It’s been a few days, which means it’s time for another thrilling episode of “How the Big 12 Turns”, the longest episodic drama in college athletics. Just as you thought the Big 12 might be inching towards clarity on Big 12 expansion, as multiple institutions have been eliminated from their search, some new instability may have entered the equation.
Oklahoma President David Boren, perhaps the most vocal proponent of conference expansion and one of the most important voices in the entire conference, told reporters that hey, the Big 12 might not expand after all.
OU president David Boren on Big 12 plans: "I wouldn't take expansion as a given. I wouldn't take it as a sure thing,” @EricBaileyTW reports— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) September 14, 2016
David Boren: "I’m not saying there won't be expansion. But I’m not saying it can be automatically assumed that there will be expansion."— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 14, 2016
So, I’m “I’m not saying anything, I’m just saying”, sort of thing. Boren may be loquacious to a fault, but he was a politician for a long time, and knows exactly what he’s doing when he opens his mouth, especially about conference expansion, where he knows reporters are hanging on every word.
This isn’t a statement out of thin air, for what it’s worth. Here’s Berry Tramel, a columnist for The Oklahoman and one whose ear has been close to the ground on this story:
From the Dallas Morning News podcast. This seems... significant. pic.twitter.com/qIPOr6w7v7— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) September 13, 2016
The most obvious reason why the Big 12 might not hypothetically expand would be that they couldn’t muster eight votes for one (or two) institutions. After all, Houston may have made a compelling case athletically in recent memory, and they may have picked up political support from Texas, but other Big 12 coaches have been adamant that adding Houston could damage their recruiting, and non-Texas institutions may be wary of another Texas institution.
The other arguments have all been rehashed before. BYU has geography and politics working against it. Cincinnati may have the least glaring weaknesses, but fewer obvious strengths. UConn sucks at football. And everybody else...well...what else is there to be said?
But after this long, elaborate (and expensive) song and dance, not expanding also feels hard to believe. Think of the potentially damage to goodwill among other university administrators, to say nothing of the media or fans. The Big 12 is not stable narrative would kick into overdrive, potentially hurting conference recruiting. It would be a mess.
Perhaps the most interesting quote from Boren appears to be an admission that expanding, especially by four teams, could damage the Big 12’s relationship with ESPN and Fox, which could cause even more instability:
"We do have a relationship to maintain, not only short-term, but long-term with the networks," Boren said. "When you have a partnership and you have a friendship, it isn't just for today, it's long-term. And I think you have to think about long-term implications in any action we take. If we were to expand by two teams, four teams, that has financial implications for the networks. I think we have to see if that adds to the long-term stability or not."
Those hoping for a quick end to the story will be disapointed.
Boren added that he doesn’t expect there to be any special Big 12 board meeting before Oct. 17.— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 14, 2016
We’ve been on this beat for years. What’s one more month, right?