And so it begins.
It took less than 24 hours for the Big 12 Conference to be exposed for not being completely truthful during Monday’s press conference that revealed the conference’s decision not to expand.
And, if we’re being honest here, almost no one who has been paying any sort of attention to the latest edition of drama in the Big 12 was in the least bit surprised.
In a 714-word league memo obtained by ESPN.com on Tuesday, the conference outlined a number of “dos” and “don’ts” for commissioner Bob Bowlsby and board of directors chairman David Boren to use during their briefing with the media following the nearly six-hour meeting in Dallas that ended with the Big 12 announcing plans to stick with its 10-member lineup instead of adding schools such as Houston, Cincinnati, BYU or others.
As Boren and Bowlsby sat at the table and discussed the reasons for passing on expansion, they uttered phrases that included language like “stronger than ever,” “unified group,” and other yea-team type comments. They also made sure to point out that choosing not to expand was a unanimous decision.
As it turns out, that was one of the directives issued in the memo.
Tuesday’s report from ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy included all of the “dos” and “don’ts” outlined in the memo, which clearly was drafted in an attempt to make the Big 12 appear to be the strong and united conference it once was and not the weak, vulnerable and wandering collection of schools that many perceive it to be today.
The most damning part of McMurphy's report is the line that says, "Despite a number of schools favoring expansion, Bowlsby and Boren said the decision not to expand was unanimous."
Give the Big 12 credit for this: When dealing with such a touchy topic, it pays to be organized. And it never hurts to be on the same page.
However, as Twitter so eloquently illustrated, nearly everyone who watched or covered Monday’s event did so with one hand typing away and the other covering the laughter coming from their mouths. In short, nobody was buying what they were hearing.
The talking points that Boren and Bowlsby leaned on during the post-meeting press conference contradicted the past several months of behavior and soundbites that surfaced across the conference and likely left no one believing the Big 12 was, in fact, stronger than ever.
It’s possible that the Big 12 could get to that point again, but there appears to be a long road ahead and reports like McMurphy’s about Monday’s memo and Tuesday’s comments from Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard, who pointed the finger directly at Boren for putting the Big 12 in this mess in the first place, only figure to make things more difficult.
Many hoped that Tuesday would mark the beginning of the road to recovery for the Big 12 as it heads into this new era of college athletics.
Who knows if the recovery aspect of that will actually come to fruition? Sadly, it appears that we may be just getting started with something much less appealing for a conference that simply cannot afford to take any more hits.
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.
3:11 p.m. Update:
The verdict is in: Big 12 not expanding
Original Post 11:31 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16:
Unless you’re one of the members of the Big 12 board of directors that will gather Monday in Dallas for a meeting that has been circled on the calendar like Christmas Day for some schools and tax day for others, it’s impossible to know exactly where the Big 12 stands on expansion.
The most recent reports from some of the best reporters covering the conference, men and women with strong source lists and an even stronger desire to get to the bottom of this mess, seem to indicate that expansion is all but dead.
And that very well may be the case.
Whether it’s because the powers that be in the Big 12, as hard as they tried, just could not convince themselves that adding Houston, BYU, Cincinnati or any other school in that realm was in the best interest of the conference or because the Big 12’s television partners paid them not to, expansion today appears to be somewhat of a long shot.
But this is the Big 12 we’re talking about and if the conference has proven nothing else during the past few months — and, really, few years — it’s that nothing is impossible and nearly everything, good and bad, is in play.
That includes one of the most recent possibilities to see the light of day — adding schools in a football-only capacity.
Multiple sources in the conference have told me in the past few weeks that the reason the conference has been so quiet and avoided making any absolute comments about the Big 12’s feelings toward expansion is because very few people, outside of the board, have full knowledge or even a solid gauge of the thinking and planning and it tends to change quickly.
Even still, the fact that the conference was not quiet about its dogged pursuit of the most intriguing schools for expansion and conducted a very public, Survivor-style interview process that featured universities falling all over themselves to get a meeting with Big 12 officials to state their case is going to make for some awfully dysfunctional commentary if the conference reveals Monday that it plans to do nothing.
Keep in mind that even if that’s what comes out of Monday’s meeting, it does not necessarily mean things are dead for good. Remember that whole tends to change quickly thing? Who’s to say it couldn’t change again?
With all that in mind, it’s at least of some interest that BYU plans to live stream the post-meeting press conference on its official web site and members of the Cincinnati media also are planning to be in Dallas.
I’m sure all of the outlets involved are just covering their butts and do not necessarily know anything about what is or is not going to happen. After all, even if all of the local media members believe that expansion is dead, they’d look foolish not being there to cover it if the Big 12 shocked, well, nobody, by announcing plans to expand.
We’ll know soon enough where this latest chapter ends. Monday’s meeting is expected to take the bulk of the day and the Big 12 Conference itself will be live streaming the post-meeting press conference on its web site for those of you interested in tuning in.
My favorite part about the ongoing Big 12 expansion saga is how often it compels people to state the obvious.
The most recent and notable example of that came earlier this week when Oklahoma president David Boren, speaking after the Oklahoma board of regents meeting Wednesday night, so eloquently declared that Big 12 expansion was not a given.
Terrific. Glad we got that cleared up.
Of course it’s not a given. If it were, it would’ve been done long before now.
There’s even a decent argument to be made that it SHOULD have been done long before now. If that were the case, KU might be opening its Big 12 football slate at Louisville in a couple of weeks or looking ahead to a January basketball match-up between Rick Pitino and Bill Self. Instead, the Cardinals and all-world quarterback Lamar Jackson are doing their thing in the ACC and the Big 12 is sifting through a pool of less-than-desirable expansion candidates.
I’ll give Boren this: For a man who has never been shy about opening his mouth and stoking the fires of one of the hottest topics ever to hit college athletics, his recent comments show a certain level of progress back toward reality and indicate he may have learned something from his past mistakes.
There’s nothing wrong with Boren stating the obvious if the obvious is true. And, in this case, it most certainly is.
The next meeting of the Big 12 board of directors is now just a month out and, although commissioner Bob Bowlsby has gone on record saying he would like for there to be a vote of some kind regarding expansion at that meeting, this conference hardly seems like it’s ready to move ahead with that four weeks from now.
Reports have indicated that the vote may not even happen and that all 10 members of the conference at least have some concerns about where the expansion process currently stands.
That won’t keep the speculation or politicking from running wild, though. What’s the fun in that?
Fans, coaches and administrators from those schools still deemed to be “in the running” continue to try to put their best foot forward in an effort to impress and inspire the Big 12 to bring them into the conference. Can’t blame them for that.
But the impassioned pleas of those schools desiring a spot, Boren admitted, may go for naught.
“I’m also listening to fans, not just to our coaches and AD and other people,” he said. “How do they feel about it? Are they excited about the expansion pool.... I’ve sometimes described the league moving at glacial speed in the past, but I think the main thing is for us to be thoughtful.”
The funny part about that statement is this: The fans, coaches and even ADs have next to no say in all of this. Heck, even Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is having a difficult time in this mess and he’s the one who was hired to lead it. Instead of being an open process which equally values the input of those who run the schools and those who know the most about college athletics, the current expansion talk is being driven and decided in the offices of Big 12 presidents and chancellors, good news for some schools and awful news for others.
So again we wait. What exactly we’re waiting for certainly is open to interpretation and remains to be seen.
Some believe we’re waiting on the Big 12 to pick the schools with which it wants to move forward, be that two new members or four. Others believe we’re waiting on some kind of Hail Mary that magically presents more attractive expansion candidates. And still others believe we’re waiting for the Big 12 to do nothing.
Regardless of which of those reads is right — or, perhaps more fittingly, if they all are — the man who has been the least prudent in all of this, at least in the public eye, suddenly is banging the drum for the Big 12 to be more thoughtful.
The problem is, if you have to give too much thought to which schools you want or even whether the conference should expand at all, doesn’t that kind of answer the question for you?
I’m as interested as the next guy in seeing exactly what happens with all of this Big 12 expansion talk, chatter that makes the possibility of new schools joining the league seem more and more real every day.
Wednesday, news surfaced across the country from various Big 12 expansion candidates who made it known they were officially no longer being considered by the Big 12 Conference.
My question is this: Did you really have to let us know?
With all due respect to all of these institutions, which surely have some wonderful attributes and attractions, I’m not sure that very many people out there actually thought or even considered that you had a chance of joining the Big 12 in the first place.
That’s not to sound snobby, but did anyone actually think that East Carolina, UNLV, New Mexico, Boise State, Arkansas State, Northern Illinois or even San Diego State truly had a shot at getting in?
If those schools were real candidates — which they weren't — the Big 12 would’ve done better to just shut the doors, sell off the remaining 10 members to the four other Power 5 conferences for cash and then use the money to take the Big 12 administrative staff on the mother of all year-long cruises.
Those seven schools mentioned above, according to a report from ESPN.com, were the schools that were told this week that they were out. Some of them decided to send out press releases or hold news conferences and others simply let the dream die quietly.
I’ve got nothing against any of those schools and actually think each one has a lot going for it. But the Big 12 simply cannot — and obviously will not — add any school as a full-time member because it is located in a nice climate or has a short history of world-beating football success or is close to other relevant schools in other conferences.
This is too big of a decision and too much is at stake. Heck, even the dozen or so schools that remain in the hunt for a possible invite still leave more than a little to be desired, which is why the idea of the Big 12 staying put at 10 teams remains in play, even if it’s not the most likely outcome.
At this point, there are more than a few people out there who believe that adding two teams — most likely two of the trio of BYU, Cincinnati and Houston — will be the way the Big 12 goes. And the time is coming when we will find out — one way or another.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby continues to explore and vet candidates and that same ESPN.com report indicated that Bowlsby and the Big 12 would like to make a final decision on expansion by the next board of directors meeting scheduled for Oct. 17.
Therein lies the one key thing to remember about all of this: It’s the board of directors and university chancellors and presidents who ultimately will make this call.
Remember the last time conference realignment was so hot? Back then, you heard athletic directors from just about every Big 12 Conference institution speaking their minds, sharing their thoughts and even offering thinly veiled threats whenever someone stuck a recorder in their faces. Missouri’s Mike Alden. Texas’ DeLoss Dodds. Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione. Heck, even athletic directors from Kansas State and Baylor and Iowa State had little problem sharing their thoughts.
Not this time. If you notice, you’re not hearing much of anything from any of the conference athletic directors and that’s not likely to change any time soon.
That’s not to say the ADs don’t have a say in any of this. They do. But how much say and just how far that goes depends upon their relationship with their presidents and chancellors.
At KU, the relationship between Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and athletic director Sheahon Zenger always has been stellar. There is a great deal of mutual respect between the two and Gray-Little has a lot of faith in Zenger’s ability to run the athletic department while she offers guidance and a sounding board for any issues, questions or concerns Zenger might have.
That type of relationship works because both people have the best interest of both KU and the Big 12 at heart.
So now we wait.
While folks at UConn, South Florida, Central Florida, Colorado State, Air Force, SMU, Temple and Tulane join BYU, Cincinnati and Houston in continuing to try to convince Bowlsby and company that their school is the right one to expand with, everything remains up in the air and on the table.
By this time next month, we may be closer to a resolution. But we also may still be wondering if the future of the Big 12 Conference will include 10, 12 or even 14 institutions.
In short, the fun is just beginning. Still.
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...
Big 12 expansion is hot again — maybe hotter than ever — and universities all across the country are making comments, pushes, pleas even, to the Big 12 brass to find a way to place themselves on the VIP list.
This, of course, is a reaction to the Big 12’s announcement earlier this week that commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been given the go-ahead to gauge the interest and viability of particular schools that might be — today or someday — good fits for the Big 12 should it elect to expand back to 12 or perhaps even to 14.
The usual suspects are hot on everyone’s radar and that include Cincinnati, UConn, BYU, Houston, Memphis and others.
And then you have the group that has been mentioned several places and would be equally as excited to even get a shot to make their case. Think Colorado State, Tulane, Central and South Florida.
But a couple of the more interesting options, which a few people have discussed during recent weeks, surfaced this week when Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder was interviewed by a few media members at Big 12 media days in Dallas.
They’re familiar names and seem to be programs that Snyder would add if all of this were exclusively up to him.
Here’s the quote:
“I may be wrong and other people may see it differently, but I don’t think anyone could be in a better situation than the teams we have in our conference,” Snyder said. “I’ll tell you what. There are teams that left our conference right now that wish they could get back in our conference.”
Asked how many, Snyder twice responded: “Two I know of.”
Given that the Big 12 has lost four and added two in the realignment craze, that can only mean he’s talking about Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M.
So who is it?
I have my suspicions and I think it’s pretty clear which programs he’s referencing. Here’s a look.
1. Colorado — CU bolted the Big 12 out of fear that the whole thing was falling apart. It wasn’t the worst move for the Buffs, as it tied them closer into one of their hot recruiting territories (California) and also provided Colorado with some conference stability in unsettling times. But the west-coast existence has not been all roses for the former Big Eight member, especially when it comes to television exposure. Now that the Big 12 is stable again — at least for now — there’s no doubt in my mind that CU would jump back in if the opportunity presented itself. The recruiting base in California is there. Rejoining the Big 12 would allow Colorado back into Texas. The time zones for television purposes would create better exposure for all of its programs and the Buffs would be back with some of their friendly and more familiar foes. Makes perfect sense to me and, going a step farther, is 100 percent worth exploring.
2. Nebraska — As much as anybody, the Cornhuskers headed to the Big Ten in an attempt to get away from Texas and its stranglehold of power on the Big 12 Conference. And although that was definitely one of the positives of the move north, it has been one of the only ones. Beyond that, Texas no longer has quite the same amount of power as it did during those tumultuous summers of realignment, both at conference headquarters and on the playing fields. Is that reason enough for Nebraska to want back in? No. But the fact that the Big 12 continues to close the gap in its revenue distribution — up 19% from 2014 to 2015 and another 20% from 2015 to 2016 — certainly paints the picture of a stronger and more profitable conference than the one the Cornhuskers left. Add to that the fact that it seems to be common knowledge the NU is struggling with forcing rivalries with Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota instead of cozying up to longtime rivals like Kansas, Oklahoma and others in the Big 12 and it’s even easier to see why the Huskers could be longing for the good old days.
3. Missouri — Say what you will about all of that talk that just never seems to end about Missouri folks saying they’d love to play Kansas again, but I just can’t see the Tigers jumping ship to get back into the Big 12. First of all, I’m not sure the Big 12 would have them. Second of all, it seems that Mizzou still believes that being in the SEC footprint and bringing in SEC dollars is a better position to be in than any other. The Mizzou athletic department and the university as a whole are not only stubborn but also a little bit dysfunctional at the moment and, outside of familiarity and the renewing of some old rivalries — none more important and visible than the Border War — I can’t see many compelling reasons for either side to want to get back together. Still, the Tigers certainly belong at No. 3 on this list, simply because of the reasons you'll read about in No. 4.
4. Texas A&M — No chance it’s the Aggies. They’re happy and seemingly much better off in the SEC, where they enjoy the best of both worlds – drawing the highest conference revenue distribution check out there year after year and still having a strong recruiting presence in the state of Texas. The Big 12 could offer A&M the moon and the stars to return — which it wouldn’t — and I still don’t think the Aggies would even consider it.
So there you have it. My best guess at which institutions Bill Snyder was referencing when he talked about former conference members wanting back in earlier this week.
One key thing to remember here, in case some of you out there are rolling your eyes about the mere thought of all of this: Bill Snyder is a man of few words and one who likes to avoid the spotlight and keep things close to the vest at all times and at all costs. So if he’s publicly saying that two former Big 12 programs would be interested in rejoining the conference, you can bet there’s a whole lot of truth to that. He does not play games or become a part of tactics to put pressure on others or move an agenda forward. He calls it like he sees it, when he’s calling it at all, and that’s what makes his recent comments all the more interesting.
It will not be easy for the Big 12 to get two of its former members back even if it wanted to. But my guess is that if there’s genuine interest from both sides, it could one day happen. Beyond that, if it were to happen, I think the Big 12 would go past 12 to 14 during its next round of expansion.
It sure seems like it’s coming. As always, it’s just hard to pinpoint the names of those who will be involved.
There are a thousand reasons why but only one way to say it — this is a big week for the Big 12 Conference.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting the Big 12 presidents, ADs and other brass to emerge from this week’s meetings in Dallas with everything figured out and an announcement to share. But they don’t have to find a solution to the number of serious issues that loom to make this a big week. Just getting together to discuss things makes it big enough.
And, boy are there things to discuss.
None of them are new, of course. And, despite what you might read on message boards or social media, there really is not that much buzz surrounding any of them inside the walls of the conference room. In fact, when I recently asked a member of the KU administration if I should make the trip down to Dallas to stalk the hotel hallways and wait outside the conference room doors for news — remember those good ol’ days of conference realignment chaos just down the road at the Country Club Plaza in KCMO? — I was told simply that it most likely would be a waste of a trip.
But people are going to notice and pay attention any time you can put a group together to talk expansion, a television network, ongoing discussions about bringing back a conference championship game in football and high drama like what just went down at Baylor with Art Briles and AD Ian McCaw. And how can you blame them? Any of those issues alone would make for an interesting week. But adding them all together just multiplies the interest and intensity.
One thing worth noting here: I saw Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News recently Tweet that at least six conference schools — and possibly as many as eight, which is the number required in a vote — are now in favor of expansion.
Source indicates at least six Big 12 schools now favor expansion as a concept and maybe as many as eight. No consensus on who just yet.— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) June 1, 2016
Having said that, I’m actually expecting a rather quiet week. It sounds as if the overwhelming vibe within the Big 12 right now is that too many people have been talking too much — particularly recently — and it’s time to put a stop to all of the rogue and random chatter and get down to business together.
If the all-for-one-and-one-for-all vibe is tough for you to buy coming from this cast of characters, I don’t blame you. But it does seem like even some of the most outspoken voices in the Big 12 Conference actually understand that all of the extracurricular chatter is not helping.
The bottom line is this: There are still eight years remaining on the Big 12’s grant of rights agreement and no huge rush by ESPN of FOX — the league’s two main television partners — to offer up more money for the addition of any of the universities that are deemed available or downright campaigning for a spot. Those facts pretty much squash any thoughts of a Big 12 network or expansion, unless, of course, there is some major revelation this week. Say, for example, all 10 schools and their representatives all of a sudden decide that it’s time to be bold and want to become the first conference to 16. That won’t happen, but if the Tex-Mex or a particularly good batch of margaritas get these folks feeling frisky, then anything is back on the table.
Don’t count on it, though.
There will be headlines and soundbites and story lines that are deemed “interesting,” perhaps even downright “exciting.” But more than likely, this big week for the Big 12 will come and go without the conference making any major moves or any major changes or decisions.
And the way this motley crew has been going at it these past five years, that might actually wind up being good news in the end.
Time will tell. But be sure to stay tuned. You know, just in case... We'll be tracking things the rest of the week.
Leave it to Oklahoma president David Boren, to date the loudest and most adamant opinion sharer in the Big 12 expansion saga, to flip this thing on its head the other direction.
Talking with reporters on Thursday in Norman, Oklahoma, Boren gave a very feet-on-the-ground, rooted-in-reality indication of exactly where the Big 12 Conference stands — at least through his eyes — concerning the idea of expansion.
His message, in short: "I think we kind got out ahead of ourselves," Boren told reporters. "Somehow, the speculation got out ahead of the reality."
CBSsports.com’s Dennis Dodd wrote this terrific recap of Boren’s meeting with the media, and, although the OU president’s comments don’t by any means put an end to the idea of expansion, they certainly bring things back a level or two and further promote the idea that nothing, perhaps other than more discussion, is imminent.
During the past week or so you’ve read a lot about the universities who have done the most “campaigning” for a spot in an expanded Big 12. ESPN.com revealed that representatives from Memphis, Colorado State, Houston and Central Florida all recently contacted leaders in the Big 12 about the idea of joining the conference and went out of their way to explain what they could offer the Big 12 if selected.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of Boren’s Thursday briefing was his claim that as many as 25 universities have contacted the Big 12 in some way, shape or form to make known their interest in joining the conference in the future.
For a conference that so many claim is so vulnerable, that’s an awful lot of interest. Sure, all of those schools currently reside outside of the Power 5 — at least I presume that’s the case — but it’s clear that all of them see great value in the Big 12. Even if many of them also are reaching out to the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC, it at least has to be considered a good sign that the Big 12 is still seen from the outside to be on the same level as those other conferences. And why wouldn’t it be? Uncertain future or not, the Big 12 still includes some serious power players in college athletics and has growing television deals worth big bucks with the nation’s biggest networks.
Just as Boren’s comments about the need to expand did not make it happen overnight, his most recent words of caution about putting the cart before the horse do not mean that expansion talk is going away.
What those words do mean, however, is that, before this thing is all said and done the Big 12 may actually wind up stronger than ever before.
There’s still a lot of work to be done and plenty of wrinkles to smooth out before getting to that point — expansion still looms, the Longhorn Network/Big 12 Network issue is very real and talk of bringing back a Big 12 title game in football doesn't figure to go away quietly — but if a guy like Boren can come around like this in a relatively short period of time, there’s no reason to think the Big 12 Conference’s other most pressing issues can’t be taken care of as well.
"This is the kind of decision that has to be reached by consensus," Boren said of expansion. "It's not the kind of thing you say, "OK, by a vote of 8-2, we're going to do this.’”
I know the 80 percent vote, though a lot, is all it would take to get certain items crossed off of the Big 12's potential to-do or want-to-do list. But, if you ask me, it would be a wonderful show of solidarity if the conference demanded — either in writing or otherwise — that all issues up for a vote require unanimous support to pass.
That not only would ensure that any changes would be of an all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality, but also would put the conference on more stable footing than ever heading into the future.
Let’s face it. By now we all know that any talk about Big 12 expansion or even conference realignment as a whole throughout college athletics is focused on one thing — football.
Taking that one step further, however, leads to the conclusion that, really, this whole thing is about television dollars and a relationship that can be formed between a conference and its television partners.
If it weren’t, and it were truly just about football, a program like Boise State would be a red-hot commodity, drawing attention from at least the Big 12 and Pac-12. But because Boise and the surrounding areas don't deliver a ton of TV sets, the Broncos can’t get so much as a sniff from anyone.
As it stands today in its 10-team form, the Big 12 Conference already has a pretty good television deal. Last year, the 10 members split more than $250 million in TV dollars, giving each athletic department a pretty nice chunk of change. And that number is expected to rise steadily through the end of the grant of rights agreement in 2025.
So when it comes to the idea of the Big 12 expanding — and whether it should or shouldn’t — the argument goes something like this: No way are we going to add a couple of teams and split the pie 12 ways instead of 10. That just doesn’t make good business sense.
Well, neither does self-destruction or, worse yet, extinction.
Reports have indicated that the Big 12’s TV partners have said that they would be willing to renegotiate their current deals in the event of expansion. But, as common sense would suggest, the more attractive the addition, the more likely the dollar amount is to go up. And, right now, there just aren’t enough ultra-attractive schools out there that would command a big increase in television dollars.
That’s why, if it’s me in charge, I look seriously at becoming the first to jump to 16 instead of just getting back to 12. We’ve seen in the past that 12 is vulnerable and making the jump all the way to 16 would show, at least on some level, that the Big 12 learned from its mistakes and would like to move forward as a more aggressive and pro-active conference.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the markets of the handful of schools that seem to come up most often in the chatter about Big 12 expansion. All population numbers are courtesy of the 2010 Census.
One of the most popular picks to be included if the Big 12 were to go from 10 to 12, BYU brings a national following because of its Mormon roots, but also just the 33rd best television market (Salt Lake City) according to stationindex.com. Still, with interest in the Cougars spreading from coast to coast and the opportunity to jump back into the Rocky Mountain region, it’s easy to see why BYU makes sense. Enrollment: 29,672. Population: No. 124, 186,440
Believe it or not, Cincinnati actually ranks below Salt Lake City at 34th nationally. The Bearcats bring respectable football of late, a historically solid basketball program and inroads into a strong football recruiting base. Beyond that, the geographic advantage that comes with being close to West Virginia (308 miles) also helps Cincy’s cause. Enrollment: 43,691. Population: No. 65, 296,943
Memphis is interesting in so many ways — solid basketball, football program on the rise, good geographic location, high-dollar support from FedEx — but only brings the 48th best television market to the table. That, along with the loss of red hot football coach Justin Fuente following the 2015 season (Virginia Tech), could put the Tigers on the outside looking in. But it sure sounds like Memphis is still a very viable option. Enrollment: 20,585. Population: No. 45, 646,889.
I spent some of my time growing up in Fort Collins and I’ll admit it; I just don’t see the Rams being the Big 12’s choice. For one, Colorado as a whole is just not that big of a college sports state and, with so many other things to do in terms of outdoor recreational activities, I’m not sure that’s changing any time soon. The talk is that CSU would deliver the Denver market, which comes in at 18th on the stationindex.com list. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt. But, even when Colorado was in the Big 12 the Buffs didn’t really deliver Denver. Colorado State is in a great college town and has made some serious strides to improve its facilities, including breaking ground on a brand new football stadium. It wouldn’t be the worst pick, but if TVs and travel partners for WVU are important, I can’t see the Big 12 going this direction. Enrollment: 32,236. Population: No. 159, 143,986.
UCF may not be the sexiest addition on paper, but it does get the Big 12 into Florida, which both puts the conference in one of the country’s biggest states population wise and most fertile football recruiting grounds, and infiltrates ACC and SEC territory. It also brings big time eyeballs and bodies. The Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne market ranks 19th nationally. Making the move into Orlando would be more of a bet on UCF’s future than a sure-fire victory today. Of course, with this round, are there any sure-fire victories? Enrollment: 60,767. Population: No. 73, 238,300.
If it’s bodies and televisions you want, Houston is an absolute home run. The issue here is that it’s known largely as a commuter school — an image it is trying to change — and it resides in Texas, where the folks in Austin who bleed burnt orange already are saying their beloved Longhorns carry enough of the Houston market. That may be true. But you can’t argue with Houston’s size and recent show of serious commitment to football. The Houston market ranks 10th on the stationindex list and, obviously, the school would be a fit geographically. Enrollment: 42,704. Population: No. 4, 2.1 million.
SMU is a little like Houston without all of the enormous upside. The Mustangs have some decent history in both basketball and football and appear to be serious about getting their football program going strong again. The problem is, SMU resides in Dallas, which is home to the Big 12 headquarters, and while that might seem like a big time advantage, it actually hurts SMU because the Big 12 does not gain much by furthering its presence in a city it already calls home. Enrollment: 11,643. Population: No. 9, 1.2 million.
While the Huskies deliver a couple of things that are important in this whole deal — expansion east, a big name and recent football success — the biggest thing they claim to deliver might be a reach. New York City. There’s no denying that the Big Apple has its share of UConn backers. And, with Storrs being just 140 miles northeast of NYC, the proximity claim is legit. But let’s be realistic here. Even if there’s something to be gained in NYC by adding UConn, it’s not as if the Huskies can claim that they’re bringing the entire New York market with them. That’s what makes this one tough to gauge. Heck, Boston, which sits just 85 miles northeast of Storrs, is closer than NYC but you don’t hear a ton of talk about a UConn addition delivering Bean town. There’s some intrigue here. And getting into the New England areas is not the worst idea (even if it is still 524 miles from West Virginia). But UConn is far from a slam dunk. Enrollment: 31,119. Population: If we’re counting New York, it ranks No. 1 at 8.2 million. Boston ranks No. 24 at 617,594. But I'm not sure UConn truly delivers either.
USF is in a great city and is a school on the rise, but it would likely only gain consideration if the Big 12 were to go beyond 12. Would you believe, though, that Wichita actually is larger than Tampa? (Remember that if/when we ever get to the point where we’re talking about where KU might land in a world where the Big 12 no longer exists). That said, according to stationindex.com, Tampa is a far better television market, ranking 13th in the country. Pairing South Florida with Central Florida (the 13th and 19th best TV markets in the country) might give you a decent shot at laying a serious claim to TV sets in Florida and, from there, anything is possible, especially when you consider what joining a Power 5 Conference could do for the growth of both schools. Enrollment: 48,793. Population: No. 53, 335,709.
For comparison’s sake, the average enrollment of the Big 12’s 10 current schools is 28,554, with Texas (50,950) and Texas Tech (35,893) holding down the top end and TCU (10,323) and Baylor (16,787) sitting at the bottom. Kansas (27,983) and Kansas State (24,766) are right around the average and in the middle of the pack.
It should be noted, however, that nearly every Big 12 school resides in a true college town, which merely adds another wrinkle to the idea of expansion. Would the conference want to keep with that and expand only into other smaller, college towns or is now the time to branch out and start bringing some major metropolitan areas into the conference?
Yet again, the answer likely comes down to television dollars and little else.