With or without Missouri in the mix, the Big 12 plans to be a healthy league after Texas A&M departs on July 1, 2012. That much is clear.
But, for how long? In what configuration? And could TCU soon be a part of the mix?
That last idea seemed to be gaining traction Wednesday when interim commissioner Chuck Neinas reversed his Saturday stance about detecting some resistance from Big 12 administrators in regard to expansion opportunities within the Lone Star State.
"I'd say that has changed," Neinas said during a Wednesday teleconference. Neinas did not discuss specific expansion candidates but TCU makes sense for multiple reasons.
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That is significant because the league soon may have another vacancy, depending whether Missouri administrators choose to pursue membership in the Southeastern Conference or re-commit to the Big 12 -- with eight other schools -- by signing over their ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports TV rights for a six-year stretch.
Missouri officials reportedly will discuss the school's options on the realignment front during a Tuesday meeting of its board of curators. Regardless of Missouri's decision, Big 12 officials envision expanding from either an eight- or nine-team nucleus.
All signs Wednesday pointed to TCU gaining steam in those expansion deliberations, along with Brigham Young and a collection of Big East teams headed by Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Neinas said league administrators "won't restrict ourselves" in the expansion process because of the vulnerability of another league if attractive members from that conference could bolster the Big 12.
Translation: Look out, Big East, the only BCS conference in greater jeopardy of disappearing from the football landscape than the ever-shrinking Big 12. The Big 12 has lost three members in the past 15 months and soon may wave goodbye to Missouri.
But it still has league pillars Texas and Oklahoma among its nucleus. That's a step up from the Big East, which lost Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC earlier this month and is down to six football-playing members for the long haul.
TCU is scheduled to join the Big East next season. But TCU, a current Mountain West member, could break its commitment with the Big East without facing legal ramifications, according to TCU sources.
That flexibility makes TCU and BYU, an independent in football, attractive plug-in candidates for a 2012 Big 12 football schedule that now is without A&M and soon could be minus Mizzou.
Because of its location, TCU also would be a logical long-term fit to replace A&M in the South Division -- with BYU and some Big East expatriates in the North -- if the Big 12 regains its 12-team configuration in the future, a move being pushed by Oklahoma President David Boren and other league officials.
Multiple league sources indicated Wednesday that a two-step expansion process is possible, even likely, with the league regaining its 10-team format for the 2012 football season and going beyond that number -- perhaps as high as 16, said Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard -- in 2013 or later.
If I'm Neinas, the first place I look for expansion candidates is the Big East, which has an undervalued TV deal that expires after the 2013 season. I'd strongly consider South Florida as well as Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Depleting the Big East's inventory of schools removes another BCS conference from the marketplace and raises the potential value of a new Big 12 deal when league officials seek to rework their ABC/ESPN deal that expires after the 2015-16 school year.
Why the concern? I'll defer to former Texas A&M football coach/athletic director Jackie Sherrill, who recently weighed in with a telling thought about the future of college football in a landscape that includes four superconferences and a playoff system.
The four surviving leagues, Sherrill predicted, will be the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC.
"I don't know of anybody [else], the Big East, the Big 12, Conference USA or any of the other conferences will ever get strong enough to bounce those teams out," Sherrill said.
Such a future probably is several TV renegotiations away. But every league not mentioned in Sherrill's Final Four needs to be proactive in outlasting other contenders in the interim.
It's time for the Big 12 to become proactive, with or without Missouri.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760