The conventional wisdom surrounding the current Big 12 is that someday, they'll need to expand to 12 teams in order to get a conference title game. Maybe the money will finally become too good. Maybe their TV partners will insist on it. Maybe the rest of college football will force them to add a championship game for playoff reasons. At some point though, maybe fans and pundits have assumed that the league will want a title game someday, and since current NCAA regulations require 12 teams to host a title game, that the league would eventually expand.
The Big 12 doesn't seem to want to do that though and are lobbying the NCAA to get around that rule.
"You wouldn't any longer have to have 12 (teams)," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "You wouldn't any longer have to play a full round-robin in your subdivision. That would actually afford us the opportunity to have a playoff between two selected teams by whatever process we would want to select.
If the Big 12 did expand, it was commonly assumed that BYU would be in the mix as a possible candidate, along with perhaps Cincinnati, UCF and USF. BYU would add potentially competitive football and basketball programs, a stable internal financial position (unlike Cincinnati), a fanbase that travels, and TV exposure in the Salt Lake metro area. Sunday play and travel have been cited as reasons why BYU wouldn't have been a great fit, along with BYU likely needing to can their current ESPN deal, and institutional fit.
If this move is approved though, and there is little evidence out there that would indicate how likely it is, the Big 12 wouldn't have a reason to expand at all, as whatever revenue BYU could generate would likely not counteract the penalty from slicing up the conference pie one more slice.
With the Pac-12 an impossibility, taking the Big 12 off the table completely limits the flexibility of BYU to change their conference affiliation in the future, essentially leaving only The American, and a return to the Mountain West, as potential options, if for whatever reason Independence was no longer attractive. If playoff access remains a priority for the program, that would put the football team in a very tough spot. This move would also hurt the other "middle class" programs who may have BCS league aspirations, like Cincinnati, USF, UCF, and others.
The irony is that if the NCAA had approved conference title game deregulation in the first place, perhaps a few rounds of conference realignment would have been avoided, and nobody would be in the position they are in now.
Even if BYU to the Big 12 isn't a likely option in the short term, the realistic potential of such a move affords the program some flexibility moving forward. Cougar fans, even those who are highly satisfied with independence, would do well to root for the NCAA to keep their restriction.