center. Yormark also worked as an executive for NASCAR.
“In Brett Yormark, we have chosen a highly adaptable leader who thrives in dynamic times. The landscape of college athletics is evolving to look more like the world Brett has been leading,” said Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec, the chair of the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors.
“He’s authentic and genuine in the way he builds relationships and partnerships, and he works relentlessly to deliver impact. As Brett immerses himself in college sports and connects with all our stakeholders, he will bring a fresh approach and dynamic energy to the Big 12 as we engage a new generation of student-athletes and fans.”
Big 12 in pivotal time of transition
Yormark arrives in the Big 12 during a time of transition in both the conference and college athletics as a whole.
“I’m here to listen, learn, find ways to add value, add resources and try to help shine a light on the importance of college athletics,” Yormark said in a statement. “I look forward to leveraging my experience and network alongside our presidents, chancellors and athletic directors to shape the future of the Big 12 brand and emphasize our collective strengths.”
The Big 12 is set to lose Texas and Oklahoma as members while adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Texas and Oklahoma will depart for the SEC no later than 2025 (when their rights expire) while the Big 12’s four new additions are set to join in 2023.
Additionally, the Big 12 is on the verge of negotiating pivotal new media rights deals. When Bowlsby decided to step aside, he pointed to those factors as a pivot point for the Big 12 to open its doors for a new leader.
“This is an appropriate time for me to step away from the commissioner’s role so that the next leader of the conference can take the reins on these significant matters,” Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby, the former athletic director at Iowa and Stanford, became the Big 12 commissioner in 2012 after the departures of Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Texas A&M. The Big 12 subsequently added TCU and West Virginia to get to 10 members and keep its status as one of the Power Five conferences.
Another commissioner hire from outside college athletics
With the hire of Yormark, the Big 12 is following a similar path taken by the Pac-12. The Pac-12 hired George Kliavkoff as commissioner in 2021. Like Yormark, Kliavkoff did not have a career background in college sports. He worked as the president of entertainment and sports for MGM Resorts International.
“[Yormark] is one of the most skilled and knowledgeable executives in sports and entertainment,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “His decades of operational experience, relentless work ethic and strong industry relationships will be of enormous value to the Big 12, its schools and fans.”
There have been four new commissioners hired by Power Five conferences since 2020. In addition to Yormark and Kliavkoff, the Big Ten hired Kevin Warren and the ACC hired Jim Phillips. Warren was the CEO of the Minnesota Vikings while Phillips was the longtime AD at Northwestern.
The SEC’s Greg Sankey is the longest-tenured Power Five commissioner. He was promoted in 2015 following the retirement of Mike Slive.