JASON WATKINS / HOF Media
The Texas Longhorns’ final Big 12 Conference match is scheduled to be held at Darrel K. Royal Stadium in Austin against Texas Tech on November 24. League commissioner Brett Yormark has confirmed his attendance for this momentous event, and to some humorously indicated his favored team for the game in Austin on Black Friday.
Speaking at the Red Raider Club kickoff luncheon in Lubbock Wednesday, Yormark playfully conveyed his expectations to Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire.
"While I won't exert any undue pressure on you, I'll be in Austin on Thanksgiving," Yormark quipped from the podium. "And I trust you'll handle matters as capably as you did here in Lubbock last year."
These comments, whether interpreted as lighthearted jabs at the departing Longhorns, or intended to shame Texas for its move, cast an unfavorable light on the commissioner and conference.
This isn't the first instance this summer where a high-ranking Big 12 official has taken a swipe at the Longhorns or their Red River counterparts, the Oklahoma Sooners. During the Big 12 Football Media Days in July, Big 12 deputy commissioner Tim Weiser didn't hold back in expressing his opinions about the Longhorns' shift to the SEC, implying that they'd prefer defeat from Alabama over teams like Kansas State or Iowa State.
The upcoming season sees Texas as the frontrunner for clinching the Big 12 title, while Texas Tech, now in its second year under McGuire, presents itself as a popular pick as a contender. The Red Raiders won eight games a season ago, an achievement that included triumphs over both Texas and Oklahoma in the same season — a first in their history.
Their September victory over Texas marked their first win against the Longhorns since 2017.
Since 1956, when Texas Tech joined the Southwest Conference, the teams have faced off 72 times on the football field and have been part of the same conference since the inception of the Big 12 in 1994. Despite this, Texas has historically dominated the series dating back to 1928, holding a 54-18 lead.
Yormark referred to the 2023 14-team Big 12 season as "a celebration" of newcomers, returning members, and departing Red River Rivals. Nevertheless, instances like the recent comments and others demonstrate that Yormark and league officials are not above making pointed remarks toward schools that have significantly contributed to the conference's football revenue since its establishment in 1994.
"I don't believe they've carried the conference in recruiting," Yormark stated during the Big 12 Media Days in July. "They haven't participated in our championship game in recent years."
While it's accurate to assert that the conference is larger than any two schools, Oklahoma, as the dominant force in Big 12 Football with 14 championships since the league's inception, shares similar win percentages against Texas Tech and virtually all other legacy Big 12 programs.
Furthermore, both Texas and Oklahoma placed 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the 247 Sports Composite team recruiting rankings for the 2023 recruiting cycle. These two schools have consistently ranked in the Top 10 in national recruiting rankings for over a decade, entering the 2023 season well ahead of other conference programs.
Yet, Yormark and other Big 12 officials haven't refrained from targeting Texas and OU since the agreement was reached for the Red River Rivals to transition to the SEC a year earlier than originally planned for a sum of $100 million.
Despite the commissioner's indications during Big 12 Media Days that the contributions of the schools’ to the Big 12's success would be celebrated, Yormark and Big 12 brass have repeatedly panned the departing Red River Rivals, making clear that the conference favors the schools who, at least for the immediate future, will continue to call the Big 12 home.
This behavior raises concerns about the commissioner's ability to maintain fairness between two schools that remain Big 12 members and those that will be navigating the conference's landscape without their financial powerhouses starting in 2024.
Even if Yormark's remarks from Wednesday are interpreted as jest, they cast the league in a negative light. Any contentious moments during the Texas Tech game that favor the Red Raiders could face immediate and widespread criticism, creating an unfair situation for McGuire and his team. As demonstrated last season in Lubbock's Jones AT&T Stadium, the Red Raiders can hold their own against Texas without the commissioner's sway or motivational words.
Nonetheless, it's undeniable that Yormark's comments have increased the likelihood that any penalties, whether in favor of or against Texas and OU, throughout the season will be intensely scrutinized. A significant portion of college football fans, particularly in Austin and Norman, may find it difficult to accept any outcome as valid if it culminates in a Big 12 Championship involving teams like Texas Tech or Kansas State rather than Texas and Oklahoma.
This is regrettable, especially considering that the commissioner and the Big 12 successfully fended off conference elimination and are poised for a promising future even after the exit of the Red River Blue Bloods this season.
Ultimately, Brett Yormark will likely be evaluated more for his public statement in Lubbock on Wednesday and the ensuing fallout over the next five months than for any achievements he might guide the Big 12 Conference to in the future.
Regrettably, this situation could have been easily avoided.