Just when you thought things would be quiet for a while, Big 12 expansion speculation might be about to kick up again. Yesterday, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel wrote a story on where things stand with the Big 12, championship games and expansion. After months of anonymous Twitter account "sources", a major national writer is assigning some real odds of changes in the near future -- and it would appear BYU is in a good place.
The key date in this story is Jan. 15, 2016, when then 10 FBS conferences (not just the Power 5) will vote on the Big 12's conference championship game deregulation proposal. The Big 12, along with the ACC, sought permission to stage a conference championship game without having 12 teams and two divisions, and it appeared likely that it would pass without much complaint. But recently, the Big Ten raised an objection, saying that divisions should still be required for a championship game. This wasn't to force the Big 12 to expand per se, but to prevent conferences from potentially manipulating the standings to help a team qualify for the playoff. Now, it's unclear if conference championship game deregulation happens at all.
So, what happens if say, conference championship deregulation doesn't happen? From the article:
Here's the prevailing thought around the Big 12: If its legislation proposal gets shot down, there's a roughly 70% chance the league will expand during the next year or two in order to get a title game. If the legislation passes, there's less than a 50% chance of imminent change in the form of the Big 12 adding new members. There are many other variables in play, but this is arguably the biggest.
And if the Big 12 decided to expand, well, who are the favorites right now? Again, from the report:
This is the sexiest question. The near-consensus is BYU and Cincinnati would be next in line if the Big 12 elects to expand. But the cruel reality is that if there were slam-dunk candidates to add value to the league, those schools would have already been added. There is a lot of collective remorse in the conference over not adding Louisville when it was begging to get in back in 2011. The Big 12 could have very easily added Louisville when it added West Virginia, as both were politicking hard to become members. (Pittsburgh was also on the Big 12's radar before it jumped to the ACC. It would be an upgrade over the current crop of candidates.) Now, West Virginia is alone on the eastern frontier with no natural neighbor or rival. Louisville moved to the ACC in '14, and the Big 12 lacks a clear choice that brings immediate value. Also on the table could be adding a school (BYU?) solely for football. At this point, all options will be discussed.
If you're a Cougar fan, that's about as good news as you could expect, right?
This is likely going to create another waive of Twitter and message board speculation with "sources". If you want to sound informed, here are a couple of things about realignment stories that everybody should keep in mind.
- Coaches have nothing to do with conference realignment. Athletic directors only have a small amount of input, and aren't anywhere close to the most important actors in these decisions. As Thamel points out, the key figures here are university presidents. Conference affiliation is about more than just football scheduling, after all, it impacts academics, university affiliations and prestige, and financial considerations that impact the entire institution. While undoubtedly Tom Holmoe will be involved in this process, the true decision makers here, at BYU and at every Big 12 school, are at higher pay grades. Don't read too much into what you might hear from other ADs.
- There are three university presidents on the Big 12's "expansion committee" right now, the leaders at Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia. Oklahoma president David Boren is already on the record of supporting Big 12 expansion. Baylor president Ken Starr is, on paper, probably the most likely to be sympathetic of BYU, given the similar missions of both institutions. WVU's president is Gordon Gee, who is LDS, from Utah, and a former BYU professor (he was also my university president when I attended Ohio State). I interviewed Dr. Gee last summer, and he indicated that he would prefer another conference member a little closer to WVU. We didn't discuss BYU specifically in that conversation, but it is my personal opinion that this grouping is probably the best case for BYU to get a sympathetic ear in the Big 12.
- You're probably going to hear a lot about television markets when the merits of various potential expansion candidates are considered, but I don't think that tells the whole story. The Big 12 doesn't have a TV network, unlike the Big Ten or Pac 12, who clearly made their expansion decisions with TV eyeballs as part of the consideration. With the Longhorn Network boondoggle, and with the cable TV industry changing rapidly changing to accommodate cable cutters, the financial calculus of this decision should be different from the last realignment go around. Thamel states that "It's hard to envision any type of Big 12 TV network becoming more than barroom conversation over the next five years", which could cut into the appeal of a marginal program in a major TV market (like say, South Florida, or UConn).
- Realignment news is not going to be broken by an unaffiliated, little known Twitter account. It almost certainly won't be broken by a radio station. Keep in mind the source before you retweet on Twitter or share on Facebook.