Big 12 expansion speculation is almost as fun as the games and with a wider audience. Interest extends well beyond the footprint, west to Utah, east to Connecticut, south to Florida and other points. The latest conversation was set in motion by Oklahoma president David Boren.
The conference said at its most recent meeting that it would speak through one voice but apparently was unclear on the identity of that voice. So Boren cleared his throat and shared his thoughts on the Big 12’s direction, essentially calling the spring meetings at the end of May the moment “to finally make a decision about what we do,” Boren told The Oklahoman.
Nothing new about Boren speaking his piece, and this time he passed on the reckless imagery. Who can forget such Boren gems as “handcuffs” to describe the grant-of-rights that binds Big 12 members through its media rights fees.
Then there was the day Boren declared his school wouldn’t be a “wallflower” in realignment talks, which set off alarms of uncertainty at Missouri. A few days later, the Tigers started the process of moving to the SEC.
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More recently, Boren has declared the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged,” and it was this statement that activated the one-voice decree, not by commissioner Bob Bowlsby, but by other school presidents.
Boren may be the conscience of the Big 12, the person who gives voice to the concerns expressed behind closed doors. It also makes him one-of-kind in college sports, a president who shoots from the hip in a conference that aches to present unity.
But does this mean an action plan is forthcoming, and is it possible that the status quo is the smartest path for the Big 12 when it comes to expansion, a football championship game and a television network?
Both ideas deserve thorough vetting.
A football title game and expansion could be linked. The Big 12 has approval to play a championship game now between its top two teams, but that’s not an ideal scenario in the one major conference that plays a complete round robin.
Not playing a championship game has worked for and against the Big 12. Playing every opponent makes the Big 12 the most competitive power conference, and the league races and the first five years of 10-team football have provided championship drama through the final weeks of the regular season.
But when it comes to the College Football Playoff, math has worked against the Big 12. With four teams selected by a committee and five major conferences, a league will always be omitted. For 2014, it was the Big 12. Oklahoma made the field for 2015, but dropped from third to fourth in the final CFP playoff standing.
Was it because the Big 12 didn’t play a championship game? The playoff committee speaks of data points to compare programs. The Big 12, without a title game, plays one fewer game than the four other major conference champions.
Add two teams, play the football championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and pick up a few extra million for the game. It could happen.
An idea that has been floated by some league officials: expansion for football only. That would give football a championship game and allow basketball to maintain its wonderfully entertaining double round-robin.
Speculating on expansion and football title games is easy. Pick your teams — Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Connecticut, you’ve seen the guess lists — pick some divisions, and the Big 12 knows how to throw a title game party in Arlington.
The uncertainty of television’s future complicates the process. Adding teams doesn’t necessarily add value in today’s media world. Television networks like ESPN are losing subscribers as consumers are shifting away from traditional pay TV models. The current major conferences’ TV deals were based on those models.
Could we see a day when the five power conferences band together to sell their rights, a pro sports-type approach where a network or networks deal with a single rather than five separate sellers?
That might be the best way for power conferences to maximize future revenue, and expansion would only reduce the income per school.
But inaction isn’t Boren’s way, especially when it comes to sharing his thoughts. Give him this, he keeps the Big 12 in the news, in and out of the conference footprint.