Klieman Era Begins

Kansas State athletics director Gene Taylor (right) awards head coach Chris Klieman (left) with a football jersey during the Klieman’s introductory press conference in 2018. Despite Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12, Taylor said he believes the league still can be a force financially when its media rights go back on the market.

As the Big 12 prepares to welcome four new schools to the conference in the coming years, Gene Taylor doesn’t expect things to get any easier.

“I think it’ll be very competitive,” Taylor, Kansas State’s athletics director, said during halftime of the football team’s home opener at Bill Snyder Family Stadium last week versus Southern Illinois. “We’ll see. If you look at them right now, between the football programs but you also have the basketball programs, I think it’s going to be — I don’t want to say it’s going to be even more competitive, but it’s certainly going to be as competitive as it was.”

League titans Oklahoma and Texas are headed out the door to the SEC — by 2025 at the latest, but perhaps earlier.

BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston are on the way as the Big 12’s newest representatives, and will be part of the league soon enough.

Just how soon, however, still is up in the air. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said BYU will join the conference in all sports in time for the 2023-2024 athletics season.

The other three schools, all members of the American Athletic Conference (for now), still are trying to figure out when they will make their Big 12 debut, though Bowlsby said it would be no later than July 1, 2024.

“That’s going to be a negotiated thing,” Taylor said. “They have a 27-month notification, and if they go sooner, it’s going to cost them more money. I saw (American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike) Aresto make a comment about, ‘It’s going to be difficult, but maybe there’s a way we can let them out early.’ But it’s going to be a negotiated number. So all those things happen above my pay grade.”

What isn’t above it is K-State Athletics’ finances; that is Taylor’s chief priority, after all. And the department’s financial situation is a popular topic of conversation given the landscape of college sports.

Every program in America felt the effects of the coronavirus, which forced athletics departments to slash budgets. Then the Big 12’s eight remaining schools learned of Oklahoma and Texas’ move to the SEC.

How much their exits will be felt in the future — in terms of the value of the Big 12’s media rights — isn’t certain. On a per-member basis, Big 12 schools received between $37 million and $40.5 million in disbursements in 2020.

Though media members speculated those conference payouts would dramatically decrease once Texas and Oklahoma are gone, Taylor refused to buy into that notion.

“The landscape of TV is going to change so much over the next three to four years, I’m assuming we can stay pretty close (in terms of Big 12 revenue disbursements) to where we are with these four,” Taylor said, “but it’s really, really hard to guess that.

“There are some things out there — there have been some estimates and articles that I read where I don’t know where they were getting those numbers, because they’re probably not talking to ESPN or Fox. It just depends on who’s in the market when we go to market.”

Taylor said he isn't sure how many ways the conference will split the revenue should Texas and Oklahoma still be in the league when the other four join, which would give the Big 12 (for a short time) 14 members.

"We didn't talk at all about financially who's going to take what and how much. I don't know any of that right now," he said. "(Big 12 commissioner) Bob (Bowlsby) pretty much said, 'Let's not go there. Let's get these teams in and let's take that (revenue distribution) down the road.' So I'm assuming those conversations have happened with those four schools. Signing on the dotted line, they had to know what they were. But I've not seen those numbers or what they are."

Taylor was similarly uncertain about the league's structure in terms of scheduling.

Pods are one possibility. Another is a return to two six-team divisions, as the Big 12 once had from before four of its charter members departed a decade ago: Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Nebraska to the Big Ten Colorado to the Pac-12. Talks of pods or divisions, Taylor said, "will come in the next few weeks and months" in discussions of the league's movers and shakers.

"We never really even talked about that when we met ... We didn't talk about divisions. That'll come," Taylor said. "Now that they've all accepted and their boards approved, we'll probably start having these conversations."

When the Big 12 decided to expand, Taylor said the league considered multiple factors, including (but not limited to):

  • the success of the school's athletics programs;
  • the size of the school's local TV market;
  • the notoriety of the school as a whole;
  • and how each school compared to the Big 12's eight non-OU and -Texas members.

In every respect, the four new additions stood head and shoulders above other applicants.

"Obviously BYU brings a little different (flavor), just because they're kind of more national," Taylor said. "But we looked at a lot of things, and at the end of the day, these four kind of rose to the top in most of those categories."

The Big 12 had their pick of Group of 5 teams.

Taylor said the moment news broke that Oklahoma and Texas would leave, phones began ringing off the hook in the AD offices at the other eight Big 12 schools. That's the reason, Taylor said, the conference moved at warp speed to invite the four new members.

"We knew there was high interest," Taylor said. "We had certain things from a conference perspective we had to follow in terms of policy and procedure without getting ourselves in trouble with our contract. And then once they made contact directly with the office, Bob moved pretty quickly. ... Once we got formal applications, we knew it was going to go pretty quick, because the presidents and the ADs were pretty honed in on these four."

With BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston waiting in the wings, K-State's travel will certainly increase in future years — especially to Orlando, Fla., which is more than 1,300 miles away from Manhattan. Taylor conceded the Wildcats' travel budget will grow.

But no matter. 

"Those things may cost a little bit more money," he said, "but we're flying pretty much everywhere now, anyway, except for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State."

As the AAC picks up the pieces with its three most prominent football schools head for the exit, Taylor said he believes further Big 12 expansion is off the table.

For now, anyway.

"I know there have been a couple of things out there that people say we may not be done yet," said Taylor, alluding to a report from CBS Sports that the Big 12 may add at least two more schools, notably Memphis and Boise State, and potentially in 2024, "but I think we've just got to figure out what's next and what the timing of everything is. When are (the four new schools) coming in? Are Oklahoma and Texas going to stay through? That's the impression I still have.

"Now once you get into the details and you start negotiating things, you never know. But I think until we get that all figured out, I don't know that we'll have any more conversations in the near future about any additions."