End of expansion talk should usher in age of technology advancement for Big 12
OK, now that the dust has settled and we’ve all had time to let reality sink in, we know that the Big 12 Conference is not expanding and that the conference, at least on the surface, appears to be good with that.
And why not? There are those out there who really wanted to see the Big 12 expand, but I’m not so sure that it was for the right reasons. Expansion is sexy and exciting and entertaining and gives us all something to talk about, but was it really going to be something that benefited the Big 12? Was it really what this conference needed to move forward into a brighter and better future?
In many ways, the answer to that is probably not.
Adding new voices with new agendas to a conference that already has shown to be challenged in that all-for-one-and-one-for-all line of thinking was probably not the best move for the conference. Upsetting television partners who have a huge say in where the Big 12 goes for the next nine years — and perhaps beyond — was probably not the best move for the conference. Keeping the tents up and continuing with the very public circus that played out across the country in every newspaper, television station, website and talk radio show that covers sports was probably not the best move for the conference.
And now the conference can flip off the lights, close the door behind them and get back to work.
As one Big 12 source told me, “In a week, there’ll be another issue that everybody’s talking about.”
Today, that talk is fixated on the Big 12 choosing not to expand and all of the reasons why that is either good or bad, right or wrong, sensible or laughable.
But the perspective the conference should take and probably is taking today is this: Let them laugh. We’ll be over here working on our future.
What exactly that future holds remains to be seen and is the biggest reason that some people aren’t sure if standing pat was the best move for the Big 12 Conference. The general belief is that there’s strength in numbers and that, at 10 members, no matter how many ways that actually benefits its member institutions (financial and otherwise), the Big 12 simply is not big enough to survive in the new era of college athletics.
My question is this: How do we know?
Let’s be honest here. If anyone told you in 1996 or even 2006 that they knew what college athletics would look, smell and feel like in 2016 and then laid out that vision, they would’ve seemed crazy. So much has changed in the past couple of decades and change continues to happen fast, with policy, competition, rules and partnerships seemingly changing college athletics on a regular basis.
With that in mind, and to that end, the Big 12 would now do well to spend its energy and effort on becoming the first conference to take the biggest step into the new world. That does not come by adding schools that don’t really improve the make-up of your conference. That comes by striving to be industry leaders again.
The Big 12 has been criticized mightily in recent years for its reactionary approach and that criticism has been just. But now that this mess of expansion is behind them and the realignment craze is at the very least on hold for the foreseeable future, the Big 12 can — and absolutely should — get back to making a difference in the areas that matter.
Sadly, No. 1 on that list is the business of making money, but even that offers the Big 12 a golden opportunity to be brave, do something bold and change the landscape of college athletics forever and perhaps for the better.
Today, ESPN, FOX, CBS and the like are the power brokers in college athletics. The Big 12 might well have expanded this week — again, right or wrong — if its television partners had been on board or at least were indifferent. They weren’t. But it remains to be seen how much longer those organizations will have the kind of power they have today.
The informal ranking of the Power 5 conferences puts the SEC and Big Ten ahead of the Big 12 and the Big 12 ahead of the Pac-12 and ACC. Television numbers, dollar signs and power players in each conference make that an indisputable fact, at least when viewed in those terms.
But if the Big 12 wants to hold its ground or perhaps crawl closer to the top of the ladder, it has to strive to be the first conference to figure out how its product will be delivered to the consumer in the future.
On Monday, Board of Directors Chair David Boren and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby both spoke to the importance of technology on the future of college athletics and because every conference is operating on an equal playing field in that realm at this moment, the Big 12 has a golden opportunity to once again become a great influencer and shake the label of reactionary conference.
Think of it is the great space race of decades ago. And imagine how different things might be if the Russians had won that battle instead of the United States.
It’s the same concept here. Happy with 10 members, content with its current financial haul and closer than ever to having all of its ducks in a row, the Big 12 should let the rest of its business operate on cruise control for a while and spend the bulk of its time striving to become the conference that figures out what’s next for college athletics in the ever-changing world of technology, be that something as simple as utilizing Netflix, Hulu and streaming to replace the major networks or something more profound that nobody has even thought about or perhaps even developed yet.
As another Big 12 source said, “That’s important for all 65 (Power 5) schools. We’re all in a hunt for that, whatever that is.”
It’s out there. And who finds it first could dramatically change college athletics as we know it today.