USF to stay put as Big 12 opts not to expand

Published Oct. 18, 2016

TAMPA — One of the most prolonged, preposterous teases in college athletics finally ended Monday when presidents of the Big 12 Conference unanimously decided not to expand, opting instead to remain a 10-team outfit.

The University of South Florida, among 11 expansion finalists vetted by the conference, was notified by phone late Monday afternoon.

"This process has been extremely positive, giving us the opportunity to showcase our excellence on a national scale," USF president Judy Genshaft said in a statement released Monday evening.

"We have a great story to tell, and this is only the beginning."

The presidents met Sunday and Monday at a hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, adjourning earlier than expected Monday afternoon. Their decision comes almost three months to the day after the Big 12's board of directors unanimously agreed to authorize commissioner Bob Bowlsby to explore candidates for expansion.

In a Monday evening news conference, Bowlsby and Oklahoma president David Boren described the meeting as "unified" and "thoughtful." No yea-or-nay votes were taken on candidates, Boren said.

"The decision really didn't have very much to do with the individual elements of those institutions," Bowlsby said. "They all have their strengths and weaknesses obviously. … This was really about defense of our model."

That model includes a round-robin format in football, where each league team plays all nine others during the regular season; a conference football championship game starting in 2017; and a lucrative TV contract worth millions to each Big 12 university.

Hence the reason the Big 12's summer decision to explore expansion attracted so many.

"It was perhaps a little more of a sweepstakes than we might have thought … in the beginning," Bowlsby said.

The Bulls, who joined the American Athletic Conference in 2013 after the dissolution of the Big East, were hoping for a quantum upgrade in money and stature by joining a conference with a television deal (with ESPN and Fox) that pays each school roughly $20 million annually.

A pro rata clause in the league's TV contract requires the network to dole out the same amount for each school the Big 12 adds. Bowlsby was evasive when asked Monday if he expected to receive more from his TV partners for not expanding.

By contrast, the 12-team AAC's TV deal (with ESPN and CBS) pays a fraction of that ($126 million total over seven years).

With added millions each year, USF would've been in a position to retain its most successful coaches by paying them more; continue upgrading its facilities; and get serious about adding an on-campus football stadium.

That possibility led USF, and the other 10 finalists, to work overtime in putting together comprehensive promotional material, culminating in formal, in-person presentations to league officials.

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The Bulls' bid included three videos (with testimonials from local dignitaries such as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy and former Yankees star Tino Martinez); a 28-slide presentation; and a five-page, data-driven case for Big 12 inclusion.

"The USF family came together with many in the Tampa community to tell our remarkable story to the world," Bulls athletic director Mark Harlan said.

But for now, it's rendered for naught, leaving USF outside of the nation's prestigious conference quintet known as the "Power Five," which also includes the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten and Pac 12.

The functional phrase is "for now." The Big 12's TV contract expires in 2025, and many see the volatile college sports landscape experiencing another seismic shift in the next decade or so.

"We have never said never," Boren said. "I think it's always unwise in this changing environment, this changing landscape, to ever say never. What we are saying is, (expansion) is off the agenda as an active item. At this time we're simply not going to expand."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.