Big 12 commissioner: League could be 'proactive' on expansion front

GRAPEVINE — Although stressing that bigger does not always mean better, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday that league officials “could be proactive” on the expansion front and will address the topic in league meetings later this month.

Big 12 athletic directors will meet Jan. 28-29 at a regularly scheduled meeting. Bowlsby said one topic will be discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of conference realignment in an era when the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Pac-12 and ACC will each have 12 or 14 members when the latest round of realignment becomes official with the moves of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten for the 2014-15 calendar year. Big 12 presidents could discuss the topic at a later date, Bowlsby said.

The Big 12 has only 10 members. That is not enough, under NCAA rules, to have a conference championship game in football. But the configuration does maximize per-school revenues from television rights fees, a financial advantage Bowlsby said league officials will weigh during discussions about the future of the Big 12.

“We continue to watch the landscape,” Bowlsby said during the first day of meetings at the NCAA Convention at the Gaylord Texan Resort. “Until we’re persuaded that larger is better, we feel pretty good about right where we are. Part of what we’re going to do during the meetings is talk about what the advantages are of getting bigger and what the disadvantages are.“If you get bigger, do you have to get to 16? Do you get all the benefits at 14? Do you get them at 12? I just think there’s a real shortage of empirical evidence that can guide our decisions.”

Hence, the desire for exploratory talks at a time when the Big East is losing members, rival leagues are expanding and college football is preparing for the start of its playoff era following the 2014 regular season. Expansion targets clearly exist if the Big 12 seeks to grow to recapture a conference championship game as part of the playoff era.

Speculation has centered on Big 12 interest from Florida State and Clemson from the ACC, with Connecticut and Cincinnati among the most desirable remaining assets in the crumbling Big East.

In terms of expansion, Bowlsby said: “We could be proactive. I think there are some ways we could.”

Bowlsby even cited the possibility of adding a Big 12 championship game under the league’s configuration if NCAA rules, which allow such games only in conferences with 12 or more members, are tweaked. The topic surfaced during a meeting of commissioners after last week’s BCS National Championship Game in Miami and Bowlsby said the idea “is worthy of consideration,” particularly at a time when the NCAA seeks to streamline its rule book and will vote on measures to do so at this convention.

“In a period of deregulation, does it make sense that the association is describing the manner in which we create our champion?” Bowlsby said. “Does it make any difference if we have 10 members and we take our two highest-ranked teams at the end of the year and have them play off one more time in a repeat and the champion goes on to the post-season? It’s just another area of deregulation that we think is worthy of consideration.”

Bowlsby said league officials “haven’t talked much” about the possibility of initiating a championship game under its existing 10-team configuration but expect to address that issue later this month. He also cited the Big Ten’s recent additions of Maryland and Rutgers as examples worth monitoring as league officials consider expansion.

“Look at Maryland and Rutgers. They don’t bring programs that are of the ilk of the others in the Big Ten,” said Bowlsby, a former Iowa athletic director. “But the philosophy clearly is, ‘As members of the Big Ten, we can grow them.’ So, you can apply the same thinking to any possible addition.”

Asked what the league needed in terms on a mandate for expansion, Bowlsby said: “A clear mandate only comes from a clear set of data that says this is the right thing to do. I’m not sure that intuition is the best reason to leave (a conference).”