Big 12

Big 12 soap opera continues with no expansion decision imminent

The absurd soap opera unfolding in the Big 12 continued at warp speed Thursday, with administrators showing a wishy-washy resolve on key topics at the league’s spring meetings while working against a backdrop of more negative headlines from Baylor.

The lone certainty: Expansion will not be approved by league presidents during Friday’s final voting session. But check back later this summer, in case that changes after more time to study the issue.

In a league facing lots of big-picture questions, Thursday’s lone significant action involved reversing a Wednesday vote to uphold a rule mandating a lost year of eligibility for non-scholarship athletes who transfer within the conference. As of Thursday, that ban is removed. An amended “Baker Mayfield Rule” is now Big 12 policy thanks to a 7-3 vote by faculty representatives that will allow the Sooners’ starting quarterback to play for Oklahoma through the 2017 season.

The fresh proposal passed because of an added provision that allows athletes like Mayfield, who began his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech, to transfer within the league as long as he did not receive a written scholarship offer from his initial school. Mayfield received no written offer from Tech, said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Oklahoma President David Boren, the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

So he’s good to play at Oklahoma for two more seasons, not just one. That much became clear Thursday.

What remains muddled is how Big 12 officials plan to respond to the possibility of expansion, a hot-button topic Boren has been lofting for more than a year as a way to enhance the 10-member league. Boren said league presidents received a presentation Thursday from independent analysts “about possible candidates for expansion and what expansion might do” financially for the league. But he shared no specifics.

Instead, he described this week’s session at the Four Seasons Resort as a “data-gathering meeting so we can look at the data itself in an unemotional, clear-eyed way” once CEOs return to their respective campuses to form binding conclusions. For now, league opinions remain split as schools like Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis and Brigham Young lobby Big 12 administrators for expansion spots in the Power 5 league.

In some cases, representatives from the same Big 12 school have different viewpoints. Example: Texas athletic director Mike Perrin capped Wednesday’s session by suggesting “the prudent thing for us to do is stay where we are” on the expansion front.

But one of Texas’ most prominent boosters, San Antonio businessman Red McCombs, told a Houston television station Thursday that Perrin is “dead wrong” if he’s satisfied with the current configuration. McCombs, a proponent of adding Houston to the league, told KRIV-TV in Houston that “it’s naïve” to think the Big 12 would not enhance its presence in the Lone Star State’s largest city by adding the school to its membership.

Boren stressed that Big 12 officials “want to make sure we’re not diluting” the league by bringing in newcomers who would water down what he called “a strong conference at the present time.”

If that’s the criterion, then Perrin has it right. Ten is plenty. Among the non-Power 5 schools in the expansion mix, only BYU dominates the fan base throughout its home state to the point of avoiding what Boren characterized as being a “dilutive” influence.

Regardless, more expansion-related discussions will unfold Friday. They will do so while Baylor officials attempt to rebound from the latest fallout from last week’s firing of football coach Art Briles in the wake of an ongoing rape scandal involving Bears players over multiple seasons.

Thursday’s twist: Heralded receiver Devin Duvernay, a February signee, is free to sign with another school because of a clerical error in filing his national letter-of-intent. The paperwork was not sent to the Big 12 office within 14 days of receiving his signature, rendering his signing invalid under NCAA rules.

Between the Baylor bungle, the mixed expansion signals from Texas and the Big 12’s reversal of an approved rule within 24 hours, it’s a wonder so many expansion candidates are hungry to take a bite out of this dysfunctional apple. But money talks, so they are.

Boren stressed that, with or without expansion, Big 12 schools must remain within the same financial neighborhood as members of other Power 5 leagues when final decisions are made later this summer.

“We don’t have to be down there, dollar for dollar or penny for penny, to what somebody else is making,” Boren said. “But we have to be in the neighborhood. We’d have to be where we’re not extremely disadvantaged.”

Until that determination is made, the soap opera will continue as Big 12 administrators seek additional ways to enhance their financial future.

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