RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
The Big 12 board of directors meets Monday in Dallas and the topic of expansion will be addressed.
Not necessarily decided, but definitely addressed.
Maybe after three months of vetting, analyzing and interviewing potential new members the presidents and chancellors will decide the Big 12 Conference should add schools. Maybe they will even decide which schools to add.
Or maybe they will decide 10 members are enough for the smallest Power Five conference and stick with what they have.
Or maybe they will decide not to decide and keep college football’s never-ending story going.
It is impossible to know which way this will go, but news reports from Big 12 country over the last month suggest the conference has cooled on the idea of expansion.
The only public statements that provide a hint at which way the Big 12 is leaning have come from Oklahoma President David Boren, who once called the conference “psychologically disadvantaged” by having only 10 members.
First, Boren said expansion should not be considered a given. Then, responding to reports citing unidentified sources that he had changed his position, Boren released a noncommittal statement in late September.
“I do not know where the speculation came from, but Oklahoma has not yet taken a position on expansion,” he said.
Consultants have provided data to conference leaders showing expansion could increase the Big 12’s chances of reaching the playoff and the bottom lines of its members.
The Big 12’s television contracts with ESPN and Fox call for the networks to provide increases to cover the addition of new members. So two new schools would mean an extra $50 million or so each year through 2025.
The new members would, as is standard, receive a partial share of conference revenue for the first three or four seasons in the league. The old members would split the rest.
More money and a better chance to make it to the playoff. So why wouldn’t the Big 12 expand?
Big 12 officials held face-to-face interviews with 11 schools during September: Air Force, BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU and Tulane.
None is an obvious choice.
— BYU has had the most football success and is a national brand, but the Cougars’ other sports don’t play on Sundays and the school’s honor code has received scrutiny from LGBT advocacy groups.
— Houston received an endorsement from the governor of Texas and some public support from the University of Texas, but promoting an in-state competitor could make winning and recruiting more difficult for current members.
— Cincinnati, South Florida and Central Florida provide new media markets and recruiting territory, but limited history of success on the field. And those media markets don’t have as much impact for a conference that is not likely to follow-up expansion with its own television network.
— Colorado State would put the Big 12 back in a state that is home to many of its schools’ alumni, but it is not the flagship university of that state.
— Connecticut has a national brand, but it’s for basketball.
— Football-only membership probably makes the most sense for Air Force. Maybe for BYU, too. But is that worth it?
— Rice, SMU and Tulane have strong academic profiles, but it is highly questionable whether they could compete in football.
Any decision would require agreement from eight of the Big 12’s 10 presidents, though do not be surprised if the conference publicly claims unanimity about whatever is decided.
So first eight of the 10 schools would have to agree on expanding. Then eight of the 10 would have to agree on whom to invite. If you have followed the Big 12, consensus has not been its strong suit.
The Big Ten is experiencing this now. The addition of Maryland and Rutgers means less opportunity for Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin to play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
That’s not great, but the Big Ten offset that with the financial gains. Expanding the conference’s footprint to the Northeast corridor boosted the value of the Big Ten’s cable network and increased its exposure into a highly populated area where lots of its alumni live.
The addition of two more teams to the Big 12 would mean fewer games against Oklahoma and Texas for many of the current members, but without the ancillary benefits because the Big 12 won’t be getting a cable network.
THE BIG 12 DIDN’T REALLY WANT TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE
In June, the Big 12 announced it was paying out $30 million apiece to its members and the expansion talk seemed to be put to rest.
In late July, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Boren emerged from a CEO meeting and announced the conference would explore expansion, making the league again seem unstable.
What changed? The Atlantic Coast Conference announced with ESPN that it would start a network and extend its TV contract and the grant of rights that helps bind the schools through 2035. Seeing the ACC strengthen its position, along with having the Big 12’s pro rata deal clearly spelled out, moved the Big 12 presidents to do a deep dive on expansion.
Standing pat. Dream big.
Maybe the ACC network is a dud and six years from now Florida State and Clemson are pondering how to escape that grant of rights. Maybe Pac-12 falls behind the rest of the Power Five and its members look at the Big 12 as more fertile territory.
ESPN and Fox were reportedly not thrilled about the idea of paying for a bigger Big 12. Would the networks be willing to pay the Big 12 a smaller amount to stand pat in return for an extended contract and grant of rights?
Regardless of expansion, the Big 12 has plans to bring back its football championship next year. So there’s more new revenue and another game for the College Football Playoff committee to consider.
OKLAHOMA AND TEXAS
Ultimately, the long-term stability of the Big 12 is predicated on Texas and Oklahoma happily remaining in the conference. At some point the Longhorns and Sooners have to decide if they want to be the most powerful members of the Big 12 or just another member of another conference. And adding teams to the Big 12 now doesn’t change that.
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