GRAPEVINE, Texas — The leaders of the Big 12 decided the conference was just fine the way it is. Ten is enough.
Expansion is off the agenda.
“This was not a decision to not expand,” Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “This was an endorsement and reinvestment in the 10 that we had.”
After three months of analyzing, vetting and interviewing possible new members, the Big 12 announced Monday it would not expand following a six-hour meeting with the conference’s university presidents and Bowlsby.
Oklahoma president David Boren said the decision was unanimous and no specific schools were discussed or voted on during the meeting.
Bowlsby said his only recommendation to the board was to bring the expansion process to an end. He said that while the conference could one day re-open the subject, expansion is now off the agenda.
Conference officials held interviews in September with Air Force and Colorado State from the Mountain West; Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, South Florida, SMU and Tulane from the American Athletic Conference; and BYU, which is a football independent with its other sports in the West Coast Conference.
“Gathering this information has not been a waste of time,” Boren said. “Down the road, who knows? Circumstances change.”
UConn President Susan Herbst said it was a good experience to go through the process and get a better understanding of where UConn stands and what is has to offer.
“Most of the schools they were talking to were in our conference,” she said. “I think that shows, without question, that our conference plays at their level and are athletically and academically appropriate to be a Power Five.”
The Big 12 has been tossing around the idea of expansion for almost two years as it tries to find ways to increase revenue and improve the conference’s chances to make the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 was left out of the first playoff in 2014, but conference champion Oklahoma made it last season.
Boren had said the Big 12 was “psychologically disadvantaged” by being the smallest Power Five league and the only one without a football championship game.
Boren said Monday his interest in expansion was tied to his desire for the Big 12 to start a television network like the ones the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12 have and the one the Atlantic Coast Conference is on target to start with ESPN in 2019. Once it was determined that the market was not there for a network, his interest in expansion cooled.
The Big 12 announced earlier this year it was bringing back its football championship game in 2017, no matter its composition. But with only 10 teams, a title game is not a natural fit for a league that plays a round-robin schedule.
In June, the conference announced record payouts to members of $30 million each, and expansion talk seemed to fade.
A month later, school presidents were briefed by consultants who explained how the conference could bolster its playoff chances by adding schools and boost revenue.
It was after that last board meeting the Big 12 announced its presidents had given Bowlsby the go-ahead to do a comprehensive look into expansion and possible candidates. Boren and Bowlsby said at the time the conference would consider adding two or four new members. Or none. The Big 12 never committed to expansion.
Two new members would have meant an extra $50 million in TV revenue per year for the Big 12 on contracts with ESPN and Fox that run through 2025. Current members would have shared the majority of that money at first; TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, but they did not receive full revenue shares until this year.
The networks have not been keen on the idea of paying the Big 12 to add schools.
“We don’t think expansion in the Big 12 is a good idea for the conference. We think it will be dilutive to the product in the short term. In the long term, it’s probably harmful to the future of the conference,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said earlier this month at Sports Media and Technology conference, according to the Sports Business Journal.
Bowlsby would not comment on any discussion the Big 12 has had with its television partners, but did say the addition of a championship game creates an opportunity to re-open talks about that game’s value.
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