The Big 12 Conference and its commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, announced that they would not be expanding beyond their ten current teams after months of consideration. The Big 12 met with 20 different universities, who were candidates to expand, with Houston, BYU, and Cincinnati reportedly considered most seriously. The problem? Their consideration equaled leading other schools along, as they tried to impress the conference enough with the hope they’d get to take the Big 12 on a date en route to major conference sports, only to tell them they never planned on leaving the house in the first place.
The sports world already knew the conference was a mess – the fact that they have just ten teams, they’re clearly the weakest of the power-five conferences, and they’re the only one without a lucrative conference network deal. Instead, they are without a conference championship game until next year, which cost their conference a chance at being represented in the inaugural College Football Playoff. And they’ve allowed the University of Texas have their own network, while the rest of their conference remain the only nine major conference universities not picking up an extra paycheck from a network.
So, they voted to bring back the conference championship in 2017. Great work. The change only came after TCU and Baylor were declared conference co-champions by Bowlsby, despite the fact that Baylor beat TCU head-to-head. This resulted in both teams being snubbed from the College Football Playoff. Yet, even despite that, they still haven’t figured out if the conference will have divisions to determine which two teams play in the conference championship game.
Oklahoma president and Big 12 board chair, David Boren, spoke on the disadvantage the conference had with fewer teams and no conference championship game, prompting response on the latter, but after months, they chose to do nothing on the former. The Big 12 relied on a conference championship to bring in a conference network. Boren said, “I hoped we could find a way when we thought we could build a conference network. We needed additional material, additional schools to have additional material for the network. To do that, then, I think would have made sense.” So, adding an 11th and 12th team wasn’t for competition or reach in America, it was so that a hypothetical network could finally have enough material to cover airwaves?
Not only do Boren and the rest of the Big 12 representatives fail to see the flaw in leading on other schools as they hinged their expansion on the creation of a conference network, and the fact that said conference network would automatically come from creating a Big 12 title game, but they failed to see that a network conference cannot happen when one of their biggest schools, Texas, has their own deal, hindering the other nine. The Big 12 allowing the University of Texas to create their own Longhorn Network is, to put it simply, a major factor leading to the mess they currently find themselves in. Texas won’t let their network go, and the rest of the conference is to blame for letting them create it in the first place.
The domino effect the Longhorn Network created eventually landed at the Big 12 conference’s decision to not expand. One of the prime candidates considered in the conference expansion, the University of Houston may see the very first negative result of the Big 12’s bonehead move. Houston’s head football coach, Tom Herman, saw to benefit from the school joining a major conference, as he was due to earn a bonus and bump in salary, had the Cougars joined the Big 12. Now, the top head coaching candidate for big schools like LSU and USC likely will depart for a major conference head coaching job this offseason.
In a conference that currently has Baylor, with its bevy of serious issues still being investigated, Boren added, “The situation now is very, very different. We don’t feel a sense of urgency to expand just for expansion’s sake. It has to be tied to the circumstances at the time.” Hmm. Adding a team like Houston, not even in a major conference, yet recruiting 5-star athletes and the hottest head coaching candidate sure doesn’t seem like it would be expanding for expansion’s sake. Adding a school like Cincinnati, creating another rivalry with West Virginia, or BYU, expanding the reach of the conference beyond just middle America, doesn’t exactly seem like expanding just for expansion’s sake. These schools mistakenly were led, as they treated each week of the football season as a tryout for the Big 12, only to find out that they weren’t even accepting new positions. Something about treating a conference like the AAC – home to “considered” expansion candidates, Houston, Cincinnati, UConn, UCF, South Florida, SMU, and Tulane – as if they are beneath them doesn’t sit right. Sure the AAC isn’t a power five conference like the Big 12, but attempting to poach their prime candidates only to tell them, ‘no thanks’ is just a bad look. But now that the wrong decision has been made, look for exciting news from the conference, like where they decide to hold their conference championship game starting in 2017.
As the dominoes continue to fall and once their media deal runs out in 2025, I can see a scenario where the Big 12 dissolves. Look out for Oklahoma or Texas departing for greener pastures. That will be your sign that the Big 12’s end is near. We might just be seeing the beginning of the formation of super conferences and the beginning of the end for the Big 12. And they’ll only have themselves to blame.