Thursday, June 23, 2016

Big 12 Expansion Saga Never Ends

The Big 12 college conference has always stunk of instability. Created in the 1990s with the merger of the Big 8 conference and the four strongest members of the scandal-ridden all-Texas Southwest Conference, the Big 12 ushered in an era where two 12-team conferences (the SEC being the other) dominated the college football landscape with sprawling 12 team line-ups.

The only problem with the Big 12 is that the Big 8 teams and their relatively scandal-free reputation conceded the majority of the power to the Texas schools – going as far as allowing the conference's headquarters to be in Texas. With the majority of power residing in Texas, the Texas schools virtually dictated the direction of the conference. This became painfully obvious to anyone paying attention to college sports in the late 2000s when conference realignment became front page news.

With Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri all leaving for greener pastures, the conference recruited yet another Texas school Texas Christian (TCU) and eastern outlier West Virginia (WVU) to shore up the Big 12 ranks for a total of ten teams. But rather than even try to get back to 12 schools, the Big 12 conference stood firm with ten schools and the majority of power still squarely residing in Texas. The likelihood of stability was further lessened when ESPN partnered with the University of Texas and gave the school its very own cable sports channel, The Longhorn Network. That move by Texas only served to further alienate the former Big 8 / non-Texas schools. It became obvious the the Big 12 conference was merely the University of Texas, a handful of other lesser Texas schools and some former Big 8 schools with limited options for new conference homes.

The turmoil in the conference came to a head more than once in the past half decade. The Pac 10 nearly became the Pac 16 by plucking off the best of the Big 12 conference but this move was apparently squashed at the last minute because the University of Texas wanted to bring along a few of its Texas school cousins.

Other schools in the conference have still been mentioned at attractive expansion candidates by other conferences. The B1G (Big Ten) has been tossed about at a potential home for the University of Kansas and the University of Oklahoma. The complication lies with both of these school supposedly being tied to their in-state brethren (Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University). The SEC has as well as the Pac 12 has also been tossed in as potential homes of the University of Oklahoma.

But then the talk of expansion came up. The Big 12 looked like it was just days away from getting back to a total of 12 schools in its geographically sensible conference. The University of Cincinatti and Brigham Young University were mentioned as frontrunners. Of course there were others such as the University of Memphis, Colorado State University, University of Houston, University of Connecticut, University of Central Florida and University of Southern Florida who were brought up.

There was a divide, though, It seemed like the University of Oklahoma and the remainder of the former Big 8 schools as well as WVU were in favor expansion while the University of Texas and its Texas bloc of schools were against expansion. Again, the University of Texas looked to be wielding its power and standing in the way of expansion. No expansion meant no possible chance for an increase in television rights fees and definitely no lucrative Big 12 cable sports channel – especially with the University of Texas and their Longhorn Network standing in the way.

Now, though, expansion talk has cooled. In fact, many are speculating that the Big 12 has come to a consensus that ten schools is the perfect fit for the foreseeable future. Well, for the future until 2025 when the conference's Grant of Rights agreement as well as current television agreement comes to an end. If you were one for conspiracy theories, you could speculate that this stability is only leading to one final upheaval in 2025 where the conference wither finally dissolves to be swallowed by the Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC or flexes its might and swallows at least a portion of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Power Five conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac 12, Big 12) shrinks to the Power Four conferences and finally makes sense for an expanded college football playoff.

Either way, any significant upheaval seems to have been pushed down the road around nine years. In 2025, though, all bets are off and that's when I'll be back to update you on this hot topic.

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