NEW YORK (AP)Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark described recent discussions with television partners ESPN and Fox as ”meaningful” as the conference looks into the possibility of striking a media rights deal almost two years before the current contract expires.

”So (the conference) is not a free agent,” Yormark told AP on Wednesday. ”I can’t go out there and talk to an Amazon or an Apple or CBS. But in a world that’s changing, why don’t we explore an early conversation which could, maybe, lead to a negotiation. And I can tell you that we’ve had meaningful conversations for the last three-plus weeks, and we’ll see where they go.”

The Big 12 announced in late August it planned to engage ESPN and Fox, even though the exclusive negotiating window between the conference and the networks does not open until February 2024. The Big 12’s deals with the networks expire in June of that year.

”There’s no timetable,” Yormark said. ”If we can’t get to a deal, then the fallback is 16 months from now. But I’m a big fan of ESPN. I’m a big fan of Fox. We’re at a point right now where it’s important to elevate and amplify our brand. And I think they’re the two best partners to do it.”

The Big 12 is in transition as it prepares for Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and Central Florida to join next year and for Texas and Oklahoma to depart by 2025. The conference is likely to be 14 teams for at least one season. It currently has 10 schools.

Since being named commissioner in June to replace the retiring Bob Bowlsby, Yormark has talked publicly about the possibility of adding more schools to the Big 12, even saying the conference would like to grow ”out West.”

Since it was announced in June that Southern California and UCLA would be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has been trying to negotiate a new television deal as a way to stabilize its membership.

The Pac-12’s deal expires next year and the conference did open the exclusive negotiating window with ESPN, but that has now closed without a deal being struck. The Pac-12 could still land a deal with ESPN, but it can now bring its rights to the open market.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has said his conference being next in line for a new media rights deal after the Big Ten’s $7 billion megadeal with three networks was an advantage the Pac-12 had over the Big 12.

Yormark said engaging with ESPN and Fox was an effort to create some certainty for the conference.

”The strategy was clarity and stability as we’re looking to grow this conference in every respect,” Yormark said. ”Obviously, it has to be the right economic deal, but it’s not just about economics. It’s also about the partnership, and what it can do for our business and our brand and the profile of our schools, which is critically important to me.”

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