Baylor, Gonzaga players to get paid for promoting rematch

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Baylor and Gonzaga will meet in a men’s basketball game in South Dakota on Dec. 2 and organizers will pay players on both teams who agree to help promote the game.

Complete Sports Management and Range Sports announced this week that it would put on the game at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls.

Baylor and Gonzaga will meet for the seventh time, and first since the Bears beat the Bulldogs in the 2021 national championship game.

The game is an opportunity for players to cash in on their celebrity under name, image and likeness (NIL) rules. Matt Haberman, a spokesman for the organizers, said players would be paid for participating in “tune-in to the game” promotions on the network that televises the game.

Haberman said he couldn’t disclose the amount of payment each player would receive. Organizers were still seeking a television partner Thursday.

“We’re working to find a media partner who believes in providing this generation of student-athletes more opportunities as well as align with iconic powerhouse basketball brands Baylor and Gonzaga,” Range Sports president Will Funk said. “Engaging the players to help activate the game broadcast sponsors is the future of college athletics.”

Kansas State All-American Ayoka Lee to have season-ending surgery

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – All-American forward Ayoka Lee will undergo knee surgery and miss Kansas State’s upcoming season, though Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie said Thursday she intends to take a medical redshirt and return for one more year.

Lee, who has dealt with lingering knee injuries the past two seasons, set a Division I record by scoring 61 points in a game against Oklahoma on Jan. 23.

She went on to average 22.0 points last season, setting the Kansas State school record, while pulling down 10.3 rebounds per game. The Wildcats reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Lee already ranks ninth in school history with 1,661 points, sixth with 887 rebounds and third with 235 blocks.

The 6-foot-6 forward from Byron, Minnesota, graduated in May with a decree in psychology.

Lee said she plans to work on her graduate degree in couples and family therapy while rehabbing from the surgery. The school didn’t specify which knee.

Keyontae Johnson resuming career at Kansas State

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Florida forward Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed during a game in December 2020 and hasn’t played since, is headed to Kansas State to resume his college career.

Johnson made the announcement on social media, picking the Wildcats over fellow finalists Memphis, Nebraska, and Western Kentucky. The 23-year-old Norfolk, Virginia, native will have one year of eligibility remaining, although he could petition the NCAA for another.

Johnson graduated from Florida in late April and announced plans to transfer days later. K-State and new coach Jerome Tang hosted Johnson on a recruiting visit in July.

“We are just so excited to welcome Keyontae and his family to K-State,” Tang said in a statement. “He is a gifted player and a winner who brings significant experience to our team after playing in one of the toughest leagues in the country while at Florida. Beyond that, we think Keyontae is just a perfect fit with the guys we already have in the program. We can’t wait to get him to Manhattan and introduce him to Wildcat Nation!”

Johnson has indicated he has received medical clearance to play again, something Florida officials said wasn’t going to happen in Gainesville. Now, he will get a chance to face his former team next season; K-State hosts the Gators on Jan. 28 in the annual SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Johnson could be a potential difference-maker for the Wildcats, who are rebuilding under Tang after finishing 14-17 in coach Bruce Weber’s final year in Manhattan. Johnson averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds during his last full season (2019-20) at Florida. He was a first-team, all-Southeastern Conference selection as a sophomore.

He still has a $5 million insurance policy that would pay out if he never plays again. The policy allows him to take part in a handful of games to test his health. If he proceeds beyond the set number of games, any potential payout would be nullified.

Johnson’s insurance policy went into effect five months before he crashed face-first onto the court at Florida State. The Southeastern Conference’s preseason player of the year in 2020 became a trauma patient as he crumpled to the floor seconds after breaking a team huddle in the fourth game of the COVID-19-delayed season.

Johnson received emergency medical attention in front of teammates, opponents and fans before getting rushed to a Tallahassee hospital. He spent 10 nights in hospitals before returning home. But he was never allowed to return to practice with the Gators.

His parents said last year their son’s collapse was not related to a previous positive COVID-19 test, citing a consultation team that included experts from four highly respected schools of medicine. The family has not said what doctors believe caused the episode or whether Johnson has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.

Johnson spent most of the last two seasons cheering on teammates from the bench as he remained enrolled in school and on scholarship.

He did take the court for a ceremonial few dribbles and a farewell on senior night against Kentucky in early March.

Arkansas to open against Louisville in Maui Invitational

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LAHAINA, Hawaii — Arkansas will face Louisville in the opening round of a loaded 2022 Maui Invitational bracket.

The eight-team bracket announced for the November event will include six teams that went to the 2022 NCAA Tournament, including three that reached the Sweet 16.

Arizona faces Cincinnati in the opening round after reaching the Sweet 16 in coach Tommy Lloyd’s first season. Texas Tech, another Sweet 16 team last season, plays Creighton and San Diego State faces Ohio State in the tournament’s return to the Lahaina Civic Center on Nov. 21-23.

The 2020 tournament was held in Asheville, North Carolina, and last year’s was played in Las Vegas.

Arkansas has reached the Elite Eight the past two seasons under coach Eric Musselman.

New commish: Big 12 open for business amid realignment talk

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ARLINGTON, Texas — New Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark declared the league “open for business,” saying that while nothing is imminent all options will be considered as he takes over with conference realignment again shaking college sports.

Yormark made his introductory remarks Wednesday at the start of the conference’s football media days at AT&T Stadium. He was named Bob Bowlsby’s successor two weeks ago. The next day it was announced Southern California and UCLA would be leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten in 2024, setting off all kinds of speculation about what moves might follow.

“We are exploring all options and we are open for business,” Yormark said, when immediately asked if the Big 12 was actively engaged in talks with any Pac-12 schools.

“Optionality is good, and we’re vetting through all of them,” he said, without being specific about schools. “I think it’s fair to say I’ve received a lot of phone calls, a lot of interest. People understand the direction of the Big 12, and we’re exploring those levels of interest.”

With the Pac-12 down to 10 teams, any further significant loss of members could deal a fatal blow to a conference that was officially founded in 1959.

The former Roc Nation executive and CEO of the Brooklyn Nets officially begins work Aug. 1, but he has already been plenty busy with Big 12 business.

“What excites me most about joining the Big 12 is the transformative moment in front of all of us today,” he said. “We have an opportunity to grow and then build the Big 12 brand and business. … Moments like these do not happen often, and we must seize them and make the most of them.”

Along with realignment, Yormark emphasized adding revenue streams and the opportunity to nationalize the Big 12 brand, be more aspirational and appeal to youth culture “to get younger and hipper.”

He also mentioned “seeing the true professionalization of college sports” at a time when name, image and likeness compensation for athletes is going into its second year.

The Big Ten’s move West was another seismic shift in conference realignment, much like when it was revealed a week after Big 12 media days last summer that Texas and Oklahoma were moving to the Southeastern Conference no later than the 2025 season.

“I’m certain that Brett is just deeply appreciative of the way he was welcomed into the Big 12 Conference with, once again, conference realignment at the top of the list of things to deal with,” said Baylor president Linda Livingstone, part of the Big 12 board’s three-person executive committee that headed the search.

Livingstone spoke to Yormark by phone a couple of days after he was named, which was after the news about UCLA and USC.

“Well, welcome to college athletics, and you thought working for Jay-Z was really exciting,” she told him.

Yormark described himself as actively engaged in realignment, with input from throughout the conference.

The Big 12 is going into its 12th and final season as a 10-school league. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF all join next summer after being approved for membership last September.

The pending departures of two of the Pac-12’s biggest brands came as a huge surprise, just like a year ago with the Big 12’s only national champions in football deciding to bail on the conference.

Yormark said the possible addition of more teams to the Big 12 wouldn’t necessarily have an impact on any decision involving the Longhorns or Sooners leaving before the expiration of the league’s media rights deal that has three more football seasons.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a moment in time where we’re going to sit down, discuss the future,” Yormark said about Texas and Oklahoma. “But any situation like this, I always look for a win-win scenario. That being said, it’s important that whatever happens is in the best interest of this conference.”

Yormark plans in August and September to visit the current Big 12 schools and the four coming on board next summer.

Livingstone said Yormark rose to the top of a strong pool of candidates during the search process.

“We could tell that with his experience in professional sports and sponsorships, and in media, in entertainment, given where college athletics is going, and all the changes taking place, with our media rights negotiation coming up, that Brett, in combination with the really strong athletic directors we have across the conference, would be a great combination to position us really well for the future,” she said.

This is will be Yormark’s first job in college athletics, though he said it is a career path he often thought about taking.

The 55-year-old was an executive on the commercial side of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation after previously working with the Nets and running Barclay Center, their home arena, for more than a decade. He was NASCAR’s vice president for corporate sponsorships before that.

“I always had a vision to be in college sports. Candidly, I thought it might have been an AD, I wasn’t sure,” Yormark said. “But I was enamored with the space. It was fueled during my time at Barclays Center. When this opportunity presented itself, I said, let’s give it a great shot, and thankfully it all worked out.”

 

Big 12 picks Roc Nation’s Brett Yormark as next commissioner

Danny Garcia v Keith Thurman: NYC Press Conference
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DALLAS – Brett Yormark, an executive with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and former CEO of the Brooklyn Nets, was named Big 12 commissioner Wednesday, another unconventional hire by a major conference amid the rapidly changing landscape of college athletics.

Yormark is taking over for Bob Bowlsby, who came to the league a decade ago after stints as athletic director at Stanford, Iowa and Northern Iowa.

The background for Yormark isn’t in college athletics, but could play an interesting role for a conference bracing for challenges in revenue with the impending departures of Oklahoma and Texas while adjusting to athletes cashing in on use of their celebrity.

Yormark is expected to start Aug. 1, but will be likely to make his first public appearance at Big 12 football media days in the Dallas area July 13-14.

“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. “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 hiring of Yormark is similar to the Pac-12’s choice for commissioner last year – former MGM Resorts International executive George Kliavkoff, who also had an extensive background in digital media.

The biggest issue looming for Yormark is a new media rights deal without the powerful brands of the Sooners and Longhorns in the mix. The multibillion-dollar TV deal with ESPN and Fox Sports expires after the 2024-25 academic year, when Oklahoma and Texas will join the Southeastern Conference if they haven’t already moved before then.

Within weeks of OU and Texas accepting invitations from the SEC, the Big 12 expanded by adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. It could be a 14-team league for two years if the Sooners and Longhorns don’t leave early.

Yormark joined Jay-Z’s marketing agency in 2019 as co-CEO of Roc Nation Unified, which handles licensing and branding. The 55-year-old was promoted to the company’s overall chief operating officer in January.

Before Roc Nation, Yormark spent almost 15 years with the Nets, overseeing the club’s move from New Jersey and construction of the Barclays Center. Yormark left the Nets after Joseph Tsai bought controlling interesting in 2019.

Yormark was with NASCAR before the Nets, overseeing the $750 million agreement with Nextel Communications for naming rights to the circuit’s top racing series.

“Brett is one of the most skilled and knowledgeable executives in sports and entertainment,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “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.”

Yormark joins the Big 12 in a period of uncertainty, although not one as dire as when Bowlsby took over. The 70-year-old Bowlsby is retiring but planning to transition into an interim role until his contract expires in 2025.

The league in 2012 was coming off a two-year period when it lost four schools to three other conferences and at times appeared on the brink of collapse. The Big 12 eventually settled as a 10-team league with the additions of TCU and West Virginia, and secured the lucrative media deal not long after hiring Bowlsby.

The Big 12 enjoyed almost a decade of relative stability before the stunner from Oklahoma and Texas last summer. Now the conference has to battle the perception that the loss of the Sooners and Longhorns has dropped it a notch below the other Power Five conferences.