Bob Bowlsby’s 30-minute state of the conference address to open Big 12 media days did not include a comment about expansion. When a question arrived a few minutes into his question-and-answer session, the commissioner said he was surprised.
“I lost the pool,” Bowlsby said. “I thought it would be the first question.”
The topic returned to the news cycle last month when Oklahoma president David Boren called the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged” as a 10-team conference without divisional play and a championship game in football.
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In those years (1996-2009), the Big 12 won three football national championships, with two coming out of the BCS system. Big 12 schools played in seven title games from 2000-09.
Last season, the Big 12 appeared to be in a position to be represented in the inaugural College Football Playoff, but the four teams that won conference championship games made the playoff. The Big 12, with co-champions Baylor and TCU finishing the regular season 11-1, did not.
After Boren made his comments, “I immediately got busy,” said Bowlsby, fielding inquiries about expansion.
But the Big 12 isn’t headed for membership growth at the moment.
“It is my understanding at the present time that the majority of our presidents and chancellors believe 10 is the right number for us,” Bowlsby said. “There are those that believe we should get larger, and they feel strongly about it.
“There are those who believe we should stay at 10 and they feel strongly about it. And there are probably four or five in the middle who are persuadable one way or other. I don’t think there’s critical mass for expansion.”
If the Big 12 expanded, the conference’s current media deals provide proportional financial growth. The same amount of money would be paid to 12 teams as 10.
“That amount of money, we wouldn’t take a haircut on,” Bowlsby said.
The money distributed from the pot mostly includes the College Football Playoff, bowl games and the NCAA Tournament. That’s about 45 percent of the total income.
“From that, you get the same amount whether it’s divisible by 10, 12 or 14,” Bowlsby said.
But if the Big 12 expanded and restarted a football title game, that could be worth an additional $20 million or more to the league, Bowlsby said.
And Bowlsby didn’t agree that the Big 12 is disadvantaged, psychologically or otherwise.
“I don’t believe we are at a disadvantage,” Bowlsby said. “Relative to the playoff, I don’t think one year makes a trend. We were very close to having two teams in last year, and you really don’t have to have much of an imagination to see how that might have worked out where we would have gotten one and maybe two without too much of a stretch.
“So if we go another year and get left out and it appears to be systemic, we need to be mindful of it.
“That doesn’t mean a disadvantage couldn’t develop or couldn’t be shown to exist, but I think it’s the majority of our CEOs right now that believe likewise.”