With Big 12 expansion being further explored, what are the cases both for and against it.
From the instant the Big 12 started getting poached earlier this decade, first by the Pac-12 and the Big Ten and then by the SEC, there’s been speculation the league would someday add two new schools to once again literally live up to its name. Well, someday has yet to arrive, but on Tuesday at Big 12 Media Days the conference said it will move forward with exploring and vetting potential candidates.
Ever since Mizzou and Texas A&M left at the end of the 2011 season for the bigger purse and stage of the Southeastern Conference, the debate, both inside league offices and in the court of public opinion, has been a complex one rooted in power struggles, TV reach and money … lots of money as the arm’s race in college sports intensifies.
But should the conference ultimately expand? Compelling cases can be made for both sides, one of the reasons this subject has been stuck in neutral for the past five years.
The Case For Big 12 Expansion
1. Expand the Brand – The Big 12, like everyone else, lags behind the SEC in revenues. In February, the conference reported payouts of $23.3 million to each member institution. Not too shabby, though, not even close to the $32.7 million the SEC shelled out to each of its schools. One way the Big 12 might narrow the fiscal divide is by developing its own network.
Hardly a sure thing in a world that already includes the struggling Longhorn Network, but virtually impossible without the addition of new markets and additional content that can be bid upon. The Big 12 rocks in Texas, but its overall footprint pales in comparison to the other Power Five leagues, namely the SEC and the Big Ten.
2. Long-Term Stability – After being on the defensive in 2010 and 2011, and teetering on realignment extinction, it’s time for the Big 12 to flex its muscles the way Power Five imperialists do. The Big 12 can make a bold statement—and help ensure its future—by entering attack mode this summer.
Since no one knows for sure if Texas or Oklahoma will get happy feet down the road, the conference would be wise to beef up its roster today, when there’s ample time to be judicious and choosy. Five years ago, the Big 12 was in fire drill mode, and wound up making a questionable choice of West Virginia over Louisville.
3. Playoff Odds – Five power leagues. Four playoff spots. And the conference that gets left out pays a hefty price in terms of perception and real dollars, $6 million a year in fact. Stung after eventual national champ Ohio State jumped TCU and Baylor two years ago, the Big 12 hired Chicago-based Navigate Research to determine the impact expansion would have on playoff conclusion.
And what the analytics firm learned is that adding two new members—as well as a championship game—would statistically improve the Big 12’s chances of sending one of its schools to the playoff. No opinions or anecdotal evidence, just math, which has not been lost on league decision-makers.
4. Ending the Drama – Wouldn’t it be nice for the Big 12 if it could stop fielding expansion questions once and for all? It’s got to be exhausting for commissioner Bob Bowlsby and the school presidents at this point. Even if the league announces it’s not growing, the chatter and speculation will continue to be distractions.
Plus, 10 just has a perception of weakness and smallness in an environment where even 14-team conferences are open to broadening their scope and reach. A 12-team league means two divisions of six, a decreased likelihood of a title game rematch, a travel partner for West Virginia … and a merciful halt for now to any talk regarding the Big 12 and expansion.
The Case Against Big 12 Expansion
1. No Great Options – Nebraska isn’t walking back through the Big 12 doors. And Texas A&M isn’t returning to its old home either. So why extend an offer when the recipient schools will make out far better than the conference itself? Does talk of UConn or Memphis or UCF really make the hearts of Big 12 fans and insiders skip a beat? Cincinnati or BYU? Really?
Now that the realignment carousel has stopped spinning, the unfortunate reality is that there’s no homerun hire out there for the Big 12. No newcomer that brings the baked-in massive audience or financial clout to make expansion worthwhile. And if programs No. 11 and 12 aren’t obvious value-adds, why bother?
2. Same Pie, More Slices – Even though there’s talk of keeping everything the same, there are no guarantees that more members will equal a bigger revenue pie. To get an appreciably larger top line, the Big 12 needs its own network, a particularly complex pursuit in an environment that even major providers are experiencing cutbacks in subscribers and personnel.
Oh, and the fact that the Longhorn Network is awash in red ink means less leverage and buying power. So why in the world would the current Big 12 schools, particularly heavyweights Texas and Oklahoma, want to share bowl, March Madness, College Football Playoff and other revenue sources with a couple of newcomers, none of whom appear capable of making a splashy, impactful entrance in their new home?
3. Expansion No Longer Necessary – Reviving the Big 12 Championship Game makes a ton of sense, from the financial implications to how it might affect the playoff chase. And back in the day, when a league needed 12 members to stage a title game, expansion felt like a no-brainer on that basis alone. But the NCAA rules were modified earlier this year, allowing teams with fewer than a dozen schools to host a conference championship game.
And by doing so, the NCAA essentially nixed the most pressing and persuasive reason for adding two new teams. The Big 12 Championship Game can not only roll with 10 teams in 2017, but also the revenues generated from that game would only be split 10 ways instead of 12.
4. Maintaining Round-Robin Scheduling – Okay, so ‘One True Champion’ became a football punchline in 2014, when TCU and Baylor were labeled co-champs. Still, there’s a ton to like about the current Big 12 scheduling model, which is set up to ensure that every team faces the other nine league members during the regular season.
No regular-season co-champions going forward, and no years in which intriguing matchups aren’t played in the fall. Nine conference games and everyone from top to bottom going head-to-head. There’s something very appealing about the current Big 12 format that would be lost in a 12-team league.