Reading between the lines of the latest Big 12 status update from Oklahoma president David Boren, the man behind ongoing efforts to expand/improve the league for the long haul, here are five clear takeaways to embrace heading into the league’s spring meetings, May 31-June 3 in Irving:
Texas holds the key to any meaningful action. In his comments to reporters following a Thursday regents meeting in Norman, Okla., Boren stressed that “you don’t need to have an expansion” if you’re not going to have a conference TV network. A Big 12 network can only be achieved by closing/tweaking the Longhorn Network, a $15 million-per-year revenue producer for the school through its contract with ESPN. Texas officials have shown little interest in tweaking LHN and it is hard to see where the Big 12 can generate the type of money from other sources to meet Boren’s desire to “make Texas financially whole” by surrendering that $15 million revenue stream in exchange for a larger, guaranteed financial take in a conference network.
Expansion will not be approved in Irving. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has predicted for months that data provided by independent analysts about league options will trigger only discussion among league presidents at the spring meetings. Votes to authorize action would come later in the summer or, perhaps, as late as the end of this year. In Thursday’s meeting, Boren echoed Bowlsby’s sentiment that league CEOs remain at a “fact-finding stage” in their discussions, not a decision-making stage.
Ideal expansion candidates are limited or non-existent. Although lobbying efforts are ongoing from multiple schools interested in joining the Big 12, there are zero candidates that check all of the primary boxes preferred by those who would extend such the invitation. From a Big 12 perspective, an ideal expansion candidate would: be the most popular college program in its home state; display a willingness to schedule Sunday games (Brigham Young drops out here) and offer a semi-reasonable geographic fit with existing members (Connecticut drops out here).
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Raiding a team from a Power 5 league is not an option. Schools in other Power 5 leagues, much like those in the Big 12, signed grant-of-rights TV agreements in concert with their current leagues that remain in effect through 2025 (or thereabouts, depending on the league). Under those agreements, a team leaving its current league cannot have its games shown on television by its new league if it shifts affiliations during the duration of those deals. Bottom line: Any expansion attempt today by Big 12 officials would realistically be limited to candidates from schools currently located outside of Power 5 leagues.
There is no inherent need for action. Unlike the additions of TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12 for the 2012-13 school year, there is no contractual need to add schools at this time. Because of departures by Texas A&M and Missouri, the Big 12 needed to recapture its 10-team format for the 2012 football season to provide the required number of conference games stated in contracts with its television partners. That is not an issue today. Boren simply believes a 12-team league, accompanied by a conference TV network, offers greater long-term stability. League administrators are examining data to see if it supports that claim. As Boren said Thursday, league presidents seek a consensus opinion on improving the league and “the consensus could be that we do nothing.”