Unlike the Big Ten, the main course at this week's Big 12 spring meetings is on the menu. Expansion was discussed informally at last month's Big Ten spring meetings, but the issue will come up during daily meetings on Thursday.
Likely Big Ten targets Missouri and Nebraska will be in the spotlight, with Colorado and Texas possibly feeling pressure to make commitments -- or not -- to the Big 12 as well.
“It’s an incredible time nationally,” Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton told the Kansas City Star. “Everybody is concerned about that. It will be a topic of discussion.”
But no one's quite sure how hard commissioner Dan Beebe will push, and those possibly looking to play close to The Vest are playing it close to the vest.
“I doubt if I would put whatever message I have in the paper,” Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne told the Lincoln Journal Star. “I really don’t have a particular agenda. I’ll certainly be interested in what people have to say. I’ll listen very carefully. I’m probably going to listen more than I’m going to do a great deal of speaking."
Drama could emerge from attempts to set a date -- perhaps this week but much more likely some time before the season begins -- for programs to commit to the conference. The main point Beebe has been trying to get across: He's not operating on the Big Ten's schedule, which could make a formal move toward expansion as early as December. He wants control, and he'll try to grab it this week with possible increased monetary penalties for teams that wish to leave the conference. With two-year notice, schools give up just 50 percent of their revenue from the conference. If that time span shrinks to less than two years, schools lose 80 percent of their revenue from the conference, and the percentage lost rises as the amount of notice given lessens. Any change to that will have to be approved by the conference's board of directors, but schools looking elsewhere might not appreciate the sudden rule change.
And even an overaggressive move of stripping schools of all their revenue and demanding three years' notice might not deter schools like Missouri and Nebraska from chasing much bigger paydays than the $8.4 and $9.1 million they earned in 2007. By comparison, Big Ten schools earned $22 million last year. Though the possibility of new members not earning full shares immediately is real, the point remains.
But it won't all be negative. Beebe has also spoken of plans to emphasize that a new television deal could mean a growth in television revenue that would help the conference narrow the $10 million-plus gap between the Big Ten and Big 12. The conference's current agreement with Fox Sports Net ends after the 2011-12 season, but its current agreement with ABC and ESPN runs through 2015-16.
I'm heading to Kansas City this afternoon, making my way to the Intercontinental Hotel in the Country Club Plaza on Wednesday morning, well before the big (possible) fireworks.
But expansion isn't the only issue that could be resolved this week. Television contracts and bowl agreements will be part of those expansion conversations, but the location of the Big 12 title game will likely be finalized this week.
Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will host this year's game, and looks close to a lock to host the 2011, 2012 and 2013 games. Beebe has been given clearance to negotiate the terms of a contract with the stadium brass, according to Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman. It's been written about here before, but making that move could lead to Arlington hosting the game permanently.
An Arlington location obviously favors the South teams that, by the way, enter 2010 with a 10-4 record in championship games. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told the Journal Star he, along with Osborne, favors rotating the site. Pelini also said he didn't believe Texas had a competitive advantage in last year's game, won by the Longhorns, 13-12 in the first-ever championship game at Cowboys Stadium.
So stay tuned through the rest of the week. It could be a historic one for the conference, and possibly the rest of college football.