Expanding east or west, Big 12 models point to TCU addition

Posted Thursday, Sep. 29, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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The new Big 12?

A look at two expansion models -- one east, one west -- that could surface if Big 12 officials choose to recapture a 12-team configuration in this latest round of conference realignment:

Eastern Expansion

North Division: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State, Louisville, Cincinnati

South Division: Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Note: West Virginia also could figure into the North Division expansion mix, especially if Missouri departs.

Western Expansion

North Division: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State, Brigham Young, Boise State

South Division: Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

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Big 12 presidents plan to meet this weekend, multiple league administrators confirmed Thursday, to address issues related to league stability. That includes expansion, which could include TCU.

Target date for the meeting is Sunday, said one league administrator, with Monday also a possibility. The bottom line, Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas said, is that the presidents will meet and consider "items of interest to the whole conference, not just Missouri."

Missouri officials reportedly will discuss realignment options at a Tuesday meeting of its board of curators, with a possible move to the Southeastern Conference among the alternatives. Neinas said he expects Missouri to remain in the Big 12.

But even if it does not, league administrators plan to expand from an eight- or nine-team nucleus without Texas A&M, which will join the SEC in July. Big 12 presidents are expected to be presented with expansion-related feedback during this weekend's meeting, with multiple options for eastward and westward expansion still under discussion.

Neinas said Wednesday that league officials were open to the idea of adding another school in Texas. Multiple league sources indicated Thursday that TCU would be at the head of that list.

Because of TCU's location and its ties to the Big East, the conference the Horned Frogs are scheduled to join next year, the school remains an option for Big 12 expansion in either direction. Neinas said expansion discussions are preliminary, with no majority opinion on an ideal configuration for an expanded league.

"There's not even a plurality," Neinas said.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard floated models that included up to 16 teams after a Tuesday meeting of Big 12 athletic directors. If Missouri stays, the Big 12 would be a nine-team nucleus, and the Big East -- which lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC earlier this month -- would feature seven football-playing teams for the long haul, once TCU joins the league for the 2012 season.

A full-blown merger between the two leagues would create a 16-member conference for football. But prevailing opinion seems to be to expand under the Big 12 umbrella, possibly in a two-stage process (one or two teams for the 2012 football season, with others joining later).

"We can build the house again, maybe with different pieces," Neinas said. "There has been no shortage of institutions that have expressed interest."

Neinas declined to name expansion candidates. But it is no secret that plucking multiple teams from the 2012 Big East football inventory -- notably TCU, Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia -- would cripple the Big East in efforts to enhance its existing TV contract that expires after the 2013 season. The move also would add value to a potential Big 12 deal when league officials seek to rework their ABC/ESPN contract that expires after the 2015-16 school year.

One possibility lofted Thursday for a 12-team configuration included the idea of Texas and Oklahoma in different divisions, with the Longhorns in the South division with TCU, Louisville and Cincinnati. Oklahoma would move to a North division comprised primarily of former Big 8 schools. In that scenario, Texas and OU could meet in a crossover game each year with the possibility of a rematch in a conference title game.

Asked about impacting another league's viability in the expansion process, Neinas said: "We won't restrict ourselves... I'm looking at the best candidates for the conference. The [Big 12] institutions make that call."

Neinas added that his first call, once action begins in regard to an expansion candidate from another league, would be to call the commissioner of that conference so he "will not be blindsided."

TCU sources have confirmed that the school, which is competing in its final season as a member of the Mountain West, could break its commitment with the Big East without facing legal ramifications. That makes TCU and Brigham Young, an independent in football, attractive potential plug-in candidates for a 2012 Big 12 football schedule that will be without A&M and also could be minus Missouri.

Speculation also has surfaced on Boise State as an expansion candidate, a move fueled by Wednesday's 12-year extension of the Boise-BYU football series through the 2023 season. A Big 12 source said Thursday that the extension has nothing to do with league expansion plans but indicated it would be premature to dismiss those schools as expansion candidates for the conference.

Once clarity surfaces about Missouri's future, Neinas said a move on the expansion front is "not going to happen overnight" because of the wide disparity of opinions among Big 12 administrators.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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