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At least one Big 12 candidate school reportedly didn’t even know they applied—who could it be?

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Let’s try to figure this out

NCAA Football: Poinsettia Bowl- Boise State vs Northern Illinois Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t been paying attention, you might have missed the latest schools to throw their hats in the Big 12 derby. What was originally thought to be about a dozen or so interested schools ballooned to 17, and now 20, as programs like Rice, UNLV and Air Force will be on the proverbial interview list.

If all of this seems confusing and maybe a little bit strange, you’re not alone. A Big 12 source perhaps gave the most honest quote regarding this process in Dennis Dodd’s latest update. "At this point, I don't know where the hell everything is."

If you haven’t read the article yet, it’s worth a read, as it has some snippets on how the league still may not decide to expand, which schools are near the forefront (Cincinnati, Houston and BYU), and some updates on the BYU Honor Code situation. But none of that probably comes off as earth-shattering to those who have been following the story closely.

This tidbit, however, IS new, and is super interesting. Somebody apparently isn’t even sure how they got on the list! From Dodd:

“One official still wonders how his school was among the 18. The school never contacted the Big 12 and was never contacted by the conference, the source told CBS Sports. He was flattered, happy and intended to follow through but wondered out loud: Where do we go from here?”

Accidentally applying for new conference membership does seem like something that would be a bit difficult to do, no? Dodd didn’t mention who the mystery school was, but based on the (now 20) schools on the list, I think we can make a few educated guesses as to who it might be. Here are mine:

  • Northern Illinois. We reached out to NIU multiple times this offseason, including just last week, asking for promotional documents the school produced for the Big 12 (or the AAC, for that matter), like Cincinnati, Boise State, and countless others had done. We also asked for emailed correspondence between various administrators and Big 12 staffers. Every time we asked, the university told us no such documentation existed.

It is possible that they’re telling the truth, but still reached out to the Big 12. Still, not even really trying seems awfully plausible for me. NIU plays in a tiny stadium even for G5 standards (under 30,000), and also saw Moody’s downgrade their rating thanks to deteriorating financial projections, which may make borrowing for needed infrastructure investments more difficult. There are a million practical reasons why this would be a huge longshot, even with the recent success of their football program, and if NIU isn’t making much of an effort to change the Big 12’s mind, it might be because they aren’t really trying.

  • Arkansas State. We don’t know if ASU prepared similar documentation yet, but the jump from “recently successful Sun Belt Program” to “Big 12 member” is exceptionally large, on every institutional level. Credit Arkansas State for being ambitious if they actually proactively reached out, but if their appearance on the list was due to an institutional miscommunication, it would be believable. Update: On August 23, ASU informed me they also have no promotional materials or internal emails with Big 12 administrators.
  • San Diego State. SDSU has shown they’ve been interested in leaving the Mountain West before (they were going to join the Big East for a hot second, after all), but they’ve been absent in most Big 12 speculation until last week. There’s a lot about SDSU that makes some structural sense, like competent football and basketball, their location in an attractive city with lots of TV sets, and their large enrollment, but geography, infrastructure and budget would make it a tough sell. I asked for Big 12 documentation from SDSU earlier in the summer and was told no documents existed.

Maybe another program will join the fray before all of this is over. Maybe some additional clarity will come out later in the process. But a school applying for Big 12 membership by accident feels like about the most Big 12 thing possible during this process, and given how everything has gone so far, that’s really saying something.