SAN ANTONIO -- What is best for the greater good of the Big 12?
That’s the tricky question the league’s most powerful people seem destined to debate over the next few months. In February meetings and again later in Phoenix, it’s time to put all the options back on the table.
Last year, the impetus for such talks centered around the College Football Playoff and a fear the Big 12 was living in a “disadvantaged” position. This time, it’s the loud comments of Oklahoma president David Boren trying to lead a charge for change.
Boren wants to see three changes happen now, not later, to repair what he calls the league’s “little brother” status: Expansion, conference title game, Big 12 Network.
“I think if we try to do it piecemeal, we’re just gonna kind of end up with just a Band-Aid on top,” Boren told the Tulsa World’s John E. Hoover. “I think we need a comprehensive plan to strengthen the conference and give it equal status with the other Power 5 conferences.”
Get it all done and Boren says he’ll be happy to stay in the Big 12. That’s one serious “or else.” His athletic director, Joe Castiglione, was nowhere near as boisterous on this topic after the NCAA convention in San Antonio on Friday. He chooses his words very carefully.
Castiglione’s own goal: Strengthen the league in a way that provides meaningful sustainability.
“I think we’re all working to try to make the Big 12 stronger,” he said. “I believe we have made some progress. We just have more work to do.”
What’s clear is there’s an opportunity for substantive dialogue about where the conference is and where it’s going. The Big 12 presidents’ meetings Feb. 4 and 5 in Dallas could be among the most important in the league’s history.
Boren has already had discussions with other presidents about his vision, no doubt about that. We’ll find out then if he’s starting to build consensus or whether a majority of those decision-makers are on his side.
The potential return of the conference title game shouldn’t be the only topic on the agenda when those presidents get together next month.
“I feel like all of us in the conference are open-minded to talking through a variety of different things,” Castiglione said. “Some that [Boren] mentioned, some that are innovative and creative and haven’t been fully vetted yet.”
He acknowledged that exploring the dormant idea of a Big 12 television network is tricky, especially considering the presence of Longhorn Network. On that topic, he said, “there’s always a chance for creativity.”
He sounds less convinced that expanding to 12 teams is guaranteed to improve the league’s position.
“I’ve maintained that expanding the conference might make us stronger,” Castiglione said, “but bigger for bigger sake may not.”
Keep in mind, these talks aren’t new. As Castiglione points out, the Big 12’s leaders discussed a lot of things last May during their meetings in Phoenix. Back then, they were brainstorming every possible way to move up in the world and in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee. Patience prevailed. And then Oklahoma made the playoff. And yet, there seems to be no sigh of relief. Just more sighs.
One relatively quiet voice so far in all of this: Texas. The presence of new leadership in Austin -- president Greg Fenves took over in June, AD Mike Perrin arrived in September -- makes their upcoming role in all of this difficult to predict, though Fenves did put out a statement over the weekend.
Another leader staying quiet: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. All he could say Friday is he intends to handle these matters on a private basis. Considering he’s the one who predicted the Big 12 might be stuck holding a short stick a year ago, you’d think he is just as interested in exploring whatever it takes to make the Big 12 strong and secure.
Where those talks will lead, well, you never really know with this conference. But Castiglione might've said it best on Friday: “If you look back through the history of the Big 12 Conference, we haven’t been afraid to try something new.”