Bowlsby's strong strategy helps Big 12 navigate latest expansion saga


Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has faced recent criticism for being a commissioner that changes with the wind and not putting forth a strong enough presence to lead the conference through what only can be described as a crucial stretch.

While it’s true that Bowlsby has not presided over the Big 12 expansion talks like Castro running Cuba, the mere fact that the conference is in the position to get serious about expanding at all is a testament to Bowlsby’s leadership qualities.

We need look no farther than the recent past for proof of that, as previous men in the same post allowed the power brokers in the conference — most notably Texas — to steer the ship, creating an unbalanced power system that left some members seeking the exits and others holding on for dear life.

Allow that same scenario to emerge again and your expansion questions will be answered because no one will want to join that kind of conference.

As you probably have heard dozens of times already, Bowlsby and the Big 12 are finally to the point where they are seriously exploring the idea of adding schools to the Big 12. Whether that’s two, four or even zero newcomers remains to be seen and varies depending upon who you talk to, what you read and, really, what you want to hear. A source familiar with the conference’s stance on expansion told me Friday that two, four and zero are all still in play and that the number and plan often fluctuates. It's kind of hard to not change with the wind — in this case, the appetite of your current members — when it's blowing wildly and from many different directions.

Since Bowlsby and the Big 12 announced in mid-July that the conference would start kicking the tires on parties interested in joining the conference, it’s been a little like the Wild Wild West out there. University athletic directors and presidents are throwing themselves at the feet of the Big 12 brass, begging to be heard, and schools within the conference are flexing their muscles by endorsing the candidates that best fit their agendas.

As has been common in these sorts of situations, Kansas has remained publicly quiet, but both AD Sheahon Zenger and chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little continue to be involved with the talks behind closed doors.

If this expansion thing is going to work, it’s going to take a true consensus of the Big 12 schools to make it happen. And it’s worth pointing out that an argument could be made that television partners ESPN and FOX also could be added into that consensus, though I recently was told a little too much was made of their frustration with the pool of candidates from which the Big 12 may be choosing.

It’s hard to envision a school getting in simply because Texas or Oklahoma wants it added. We’ve been down that road before and it does not lead anywhere good. If things are going to go that way, the Big 12 would be better off (a) not expanding at all or (b) turning out the lights and closing the doors. None of the parties involved are interested in option B, however — at least not as a first and actively sought choice — so it makes sense to conclude that if the conference can’t reach a unanimous decision about which programs to add, it likely will not add any at all.

That’s not to say that people aren’t out there trying. The campaigning has been rich with this one and longtime administrators around the conference have told me that the whole thing is unlike anything they’ve ever seen in college athletics.

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy on Friday reported that 17 different schools — SEVENTEEN!!! — would get video conference interviews with Bowlsby in the near future, therein giving each one a golden opportunity to make its strongest case for inclusion.

Among the 17 schools scheduled for the pseudo-face-to-face meetings with Bowlsby are Cincinnati, Houston, BYU, South Florida, Central Florida, UConn, Memphis, Colorado State, Boise State, Tulane, Temple, East Carolina, SMU, New Mexico, Northern Illinois and San Diego State, according to McMurphy’s report.

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you already know that more than half of the schools on that list do not have any real shot of getting in. And their desire to make their pitch speaks at least as much to the desperation of the schools on the outside of the Power 5 looking in as it does the strength and attractiveness of the Big 12.

It’s hard, at this point, to even hazard a guess as to what is going to happen. But let’s not forget that none of this would be happening at all if Bowlsby had not forced the conference to focus and get serious about moving forward one way or another. Left to its own devices or guided by a weaker leader, the Big 12 likely would have dilly-dallied around for months, maybe even years, before reaching the point where it got serious about expansion.

That might not make Bowlsby look like the best leader in the world in the eyes of many. But in the context of what the Big 12 needs during this tumultuous time, laying down and sticking to any kind of plan or agenda is evidence of leadership at the highest level.

Now, if only we knew where it was taking us...


Ben Kane 5 years, 9 months ago

Cincinnati, because they would be a close team for WVU and a good market.

Memphis, double down on the WVU principle and a decent basketball addition.

USF, Florida recruites baby. this is a rising program.

Central Flroida, double down on the Florida presence.

That's the list. go to 14!

Jay Scott 5 years, 9 months ago

Two directional schools with unimpressive athletics and academics? Because there are recruits in the area?

Why not add two schools from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to improve baseball recruiting....

Jay Scott 5 years, 9 months ago

Really? A review of KU Athletics $$ might help you...

Ben Kane 5 years, 9 months ago

last i saw even KU makes a lot more money from football TV money than all other sports combined. do you have data that suggests otherwise?

edit: I found that kansas reported revenue of 23million+ for football and 18mil+ for basketball in 2014.

Jay Scott 5 years, 9 months ago

Forbes stated that KU Basketball had a $20 Million PROFIT in 2012. Annual total KU Sports revenue exceeds $100 million. Football doesn't pay the bills at Kansas.

Ben Kane 5 years, 9 months ago

i doubt that. i found my information from the filings of the KU athletic department. no way they made more money in 2012 than they did in 2014.

Len Shaffer 5 years, 9 months ago

Thanks as always, Matt, for keeping us informed.

I realize that it's impossible at the moment, but I still look forward to a percentage wheel one of these days ...

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 9 months ago

I'm hoping the league goes to 14 but most of the rumors coming out of Dallas seem to indicate only two will be added.

BYU is the consensus top choice until their alphabet thing in their code of conduct came up...LQBXTA...whatever it is.

U of Houston raises concerns because they might become 'too good" and would attract about 25-30 high quality players, mostly from the Houston area, that would otherwise go to other Big 12 schools, such as OSU, Kansas, OU etc.

Cinti seems to be ok with everyone. My bet is UH and Cinti get the invites, although I'm hoping the league tells ESPN/Fox they also will add UConn and BYU. This kind of move would almost assuradly hasten the playoffs to expand to 8 teams with the Power 5 guaranteed at least one slot.

If the league does not expand...that's a sure signal the Big 12 will break up with OU/OSU and UT/Kansas (praying) going to the SEC and B1G respectively.

Jay Scott 5 years, 9 months ago

The BLT-GQ rant means nothing to anyone. That 1% of the population don't watch sports anyway.

Chris Gladfelter 5 years, 9 months ago

Be careful of broad brushstroke overgeneralizations, Jay. It's actually closer to 10%, and I'm a part of that percentage, AND I do watch sports. By the way, the correct abbreviation is LGBTQ, and it actually does mean something to a lot of people.

Now, with that out of the way, my nominees for the expansion are Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, and Tulane. Politics aside, BYU is a bad fit because it adds another time zone to consider. I include Tulane because it's in New Orleans and has an excellent academic profile. Cincy is a good market and is close to WVU. And Memphis has a good market, has a decent name, and isn't too far from other Big 12 schools.

Jay Scott 5 years, 9 months ago

10 percent?

Eirher you're lying to us or someone is lying to you.

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 9 months ago

Using a sizable percentage of the Roman Alphabet to designate a special interest to insist upon conformity by all, it's best to try to get as many as possible. I suggest they add S, for straight, to be more inclusive and thereby raising the represented population.

Chris Gladfelter 5 years, 9 months ago

It's probably higher, but I've always heard it to be 10%.

Len Shaffer 5 years, 9 months ago

Jay, you're an idiot (so what else is new). It's been well established for years that it's 10%, and as Chris says, it's probably higher because people are often not honest about things like that.

Jay Scott 5 years, 9 months ago

Lenny, there's no credible stat anywhere that approaches 5%.....being ignorant and dishonest doesn't have to go along with being BLTGQ

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 9 months ago

I don't know where you got that number Chris but I would have suspected it to be higher than 10%. No matter what percent it could be enough to prevent an invitation to BYU. We are already dealing with the Baylor fiasco

Chris Gladfelter 5 years, 9 months ago

I agree, but money talks, and football = money. We'll have to wait and see.

Doug Wallace 5 years, 9 months ago

Vote None of the Above!

Both Kansas and Oklahoma schools in the Big 12 and Texas Tech go West to the Pac-12 leave this craphole Big East Version 2.0 now please!

Dan Burns 5 years, 9 months ago

Two questions I'd like answered, 1)What is the measuring stick to let them in... expanded TV market, quality teams FB/BB or non-compete in soliciting new talent? 2) Some say in 10 years all the conferences will go away and it will be more like the NCAA tournament and all schools will be broke into a minimum of four regions?

Patrick Bryant 5 years, 8 months ago

So is CU so locked into the Pac 12 that we can't court them and CSU together. They have to be tired of flying over the Rockies and becoming irrelevant as soon as they hit the PST. I would like to know more about New Mexico but Cincy does make sense for WVU. That's why I was hopeful we would have pursued UL but snooze you lose. Not overly excited for another Tx team (UH) but geographical speaking, does make sense.

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