BPR’s thoughts on the Big XII Spring Meetings

What I took away from this week’s developments is the following:

• A football championship game increases the odds of expansion significantly. (NOTE: I’m just saying it increases the odds significantly, NOT that it makes it inevitable.) A round robin schedule that guarantees a rematch among ten teams is asinine and that will quickly become apparent (if it’s not already).

• The pro rata that Big XII Commissioner Bob Bowlsby confirmed exists and the means of divvying that new money (by giving the newcomers a smaller cut initially and splitting the rest among everyone else) only makes expansion much more enticing.

• No traditional TV network completely changes the paradigm of how you select expansion candidates, because it’s no longer about the TV market you can allegedly bring to the conference. Goodbye UConn, UCF, and USF. The Florida schools may continue to hold out the vain hope that they can still bring a fertile recruiting base to the conference, but that’s a pipe dream.

• No traditional TV network also means that no P5 school will defect to the Big XII in any circumstance, now. Why would an Arkansas, Florida State, or even a Nebraska ever consider leaving the guaranteed equal share of their respective conferences to come over only to immediately make less money than Texas? Sure, any of them could leverage their own third tier rights and probably make as much as Oklahoma…but that’s still less than half of what Texas pulls. Had there been a Big XII network with the Longhorns rolled in and everybody pulling an equal share, it might have been possible for an Arkansas or FSU to consider a change, but certainly not now.

• Expansion candidates will now be vetted based primarily off the school’s brand and football/athletics competitiveness and overall fit. This vaults BYU back up to the top spot (if it ever really dropped far). Nobody can realistically argue that they are not already a P5 caliber athletics program (see: BYU beating OU and Texas in football recently). They are Big XII Team Number Eleven, in my book.

• I’m wondering if the pro rata allows for bringing in just one team, because it’s intriguing to consider just bringing in BYU and calling it a day, at least for a couple years. They’re the one program everybody could agree would bring a quality athletics program in, and if the Big Ten got by scheduling 11 teams for 20 years, there’s no reason the Big XII can’t do the same for a few years until they decide on the twelfth team.

• Houston is back in the mix based off it’s recent (not just last year) success. Whether the Big XII already “owns” the Houston market is a moot point, now. See what Boren said about fans wanting to watch games against quality opponents. Both Cougar schools are definitely that, and any Sooners fans who are acting like they’re not looking forward to the chance to pound Houston all the way back to Conference USA in September are full of it. Quality games also includes the history Houston has with the other Texas schools; who are Longhorns fans, TCU fans, etc going to get more excited about playing should there be expansion: Cincinnati, or Houston? Houston is my second expansion pick. (If adding a fifth Texas school is ultimately deemed too much, then Cincinnati is my alternate.)

• I still maintain that Oklahoma and Texas can’t just bail on the conference without significant political resistance within their respective state legislature’s about leaving OSU and Tech behind. Some may argue that A&M got out just fine, but they weren’t the flagship school of their state, nor did their departure cause the conference to collapse. (Nebraska, Missouri, and Colorado, for that matter, did not have in-conference brethren they were leaving behind, so there was never any political fight to be had.) OU and Tx leaving on their own effectively reduces their states’ Power 5 schools from two to one (in Oklahoma) and from five to two in Texas (Tx and A&M). (The same applies for KU and K-State.) The political resistance in both states’ (three, including Kansas) to such a move will be fiercer than anybody really is accounting for.

• Finally, this leads to the most realistic option for Texas and Oklahoma leaving the conference after the GoR expires, which is basically what they had the chance to do at the beginning of all this: take their state schools and go west, to the Pac. This forms a logical eastern division of the Texas and Oklahoma schools, the Arizona schools, Utah, and Colorado. I know the Az schools will hate it because they’ll be cut off from California, but they’d have to adapt by recruiting in Texas, instead. This allows Tx and OU to both leave the conference with minimal political blowback (though TCU and Baylor will fight in vain to stop it). If Tx and OU leave the conference in nine years, that is how it will happen.

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Big 12 Expansion Thoughts

SPORTS-RELATED POST: I’ve been following so-called rumors on Big 12 expansion ever since the conference settled at the current 10. I wouldn’t mind seeing it get back to 12, but the best overall candidate (BYU) is too far west; the best up and comer (Houston) is on the wrong side of the Louisiana state line and nobody seems to want a fifth Texas school; the most obvious choice (Cincinnati) is a lukewarm candidate depending on who it’s paired with; and my Wild Card choice (Tulane) is probably a non-starter (it’s location in New Orleans and academic prestige are why I like it). I still think the Big 12 blew a great opportunity by not taking Louisville with West Virginia and just sat at 11 for a while; the Big 10 managed just fine with 11 members for two decades before adding Nebraska. But the conference at that point was just reacting and trying to survive, and not in a position to act with a vision.

However, at this point, I’m leaning toward staying at ten and seeing how things play out in the next decade. All this hype about TV deals I think is overblown, and the trend is pointing towards more and more people abandoning the traditional cable bundle model for a la carte subscriptions (see HBO Now and CBS). Conference TV networks may not be the cash cow people think they will continue to be in the future; at least not with new TV deals going forward.

I also wonder just how happy the teams will be in the larger conferences where they rarely get to play older rivals (the article link above states that in the Big 10, Wisconsin hasn’t even played Michigan in six years). The article goes on at length about this point of view and it’s compelling. Everybody just assumes the Big 12 is weak—and yes, I know everyone hates Texas and fans of former member schools like Nebraska and ESPECIALLY Missouri seem to salivate at the thought of the Big 12 collapsing (and in Missouri’s case, because it’d mean KU therefore gets hung out to dry, although they’d be likely to end up in the Big 10 if they were available—ironic since Mizzou initially wanted to be in the Big 10). Yawn. I personally don’t think the Big 10 or SEC are going to expand beyond where they’re at now, and that will be borne out as we get into the next decade. At 16 you’re no longer really a conference; just two divisions within which you play most of your games against (which is pretty much already the case with 14).

This article, which claims sources at Arkansas have been engaging in “cocktail party” talk with Big 12 officials, is compelling if farfetched. But it illustrates my thinking on the subject that being in a super conference may not be all it’s cracked up to be. (After watching Arkansas easily dominate K-State in the Liberty Bowl, it’s easy to imagine they’d be a regular contender for the Big 12 title as opposed to being the fourth or fifth team best in the SEC West.) Although, that article argues for the veracity of conference networks, which as I opined above, is an open question in the cable cutting era.

As for a conference championship game in football at ten teams…I think it’s redundant when everybody already plays everyone else. As for teams that finish in first with the same record, use tiebreakers like the head on match up or other factors if three times tie to determine the “true” champion and give the other(s) a “co-champion” banner. No championship game without expansion. And no expansion until the current Grant of Rights deals in the other conferences begin to expire (the ACC’s expire two years before the Big 12). I think moving from a 14 or 15 member P5 conference to a tighter and more consolidated one like the Big 12 might be compelling for the Louisvilles, Florida States, Clemsons (and even the Arkansas’?) of the world.

Well, as long as they can be convinced Texas will play nice 😉