Big 12 to add title game, no decision on expansion
While reiterating that expansion remains on the table, Big 12 power brokers acted decisively on the conference's two other significant issues Friday.
In a unanimous decision, the conference voted to re-install a football championship game starting in 2017, and took any pursuit of a league TV network off the table. The format and site of the title game remain undetermined, but Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said a split into a pair of five-team divisions is a possibility.
So is expansion, though Friday's decisions probably won't expedite the process. Temporary league chairman (and Oklahoma president) David Boren said school administrators plan to re-convene later this summer to at least reach a "preliminary decision" on the issue.
"I don't think we need anymore phone calls, any more material through the mail (from expansion candidates). I think that every member of the conference is well aware of all of the schools that have expressed interest," Boren said in a post-meeting press conference Friday.
"Let's just say there's a lot of desire to join this conference, but they don't need to do anything. It's a matter of our own internal evaluation that we're continuing to move forward with and looking at the aspects of what they might bring to the table.
The re-establishment of a Big 12 championship contest began at the NCAA convention in January, when the Division I council voted to allow leagues with fewer than 12 members stage a football title game.
Boren and Bowlsby said the data provided this week by the league's consultants supporting a championship game was "compelling. While staying at 10 teams would allow the Big 12 to retain its round-robin format in the regular season, it also would guarantee a rematch in a title game, something less likely in a 12- or 14-team league.
Several Big 12 coaches have expressed reticence at tacking on such a rematch at the end of the regular season.
But Boren, once the conference's most outspoken proponent of expansion, didn't seem convinced adding more schools necessarily would fortify the title game or the league, which he insists remains strong in its current state. Bowlsby announced a 20-percent increase in league revenue distribution from last year that will pay each school roughly $30 million.
"Set aside for a moment any marginal financial impact (expansion) might have," Boren said. "Is it going to be something that adds to the strength and reputational strength of this conference in the long run?"
That grazing blow, combined with the decision to discontinue talks about a possible conference network, represented a stinging 1-2 combination to expansion hopefuls such as USF. For many expansion candidates including the Bulls, the size of their respective media markets was considered a strong selling point.
But Boren indicated "disruptive technologies" flooding the marketplace have brought into question economic models for traditional cable companies. The existence of the Longhorn Network -- and Texas' likely refusal to budge from its 20-year, $295 million deal with ESPN -- also could've been an influence.
"The marketplace has decided for us that this is not the time for us to consider going forward with what we might call a traditional conference network and partnership with very traditional cable companies and others," Boren said. "That boat has sailed."