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End of Big 12 buzz not end of world for Bulls

USF fans look on during the Bulls' 55-35 loss to FSU on Sept. 24 at Raymond James Stadium.


USF fans look on during the Bulls' 55-35 loss to FSU on Sept. 24 at Raymond James Stadium.



Limbo is overbooked these days.

Big 12 aspirants -- USF included -- are sleeping on cots and couches, standing in line for sink space; a huddled, fidgeting mass awaiting a liberation of sorts.

From the economic constraints of college sports' middle class to the prosperity of the elite.

The Big 12, swimming in television money, represents the beacon of hope for Bulls and Bearcats everywhere. In two weeks, its power brokers meet again. At that point, they very well might vote to adopt two or four of these desperate souls into their life of Power Five privilege.

Then again, they might not.

At that point, everyone could check out of limbo and return to their hardscrabble (by college sports standards) existences.

And that may not be the worst outcome in the world. Actually, it would be the second-best scenario USF could hope for in this outlandish melodrama.

Based on recent speculation and sound bites, Big 12 officials -- who authorized Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to vet expansion candidates in July -- now may choose not to expand at all.

Loquacious Oklahoma president David Boren, who essentially set off the expansion maelstrom 18 months ago by saying the Big 12 was "psychologically disadvantaged" with only 10 teams, now appears to have reversed course. A report earlier this week indicated TCU is likely to vote "no" on expansion.

The conference's TV partners, presumably miffed at the notion of expansion to start with, reportedly dug their heels in against the idea at the outset.

So where would this leave USF and its fellow candidates? Still in residence at status quo, with the chance to snag a parcel at the potentially swank development (i.e. a super conference) down the road.

Instead of being hopelessly resigned to their fate, USF and most of the other prospects would bide their time in a league that has evolved into no worse than college football's sixth-best conference.

While the American Athletic Conference remains at a financial disadvantage in the cost-of-attendance era against the autonomous Power Five, its on-field cachet is climbing. Just ask Oklahoma (which lost to Houston). Or Syracuse (which fell to USF). Or N.C. State (which lost to East Carolina). Or Virginia (loser to UConn).

"Everybody talks about the money that's gonna affect us," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told the Tampa Bay Times recently. "But you know, we've done all this with less money than the other guys right now. And yes, we need more (money) and we're trying to get more.

"But Houston's done every bit of this in our league. USF is building up their strength in our league."

Segue to basketball, and the AAC boasts even more cred with the globe's resident women's juggernaut (UConn); as well as a fraternity of men's coaches including Tubby Smith (Memphis), Mike Dunleavy (Tulane), Kevin Ollie (UConn) and Johnny Dawkins (UCF).

No fewer than five current AAC residents will be deemed prime commodities when the next wave of expansion occurs. And occur it will.

The prevailing belief is, we're on a fast track to 16-team "super conferences," perhaps within the next decade. At minimum, it'll be a four-conference setup, but that number grows to five if Oklahoma and Texas remain in the Big 12 when that league's grant of rights media deal (with ESPN and Fox) expires in 2025.

Currently, the SEC, Big Ten and ACC each have 14 football-playing members, while the Pac 12 has only 12 and the Big 12 has 10. If each were to expand to 16 schools, 16 spots would be up for grabs.

The Bulls undoubtedly would be in that conversation, especially if their football team remains on its upward trajectory.

That's the inevitable tectonic shift USF fans should be monitoring. If the current round of Big 12 expansion dialogue peters out, it's really no-harm, no-foul. Think of it as the lottery: If you don't win, fine, just so long as your annoying neighbor (i.e. UCF, Cincinnati) doesn't win either.

For the time being, USF would remain in a suitable league.

With the chance at a "super" one still in play.

[Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2016 2:42pm]


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