Should the Big 12 expand? If so, which schools should be added? What to do with the Longhorn Network and is the Big 12 worth fighting for in the first place?
Baylor and TCU were left out of the 2014 College Football Playoff in favor of Ohio State. That’s when Big 12 officials flipped their lids and began searching for ways to bring back a conference championship game, because that’s what set the Buckeyes apart from the Bears and Frogs. Then Oklahoma played its way into the playoff this past year and all the talk turned back to expansion.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced last week that consultants Navigate Research had determined the optimal conference format to land a team in the CFP was 12 teams, two divisions and a conference championship game. Also known as “the way it used to be.” The data is based on 40,000 simulations but how those simulations accounted for the subjective group of humans comprising the Selection Committee, we’ll never know. Insert eye-roll emoji.
The Double Take
Twelve teams and a conference championship game? That’s the Pac 12. The Pac 12 has an identical success rate (1-for-2) at sending a team to the playoff as the Big 12. Additionally, the NCAA backed off the requisite that a conference had to have a minimum 12 teams and two divisions in order to hold a championship game in the first place. That doesn’t matter now, so why expand just for expansion’s sake? Football and basketball have a perfect scheduling setup right now. Everybody plays everybody. Additional teams just mess that up.
Cincinnati, BYU, Houston, Memphis, gag. UConn, UCF, South Florida, blech. The main goal is to bring more money into the conference. That’s done by incorporating new TV markets. Secondary to that is strengthening competition. Cincinnati (TV market 34) and Memphis (TV market 48) are maybes. Both bring decent viewership but questionable competition across the sports spectrum. BYU has a national following but would struggle to compete in the Big 12. It’s also a terrible add geographically and there’s the issue of playing on Sundays. Houston could be competitive but brings zero new TV sets. Big 12 revenue is pooled and divided evenly at the end of the year. If schools are added they’ll have to bring in their share of the money, otherwise everyone’s taking home less.
This is an awkward situation. Boren and everyone else in the conference not-named-Texas want a Big 12 Network. That’s not going to happen as long as there’s a Longhorn Network. ESPN and Texas signed a 20-year, $295 million deal in 2011. ESPN has reportedly lost $48 million on it so far. At some point this will come to a head and the Longhorn Network will likely transform into the Big 12 Network, with stipulations that Texas still receives an adjusted share of revenue for the remainder of the deal it originally signed with ESPN. OU is the only other power broker in the Big 12 besides Texas. Would Boren take the Sooners to greener pastures (*ahem* SEC) if the conference network issue isn’t resolved? And if so, does Oklahoma State go too?
The Way It All Ends
Adding two more schools would help Chairman Boren wrest democratic control of the conference away from Texas. But, there’s a funny catch-22 there because it will take a Texas vote to let anyone else in the conference. A 75 percent super majority (eight schools) must vote in favor of expansion and it’s believed both Texas Tech and TCU will follow Texas’ lead. If OU, OSU, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia favor conference expansion, that still won’t be enough to get it done. Could this eventually lead to the Big 12’s demise?
One former member of Oklahoma State’s athletic oversight committee suggested the Power 5 conferences could realign into four 16-school conferences instead.
“To me, I think the Big 12 just needs to die. I think we’re going to see four 16-team conferences and the Big 12 ends up on the chopping block. It’s the most easily poached. Look at our history. We’re the easiest to split up, easiest to divvy out.”
So get your popcorn ready, sit back and enjoy the Big 12 meetings this summer. The conference presidents are set to meet May 31st to June 3rd at the Big 12 Meetings in Dallas and it's about to get interesting.