It never went away, but is Big 12 expansion back in the spotlight?
So here we go again.... again.
As if any of us needed any more proof that it’s college football, and nothing else, that’s driving (and has driven) the seemingly constant changes on the landscape of college athletics, we now have more evidence.
The Big 12 Conference, which in the past five years has lost Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M while adding TCU and West Virginia, recently revealed that data from an in-depth study on expansion and how it relates to the College Football Playoff showed that adding members would upgrade the Big 12’s chances of competing for national championships in football.
This news and the results of this study are something we’ve been waiting on and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other Big 12 brass have been promising for weeks. And now that it’s here, the Big 12’s reaction to it should get very interesting in a hurry.
According to Bowlsby, the numbers run by Chicago-based Navigate Research show the Big 12 has a 4-5 percent better chance of reaching college football’s final four by adding two teams, playing one less conference game each season and hosting a championship game.
Should the Big 12 deem that data to be significant enough to again get serious about expanding, it would mean that the conference has to (a) agree and finalize its choices for which programs to add to the conference and then move quickly to bring them in and (b) get used to the idea of going back to an eight-game conference schedule with four non-conference games and scrap the whole idea of round-robin play determining its champion, a reality the conference has been beating the drum loudly about during the past few years.
Both developments, as well as the addition of a couple of teams that might not be on the same level as the nasty gauntlet that makes up the current Big 12 schedule, would be good news for Kansas football in the future and would be a significant lift for KU’s hopes of rebuilding its down-in-the-dumps football program.
Now the hard part.
If you’ve been following along at all during the past couple of years, listening to all of the rumors and speculation and wish lists and pipe dreams, you already know that identifying and adding a couple of teams to the conference will not be easy because there are no slam-dunk, obvious, home-run additions available.
Bowlsby said the research firm that studied the data ran 40,000 simulations to reach its conclusion. The question the Big 12 faces now and into the future is this: Is that 4-5 percent enough to move the needle and make expansion the desired course of action?
Well, do your best to hide your shock when you read this next part, but it seems that the decision won’t be based solely on the on-the-field impact of such a decision. It will be and always has been about money.
“If we do nothing, we’ll fall behind the SEC and the Big Ten in terms of [revenue],” Bowlsby told reporters Monday in Phoenix at the Big 12 spring meetings. “We may be every bit as competitive as we are today, but we’ll fall behind financially.”
Later this month the Big 12 presidents will host their own meetings in Dallas, and that’s where things should get very interesting.
It’s hard to know exactly what’s next for the league, both in long-term and in the short term, as those in favor of expansion, like Oklahoma president David Boren, now have more muscle behind their push for expansion.
How hard will Boren and others recruit the rest of the conference to get on board with the idea based on this data? How difficult will it be for the conference to identify and agree upon the additions should they decide expansion is the right move? How quickly will this actually move? My gut tells me it will take some time and won’t be able to happen as soon as this summer as the pro-expansion crowd certainly would prefer.
Ever since the Big 12 starting losing teams to other conferences, the conference has operated with patience and taken a measured approach to every decision it has made or not made in regard to the long-term future of the league.
Whether that’s the best mode to move in which to move forward now depends on how significant the conference deems this data to be. The guess here is that it is significant enough and the winds of change will start blowing again. After all, doesn’t it seem like an extra 4-5 percent two years ago would’ve helped the conference tremendously when both Baylor and TCU missed out on being included in the first ever College Football Playoff?
There are, of course, other issues still in play — most notably what to do with the Longhorn Network and potential for a Big 12 Network — but the slow and methodical approach to exploring the possibility of expanding back to 12 at some point has eliminated a lot of those and it should be very interesting to see where things go from here. Will we see the Big 12 start to move toward getting serious about expansion or will it be more of the same?
The shame of this Big 12 study is that its "best" route to the playoff is a worse way to determine its champion. https://t.co/fvUxFei29H— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) May 3, 2016
Big 12 analytics: B12 best with 12 teams, 8 cont games and league champ game. https://t.co/fD1uwg3xb4— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) May 2, 2016
Big 12 expansion linked to greater CFP chances, research suggests: https://t.co/DBJr1el5h4— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) May 2, 2016