Gil LeBreton

Big 12 says it’s finally time to expand

Oklahoma president David Boren said the Big 12 has received a lot of interest from schools interested in joining the conference.
Oklahoma president David Boren said the Big 12 has received a lot of interest from schools interested in joining the conference. AP

It was late in the afternoon Tuesday and the Big 12 media had retired to their respective work spaces to chronicle the day’s heroes.

Texas’ Charlie Strong had been hopeful. New Baylor coach Jim Grobe was clueless. Bill Snyder of Kansas State, again, was timeless. And Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, the preseason pick to win it all, had been . . . well . . . Bob Stoops.

But suddenly, they weren’t the day’s story. Like a bad soap opera, the conference surprised everyone with a late plot twist.

Expansion.

I know. Yawn. Wake me when it actually happens.

But this time, after pledging their interest at an afternoon meeting of the conference’s board of directors, the Big 12 said it was finally, truly, quite possibly going ahead with the process of accepting applicants to expand the league.

One true expansion, to borrow a phrase. And maybe as many as four new teams.

“We want to do everything possible to put this conference in a position to play for national championships,” said Oklahoma’s David Boren, chairman of the Big 12 board of directors. “We want to do everything to add a 13th data point.”

The Big 12 could have a championship game and four new football members as soon as 2017.

Or it might not. What sounded earnest Tuesday, in the wake of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s announcement that it was launching its own TV network, could always dim in enthusiasm once the presidents and chancellors get back to their ivy-covered offices.

We want to do everything possible to put this conference in a position to play for national championships.

Big 12 board chairman David Boren

Expansion? Unless you’re an alum of one of the expansion wannabees, nothing in college football probably makes your head explode more.

Notre Dame is already taken. Texas A&M ran for the exits in 2012. Even TCU, the eternal Southwest Conference refugee, has found a grand new home.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Tuesday that there was no reason for his league to advertise on Craigslist. He knows the applicants will come.

“Sometimes you may think you have to change your cell phone number because of the number of schools that want to express interest in coming to join the Big 12 Conference,” Boren half-joked.

The usual suspects will be rounded up — BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, et al.

Boren even listed the criteria that the conference will be looking at:

▪ strength of athletic programs

▪ fan base support

▪ access to media markets

▪ the school’s reputation for integrity

▪ academic standards

No mention was made of recruiting areas, hand signs or traditional rivalries.

Sometimes you may think you have to change your cell phone number because of the number of schools that want to express interest in coming to join the Big 12 Conference.

Oklahoma’s David Boren

Big 12 athletic directors have talked about finding a neighborhood partner for West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the league.

One should do. And while Cincinnati has been mentioned frequently, wouldn’t the Big 12 benefit more from adding the University of Connecticut with its basketball visibility and its proximity to ESPN and resulting allegiances?

Forget about the league’s extended geographic footprint. The SWC is gone. A bus-trip league has limited appeal in a TV landscape that hopes to sell its network throughout the country.

Along those lines, Brigham Young shines in all of the criteria. Its reputation for not being a good conference partner would be minimized by being in a league with Texas and Oklahoma.

And if media markets matter, it would be hard for the Big 12 not to go to Houston and to Central Florida, located in Orlando. Those two schools alone have a combined enrollment of more than 100,000,

But who knows what the chancellors and presidents will decide when all the dollar signs are tallied?

Though the league added TCU and West Virginia in a time of semi-desperation, it would hard to argue that the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers haven’t broadened the Big 12’s appeal. The feeling here is that the four new teams would be quickly and similarly assimilated.

Expansion. Maybe this time the Big 12 really means it.

As Boren said, operators are standing by.

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