Not even two weeks ago, we heard Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione proclaim that Big 12 conference expansion was dead.
“There aren’t any signs that we’ll talk anymore about expansion for a little while,” Castiglione added. “We don’t have a timeline on it.”
Eh, who needs timelines?
In the span of one afternoon, the Big 12 all but decided to change the very nature of its conference and shake up the entire college sports universe for the foreseeable future.
The conference of One True Champion is about to undergo One True Expansion.
Following a meeting of Big 12 presidents here on Tuesday, Oklahoma President David Boren announced that Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been authorized to engage schools interested in joining the Big 12 and said the league could grow by as many as four teams.
That’s quite the reversal. Hope none of them suffered whiplash.
The tripping point appears to be the deal the ACC cut earlier this week with ESPN to establish its own network.
But the momentum changed Monday when ESPN reported that the ACC would soon announce a partnership on a new cable network and had agreed to a so-called “grant of rights” locking in its members for the next 20 years.
That means more money for the ACC, more stability and more of a threat to the Big 12 should another league — say, the Big Ten — consider expansion again the next decade. [Emphasis added.]
I know people are focusing on the money — the Big 12’s current TV deals call for the per-school payouts to increase proportionally with the number of new members added, while nothing requires the conference to turn around and pay full shares to those new members (and it sure won’t), so there’s some short-term profit built into expansion — but it’s the ACC locking its members down financially and taking Notre Dame off the table, too, that’s got to have the Big 12 nervous. P5 college football exists in an eat or be eaten world, and the Big 12 presidents have apparently decided they’re better off taking on lesser programs rather than sitting exposed waiting for the Big Ten and SEC to siphon off the cream.
Will it work? Who knows? As a reminder, this is what the likely list of candidates looks like today:
The leaders in the clubhouse for Big 12 expansion remain BYU, Cincinnati and Connecticut. The next tier includes South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, Colorado State, Houston, Boise State and Tulane. If the league does add four schools, there’s really no standout candidate for that fourth slot. (Houston has the best program and television market of available schools, but there’s still some hesitancy within the state of Texas to allow the Cougars to use the Big 12 to potentially leap over current members). Schools like Temple, San Diego State and Northern Illinois don’t really have a chance, but will give it a shot anyway.
How you take four schools from that bunch escapes me. But I’m not as sharp as Bob Bowlsby.
The other thing I don’t get is Texas’ angle. What do the Longhorns get out of conference expansion that they don’t already enjoy? Remember, this is a program that had no problem sniffing around for a deal with the then Pac-10 a few years ago and conceivably would find plenty of interested partners if it chose to shop around tomorrow for a more stable home.
The problem the Big 12 has is that it is a small scale representation of college football’s larger haves/have nots problem, with wealthy programs like Oklahoma and Texas at the top and smaller set ups like Iowa State at the bottom. From a survival standpoint, the small fry need conference expansion a lot more than the big boys do.
I don’t know if what the Big 12 has in mind is going to have much of an impact on conference expansion in general, although I suppose that between the ACC’s deal and what the Big 12 has put on the table, if you’re Delany or Sankey with any thoughts of grabbing a few tasty morsels for your own banquet, there may not be a better time than now to grab a plate. On the other hand, if Big 12 expansion turns out to be a flop, you might be able to negotiate better terms with a Texas or Oklahoma needing a safe place to land quickly.
In any event, it’s not hard to predict a few awkward moments are coming.