Big 12

Big 12 to explore conference expansion, commissioner will assess interested schools

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby AP

Big 12 expansion is alive again.

In a wild turn of events, the Big 12 Conference announced Tuesday that it is more serious than ever about adding new schools. The league’s board of directors voted unanimously to have commissioner Bob Bowlsby begin exploring expansion candidates.

“It’s a forward step, a positive step,” Oklahoma president and Big 12 board chairman David Boren said. “Not yet a decision … But it shows momentum on the board to consider (expansion) as a possibility.”

The league will consider adding two teams, which would return the Big 12 to its original 12-team setup, or four teams, making the conference a 14-team league on par with the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten. The Big 12 has had 10 teams since the start of the 2012-13 school year.

Bowlsby is expected to contact candidates in the coming days, but he offered no timetable on the process. But new members could be added in time for the 2017 season.

He certainly won’t lack options.

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Big 12 expansion has been a hot topic for months, with schools such as BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, Connecticut, Colorado State, South Florida and Central Florida regularly mentioned as possibilities. Several of those schools publicly lobbied for Big 12 inclusion earlier this summer when the league appeared interested in expansion.

Boren said the board directed Bowlsby to evaluate universities that have shown interest in joining the Big 12. He said the conference won’t have to recruit new membership.

No one singled out any schools as favorites in the expansion debate, but Boren did say all prospective schools will be evaluated on six factors: strength of their athletic department, fan base, media market, reputation, integrity and academic standing.

“We are looking for members that will grow over time, bring stability to conference and have a high top end,” Bowlsby said.

The Big 12 has fewer than any other power-five conference, and with the Atlantic Coast Conference’s recent plans, it will be the only power-five league without a league-wide television network. Boren said talk of a Big 12 television network could be resurrected with expansion, but that is not the primary factor in the decision.

Right now, the conference is more focused on adding revenue and stability.

New teams could also make it easier to split the Big 12 into divisions before it brings back its football championship game in 2017.

Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett

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