No expansion for the Big 12, the conclusion announced Monday by the conference, is a comment on the league’s strength with the existing schools.
“It’s an endorsement and a reinvestment in the 10 members,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “It’s a defense of our own model.”
The decision not to grow, which ends months of speculation, was made and presented by Bowlsby and board president David Boren after Big 12 presidents concluded meetings near the league headquarters.
The idea of expansion rode a roller coaster. Maybe the league would expand, maybe not. The tone seemed to change with every meeting of Big 12 officials. Even Bowlsby said the process became “perhaps a little more of a sweepstakes than we thought it would be at the very beginning.”
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But the league has now given the process a stiff arm.
“We would never say never, but we do feel it would be wrong to indicate it is an active agenda item,” said Boren, Oklahoma’s president. “We don’t feel a need to expand for expansion’s sake.
“Bigger is not always better.”
The news came as a painful conclusion to many schools. The Big 12 interviewed 11 from an original list of about 20, but the league said no votes were taken on any single school.
Of the schools whose hopes were dashed, ones that spoke through statements weren’t in a good mood.
“Somebody wants the University of Houston,” said Tilman Fertitta, chairman of the University of Houston Board of Regents. “It’s not just the Big 12 out there. There are other conferences. The University of Houston is going to be in a Power Five Conference.”
From Brigham Young: “BYU strives to run its athletic program like a P5 institution. Our national fan base and broadcast ratings, along with many historical and recent success of our teams, attest we certainly belong.”
Bowlsby said he was in constant contact with the prospective schools and got in touch with each of the final 11 before Monday’s announcement.
“They expressed gratitude at being part of the process and expressed disappointment,” Bowlsby said.
None of the schools interviewed were from Power Five conferences. The leading contenders were believed to be Houston, Cincinnati and BYU.
Other schools that were interviewed: Air Force, Central Florida, Colorado State, Connecticut, Rice, SMU, South Florida and Tulane.
The league’s television partners, ESPN and Fox, may have played a role in Monday’s decision. The networks reportedly aren’t in favor of expansion now. The TV partners perhaps would pay the Big 12 not to expand.
Big 12 schools each received $30 million from the conference for the previous school year.
Boren and Bowlsby didn’t comment specifically on the TV deals.
With the conference remaining at 10 schools, the Big 12 will have to determine how to determine finalists for its football championship game, which will return in the 2017 season. Two five-team divisions are likely, with the league keeping its round-robin scheduling.
As for Big 12 stability, the conference’s most football-tradition-rich schools said they were on board.
“Not a single school in this conference is looking to go elsewhere,” Boren said.
In a statement, Texas president Greg Fenves said the league made the right move.
“Ten is the right number,” Fenves said. “It promotes a competitive balance and allows for a round-robin schedule in the different sports. … This is the right way to ensure a strong conference.”