By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer
GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) _ The Big 12 Conference has decided against expansion from its current 10 schools after three months of analyzing, vetting and interviewing possible new members.
The announcement came after a six-hour meeting Monday with the conference’s university presidents and Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
Oklahoma President David Boren said the decision was unanimous and no specific schools were discussed or voted on during the meeting.
Bowlsby said his only recommendation to the board was to bring the expansion process to an end one way or another.
“This was not a decision to not expand,” Bowlsby said. “This was an endorsement and reinvestment in the 10 that we had.”
Conference officials held interviews in September with Air Force and Colorado State from the Mountain West; Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, South Florida, SMU and Tulane from the American Athletic Conference; and BYU, which is a football independent with its other sports in the West Coast Conference.
The Big 12 has been tossing around the idea of expansion for almost two years as it tries to find ways to increase revenue and improve the conference’s chances to make the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 was left out of the first playoff in 2014, but conference champion Oklahoma made it last season.
Boren had said the Big 12 was “psychologically disadvantaged” by being the smallest Power Five league and the only one without a football championship game.
This past offseason, expansion talk got fired up again. The Big 12 announced it was bringing back its football championship game in 2017, no matter its composition. But with only 10 teams, a title game is not a natural fit for member schools that play a round-robin schedule.
In June, the conference announced record payouts to members of $30 million each, and expansion talk again seemed to fade.
A month later, school presidents were briefed by consultants who explained how the conference could bolster its playoff chances by adding schools and boot revenue. The Big 12’s TV contracts call for ESPN and Fox to increase their payouts to the conference so that any new member would be making what the current members are making, which is about $25 million.
It was after that last board meeting the Big 12 announced its presidents had given Bowlsby the go-ahead to do a comprehensive look into expansion and possible candidates. Boren and Bowlsby said at the time the conference would consider adding two or four new members. Or none. The Big 12 never committed to expansion.
Two new members would have meant an extra $50 million in TV revenue per season for the Big 12 on contracts that run through 2025. Current members would share the majority of that money at first; TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, but they did not receive full revenue shares until this year.
The networks have not been keen on the idea of paying the Big 12 to add schools.
“We don’t think expansion in the Big 12 is a good idea for the conference. We think it will be dilutive to the product in the short term. In the long term, it’s probably harmful to the future of the conference,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said earlier this month at Sports Media and Technology conference, according to the Sports Business Journal.
University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst says she expected the Big 12 would decide not to expand and is not disappointed that UConn wasn’t invited to join the conference.
Herbst, who also serves as chairman of the board of directors for the American Athletic Conference, tells The Associated Press that the experience of making a presentation to the Power Five league gave her a better understanding of where the American stands in the athletic spectrum and what UConn has to offer as a top athletic and academic institution.
“Most of the schools they were talking to were in our conference,” Herbst said. “I think that shows, without question, that our conference plays at their level and are athletically and academically appropriate to be a Power Five.”
Herbst said the school will continue to work to improve its revenue model, but that UConn is not actively looking to leave the American.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York and AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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