Typically, on BYU Media Day, the biggest news is coming out of the early press conferences in Provo, with updates about depth charts and future schedules. No disrespect to Toledo, but the biggest news regarding BYU had nothing to do with anything coming out of the BYUTV studios yesterday, but in Oklahoma, as the president of Oklahoma talked about everyone's favorite offseason topic, Big 12 expansion, and in the process, blew a hole in one of the biggest talking points.
So what happened?
Oklahoma president David Boren said that the Big 12 should "strive" for 12 teams instead of 10, although he cautioned that the conference shouldn't rush into anything. Here's the exact quote, from the Tulsa World:
"I'm an advocate of a 12-member Big 12. I'm an advocate of us living up to our name," Boren said following an OU Board of Regents meeting. "That doesn't mean go out and find anybody. You've got to be very careful about it. ... I think we should scientifically — not emotionally, but scientifically — look at that."
Okay, so that's interesting, but not especially controversial, since Boren has been a proponent of going to 12 teams even when the conference was kicking the tires on Louisville and West Virginia. The very interesting part of this interview comes here:
Bowlsby confirms pro rata clause in TV contracts would match shares if league expands. But revenue from NCAA, CFP would be split more ways.— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) June 25, 2015
So this is huge, as it was previously reported that their TV contract value would remain static, requiring any future expansion target to bring in enough revenue to offset having to divide up the contract 12 ways, essentially ruling everybody out. If their contract rises by adding teams, the conference would only need to split up bowl money and CFP money 12 ways instead of 10, and depending on who they add, the conference could just make another bowl or two to help offset that. Expansion had been pitched as some sort of crippling loss of revenue, but in reality, it seems that the financial costs would be much more modest, if any.
What would this mean financially?
Right now, the Big 12 distributes about $20 million to each school in TV money. That shouldn't change even in a hypothetical expansion scenario, leaving the conference to then divide up bowl, NCAA tournament, and CFP money among 12 schools instead of 10. An expanded Big 12 is likely to earn additional bowl bids, so the size of that pool should grow a little bit. The devil is in the details for how much the financial impact of going to 12 might be, but at first glance, it would appear that any pay cut would be relatively modest, if there is any pay cut at all. Schools would also likely face increased travel costs, but it remains to be seen if that would be a prohibitive factor. You can negotiate an awful lot, after all.
It's also worth nothing that in a 12 team Big 12, the league will almost assuredly go for a conference title game, which would create millions of dollars in additional revenue as well.
For a big school like Oklahoma, a small pay cut may be worth it in the name of conference stability, improved competition or other factors. For a smaller athletic department like say, Iowa State, even a modest cut in revenues could be more harmful to their bottom line. It's probably not a surprise that a university with a larger athletic program is floating this idea publicly.
Why would Boren talk about this now?
That's the great question, right? It's possible that Boren is floating this out there because he's saying what other presidents are thinking, or because he's trying to influence his fellow presidents into taking expansion more seriously. Maybe he's leaking this as a way to undermine Texas and the Longhorn network (which, given what a people person their AD has turned out to be, wouldn't be a big shock). Maybe there's another game going on here. It's possible that this was just an impulsive remark, but Boren was a politician for a long time, and it seems pretty unlikely he'd open about this without a larger motive. What that motive is, however, isn't entirely clear at the moment.
Why is this good news for potential BYU expansion?
Conventional wisdom dictated that the biggest roadblock to potential Big 12 expansion was the TV money, as no school, not even BYU, was likely to bring in enough TV money on their own to offset losses by further dividing up their current contact. If that isn't the case anymore, than a decision to hypothetically expand the conference can focus on things like athletic program, brand, geography, etc, which is a win.
Plus, the very idea that a powerful and influential leader among Big 12 institutions is floating this idea is a good sign for the concept of Big 12 expansion. If Boren is willing to talk about this now, it's probably already being talked about behind closed doors, and the first step to BYU getting a Big 12 invite, of course, is the Big 12 deciding to expand in general.
Why is this not good news for potential BYU expansion?
Remember, the TV contract didn't change because Boren said anything. We just learned it was different. If BYU is a slam dunk now, they were a slam dunk two years ago, and the Big 12 wasn't interested. The conference will likely be able to get a conference title game even without expansion if they really wanted to, and judging by the conference's continued reluctance to expand, something about BYU is still giving them pause. Sunday play? BYUTV? Geography? Concern about adding a very religious school in a conference of (mostly) public schools? Concern over quality of athletic program? Something else?
Give it to me straight, Matt. Is BYU gonna get into the Big 12?
I'm not going to pretend to have a ton of super connected sources here, but last year, (while researching another BYU article), I did talk to a few people close to both the conference and schools vying to get into the conference, and the impression that I got was that the most likely team to be added in a hypothetical expansion situation was Cincinnati, but BYU was right there. That was several months ago though, and if I hear anything else that's credible, I'll share it.
You've heard everything else lots of times before, about geography, and "how easy they are to work with", Sunday play, etc etc. I will add that this is a relationship driven business, and the fact that Tom Holmoe has taken some active leadership roles (like serving on the NCAA Selection Committee with the AD of Oklahoma) can't hurt. Having a strong football season this season, while obviously not the dealbreaker one way or another, wouldn't hurt either.
If you are asking my personal opinion, I would say that I believe that the Big 12 could accomplish their strategic objectives and be a stronger conference if they added Cincinnati and BYU, although I would expect them to also look closely at UCF, Memphis and USF (I would be more surprised about UConn and Boise State). But I'm not going to be all WVU blogger and report that as fact or anything.
I do not expect the Big 12 to expand in the next year or two, and it is certainly possible that the Big 12 could expand without including BYU. But these comments from high level administrators are telling, and work keeping track of. Because in this sport, you just never know.