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End of expansion talk should usher in age of technology advancement for Big 12

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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.

Comments

Sam Walters 5 years, 8 months ago

Excellent article. And should the B12 make a major financial gain in the coming years maybe we could poach from the other 55 teams rather than be poached. Because after all that was the main roadblock to expansion, there just weren't any homerun candidates.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

Soren Petro, the one radio host on 810 who I respect said today that he predicts KU will actually be the one to leave first. He thinks KU will be out in less than five years because of our basketball pull.

Matt Tait 5 years, 8 months ago

I have a hard time picturing that if Zenger is still the AD. Not his style. But the point is good... The closer we get to the end of the GOR, the more interesting these "defections" could become. It's tough for a team to justify leaving now, with so many years still left on the GOR, but when that gets down to 3 or 4 years remaining it might be a little easier. Time will tell.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

If KU football isn't competitive by next year, the new Chancellor will have a new A.D., so Zenger won't be involved. And, given how he's handled football, I'm hoping he won't be involved regardless.

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Petro says dramatic and controversial things to wind up the simple.

See how well it worked?

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

My stalker is back, just in time for Halloween. You really are a little bit creepy. Do you wear a clown mask? It fits your personality.

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Just in case anyone wasn't sure of what "simple" referred to...

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

They knew it was you. You didn't have to self-identify.

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Wow... You're really digging into your best third grader stuff....

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Exceptional column. Power conference programs aren't an infinite commodity.

Dale Rogers 5 years, 8 months ago

Matt, you are probably too young to remember this but the Russians actually DID go to space before we did. But we caught up and surpassed them later. The Russian Sputnik was the first artificial satellite in space. The Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, was the first human in space.

Otherwise, good article. Thanks.

Matt Tait 5 years, 8 months ago

Crap. I'll tweak it. Thanks. And, yeah. I am too young to remember it accurately. No excuse. Thanks for the help!

Dale Rogers 5 years, 8 months ago

I thought it funny, Matt. I'm so old I'm laughing at kids who the other day drew a blank, when asked in a trivia game, in which musical group was Paul McCartney.

If it's any consolation for you, the Russians had the first dog in space, too, but I believe, if I recall correctly, that WE put the first monkey in space. Seriously. :)

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps ESPN/Fox's interest are not aligned with what is best for the Big 12.

I'm hearing today that Houston is courting the Big 10 and Pac 12 for admittance...and they are both interested. If UH goes to the B1G, the Big 12 will be flanked by NE to the north and Houston to the south. The Big 12 will be locked out of the nation's 6th largest media market.

Yes it's all about making money and you make money by having access to a large population base and ability to attract talent to compete. The only large volume talent base for the Big 12 is Texas and they are rapidly losing that. Five years ago, the Big 12 would consistently sign about 90% of the top talent in the state. Today, it's barely 50%. If UH goes to another Power 5 conference, they will effectively lock out the Big 12 from Houston's talent and TV sets.

It was a really, really bad decision not to include UH into the Big 12.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

Again, Houston is already in our TV footprint. We didn't lose anything by not including them.

The conference is folding in five years, we probably got an extra $2million a year for not taking anyone, the championship game will bring in a little more and when the conference disappears, we'll be able to head to the Big 10 without any payout issues.

It's all good as long as the new chancellor gets proactive, gets football fixed and gets us poised for our new conference.

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Houston is in the Big12 footprint? No. It's not. It's in the SEC footprint.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

Ask the people writing the checks j-dill. If the networks thought that we'd add TV's, they'd have signed off. You know that people from Houston go to Texas, right? And TCU, and Baylor, and Texas Tech.

Jay Scott 5 years, 8 months ago

Are you commenting on something that is floating in your head? Nobody raised anything regarding your rant.

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 8 months ago

You have a remarkable ability to stick to your opinion regardless of how many facts are constantly presented to the contrary.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

Which fact? That the networks already count the Houston TV's in our market? Show me the facts. I'm waiting......

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 8 months ago

I always thought Salina was in KU's footprint but by this logic Salina belongs to K-State. So, if we add Wichita State to the Big 12 we'll be adding the entire city of Wichita, which currently doesn't watch Big 12 games?

I'm starting to think footprints overlap. Maybe what a conference needs are big state schools with passionate fan bases who fill 75,000 seat stadiums and draw 10 shares on TV. Is that Houston? Cincinnati? Memphis?

Dirk Medema 5 years, 8 months ago

Dale - I am old enough and saying we lost the space race is like declaring a winner based on start times.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 5 years, 8 months ago

Dale didn't say we lost the space race, he correctly pointed out that the Russians were the first nation to make it into space (from Sputnik, to the first man in space on Vostok 1, and several other space "firsts"). Matt edited the article since it was first published in which he incorrectly implied that America was the first nation to make it into space.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 5 years, 8 months ago

I still think adding BYU and Houston as football only members would have been a good idea. Not adding Houston is a big risk to the conference long-term as Suzi pointed out.

I still think the Big 12 is the best conference option for KU currently. But, I don't get the sense that OU (especially) and Texas feel the same. Texas has shown they always do what's best for Texas; everyone else be damned (see old SWC; see Big 12 Network; see Texas A&M).

If the B1G came calling, I think we'd be fools not to jump. However, a lot can and will change before the GOR expires.

Brett McCabe 5 years, 8 months ago

There is no long-term. That is the point. Suzi is more worried about Houston than she is about KU. It's a Texas thing. She thinks she's going to save the conference. No one is saving this conference. It's done. It will just take people wearing butternut and grey a little longer to recognize.

Mike Barnhart 5 years, 8 months ago

I know a chancellors job is very complex but our next boss's number one task needs to be ensuring we stay in a power conference no matter what!!

Being a state school in a lesser conference would weaken the brand significantly. The domino effect would cost us millions, affect our ability to hire great educators, reduce grants, get us booted from the AAU...etc.

The stakes are really high. We need a home run hire!

Michael Lorraine 5 years, 8 months ago

Four 16 team conferences are not carved in stone, so far we have no 16 team conferences. If that’s the future of college sports why is it taking so long? Is there some reluctance by the Big 10 et al to expand?

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