(Editor’s update: Mark Knudson is a former pitcher, but he hit a home run with his first column for woodypaige.com. He writes that the Big 12 board of directors probably would not add any teams at its Monday meeting. Guess what? The Big 12 announced Monday afternoon it was not adding any teams. None of the applicants received the necessary eight votes.)
When the Big 12 Conference board of directors adjourn their meeting sometime Monday afternoon, what’s most likely to be announced at the post-meeting press conference? Something very vague, along the lines of “At this time we are not prepared to announce any decisions on potential conference expansion. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
So don’t expect the conference to announce it’s NOT expanding; just don’t expect it to say it will, either. Wishy washy is what the Big 12 does best.
This means the Big 12 will likely stay at 10 teams for now, which is actually good news for everyone, including the 11 schools that have been deemed to be “finalists” to join the conference. It’s good news for them because joining the Big 12 at the moment is a very bad idea. If for some reason they do decide to add say, Houston and BYU, both sets of Cougars should say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Why? Because the present AND future of the Big 12 is about as clear as mud.
In truth, the Power Five conference that has been talking about expansion for the past 18 months is also the Power Five conference that is the closest to going completely out of business.
The Big 12’s history helps explain its future. This was an awkward marriage of convenience from the very start. When the old Southwest Conference was imploding in the mid 1990’s, four SWC members, led by Texas of course, made the stalwart Big Eight Conference an offer that membership couldn’t refuse. Looking at a much bigger payday by bringing in Texas markets, the midlanders agreed to absorb four members of the SWC, while not fully understanding that Texas politics came along with the deal. Soon, the Big Eight schools were ceding power to Texas. The conference offices were moved to Dallas. SWC decisions makers were put in that conference office. A flawed relationship was consummated as the whole thing took on a decidedly Texas flavor.
Trying to hold some ground for the old guard, Big Eight pillar Nebraska battled with Texas over a myriad of issues ranging from player eligibility to where the conference football title game would be played every year. Most of the members routinely sided with what Texas wanted, which normally included the biggest payday. Then in April of 2011, the Longhorn TV Network was unveiled. When plans for the new venture were announced, with Texas refusing to agree to any sort of network revenue sharing with the other league members, it was the last straw.
Colorado and Nebraska opted out.
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the Huskers left for the stability of the Big Ten, while the Buffs departed for the pot of gold promised by the Pac 12. A year later, Missouri and Texas A&M left too, each joining the SEC. Left with just eight members, the conference had to add TCU from the Mountain West and West Virginia from the Big East in 2012 just to stay viable. What had brought the Big 12 together in the first place – money – ultimately broke them up. Sound familiar?
Over the past four seasons, while the SEC and Big 10 were methodically expanding, the Big 12 watched its national brand being diminished. So the expansion talk began…and here we are.
As for those announced 11 candidates? None has a clear consensus of support, and given a choice, none would be part of what the current Big 12 members really want. They talk about courting Florida State and Clemson. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is one of several who have openly pined for Nebraska to return to the Big 12. (Sorry Coach, but there’s a better chance the Republican Party will nominate Donald Trump Jr. for President in 2020 than there is any former Big 12 member will leave the stability of their new homes to return to a conference that was built on – and still resides – squarely on a fault line.)
Are these the kind of circumstance you’d want to be brought into if you were searching for a better home?
Keep in mind that Texas and Oklahoma, the remaining power brokers of the conference, nearly left themselves and killed the conference in 2011. Flirtation with the Pac 12 – it would have become the Pac 16 if UT, OU, Oklahoma State and A&M had decided to make the dramatic move – got very serious.
So while the Big 12 is celebrating its 21st season as a big boy league this year, it remains a hodgepodge of mismatched parts and member schools with little in common. The top two programs, the ones everyone depends on for conference stability, have already proven they have wandering eyes, if not one foot already out the door.
Don’t be shocked if when the Big 12 conference current media rights deal ends after the 2024 football season, those twin pillars of the conference, Texas and Oklahoma, simply up and leave. There are reports, which are gaining ground like Billy Simms on a pitch sweep, that OU is headed to join former rival Nebraska in the Big 10.
So while fans clamor and campaign for their school to get that coveted invite to the “Power Five” conference, they should ask themselves why any school that resides in a stable situation like the American Athletic Conference or the Mountain West for that matter, would want to jump to the Big 12 right now? A huge payday? Reportedly, new members wouldn’t get a full share of conference media rights revenue for five or six years. That means several seasons of operating at a huge disadvantage. Then, just when they’d be due to become a “full” member and get the $30 million each from shared media rights, the newbie schools would be forced to stand by helplessly and watch the Longhorns and Sooners leave the conference, effectively killing it.
No one has any idea how college football will look by 2025. We could have five 16-team Super Conferences, which by sheer demand would have to include all 11 of the current crop of expansion finalists.
Schools hoping to move up to Power Five status should simply work on improving themselves and their brand while they wait for the better opportunities that are on the horizon.