Arizona AD, Big 12 commissioner meet with Arizona Board of Regents

Desiree Reed-Francois and Brett Yormark

Arizona Athletics is "seeking to be the modern model of intercollegiate athletics," said Director of Athletics Desiree Reed-Francois. Reed-Francois and the Arizona Board of Regents met with Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark on Thursday as Arizona looks to start its tenure in the Big 12 in the fall.

Arizona Board of Regents

College athletics used to make sense to people who are good at math or geography. But things have gotten a bit more complicated.

This fall, the Big 12 Conference will have 16 members. The Big Ten will have 18. The Pac-12  is down to two. 

The Atlantic Coast Conference is adding Stanford and Cal, which sit on the Pacific Coast and are a 2,700-mile flight from fellow member Boston College. The Big 12 now extends from Arizona to Florida, the Big Ten from Washington state to New Jersey.

Never seen anything like it? Neither has Desiree Reed-Francois, the new director of athletics at the University of Arizona, a new member of the Big 12 for 2024-25.

"I've been working in college athletics for more than 25 years, and this is the most significant time of growth and change I've seen," she said Thursday after a meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe.

"Any time of transformation, there will be bumps in the road," she said. "But we're seeking to be the modern model of intercollegiate athletics: focused on the student-athlete, values-based and unapologetically high-performance."

Reed-Francois and her counterpart at ASU, Graham Rossini, who is also new to his position, were on hand to greet Brett Yormark, commissioner of the Big 12, as Yormark presented his vision for the conference to the regents. ASU also is joining the Big 12 this year.

"When I took this job, I aspired (for the Big 12) to be a national conference," said Yormark, who became commissioner in August 2022. "In this next chapter of collegiate athletics, speed matters – and we aim to be bold."

Yormark, who has an extensive background in the sports and entertainment industries, including time spent with the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, identified his priorities for the Big 12 for the coming year. They include maximizing the brand, creating value for conference members, managing expenses, enhancing media strategy and investing in student-athletes on and off the field.

The new landscape of increased financial opportunity and freedom of transfer for student-athletes is full of complications, many of which still need to be smoothed out.

"I think the industry we're in today needs a reset, and we're going to go through one," Yormark said. "Ultimately, we're going to land in the right place. We're going to thrive in this next chapter. I'm excited about the future and I'm embracing it."

He said he will be looking to position the conference for its next television deal and has challenged the ESPN and Fox networks to show greater creativity in their storytelling, production values, scheduling and entertainment enhancements. A national brand can't be built without those, he said.

"The thing that keeps me up at night is that our member institutions land in a great place," Yormark said, "that they thrive and continue to have the impact they do today."

Reed-Francois said opportunity awaits the University of Arizona in its new affiliation, especially with four Big 12 schools located in Texas: Baylor, Houston, TCU and Texas Tech.

"We're looking forward to opening up the Texas market," she said. "It's rich with athletes and students and donors. This is a national conference now. We want to plant the UA flag throughout the country. We want the opportunity to tell our story.

"We're going to take the challenges and turn them into competitive advantages."