Wednesday, Oklahoma president David Boren made waves when he suggested the Big 12 “should strive for” a 12-team league. Boren’s comments were the first from a Big 12 leader advocating expansion in a long time.
"I think we should," Boren told The Oklahoman after the school's board meeting, when asked if the league should expand back to 12 teams.
“How many years can this go on? It just gets to be really debilitating. I worry about that. That’s something I just worry about long-term about the conference, not short-term.”
One of the reasons other Big 12 leaders, commissioner Bob Bowlsby included, have downplayed the expansion possibility is because of the options available. Bowlsby said just last month that there is "no interest" from the league in expanding.
Still, as realignment has proven in the past, anything is possible, even if it seems unlikely.
With that in mind below are three scenarios that would allow for Big 12 expansion (assuming legal remedies would be available, as they have been in the past, despite any binding contracts):
1. Most likely: Settle for best available
This is the most likely — and maybe only — scenario that would lead to Big 12 expansion.
The Big 12 has long flirted with BYU, and just last summer, Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said he “would love to be in the Big 12.” Financially, BYU makes the most sense. The Cougars have the biggest TV allure and fan base of any non-Power 5 conference school out there.
Proximity, however, would be a major problem. The distance from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Provo, Utah, is almost 2,000 miles. Scheduling in nonrevenue sports between the two sides would also be an issue, as BYU does not compete on Sundays.
Still, the addition of BYU from a football standpoint makes the most sense.
Still, to get to 12, the conference would have to pair BYU with another school. There are several other “free agents” out there, including Memphis, UCF, Air Force, Cincinnati, Houston and even SMU.
Given its football prowess relative to those other possibilities, Boise State would seem to be the logical choice.
None, however, are real threats to join other conferences in the current climate. The Big 12 can afford to wait (mostly to see if Scenario 2 comes to fruition). And while it waits, there could be another up-and-comer worth reviewing: North Dakota State.
The Bison have become an FCS powerhouse in recent years, having won four straight FCS national titles. They actually have as many wins against the Big 12 as Kansas does in the last five years.
North Dakota’s economy is booming, with the population of Fargo expected to double sometime in the next 20 years. North Dakota State might not be a viable option today. But in a few years, the Bison could look a lot more attractive.
Still, this only underscores the predicament the league faces. Yes, expansion makes a lot of sense. But the available candidates out there don't.
2. Less likely: Wait for implosion elsewhere
This is the argument in favor of waiting.
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC were all able to expand due to the instability that infected the Big 12. Colorado bolted for the Pac-12; Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC; Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
What if another conference encountered their own rift down the line? That might open the door for the Big 12 to take similar advantage.
Given their relative harmony, this would be unlikely to occur in the SEC, Pac-12 or Big Ten. The ACC, however, hasn't always been so harmonious. Just last year, in fact, it lost Maryland to the Big Ten.
As basketball bluebloods, Duke and North Carolina wield power in the ACC, which has irked Florida State officials in the past. Maybe another disagreement could prompt the Seminoles to look for conference affiliation elsewhere. Maybe that would force Clemson to do the same.
Adding Florida State and Clemson obviously would be the pie-in-the-sky, home-run scenario for the Big 12. Not only would that take the Big 12 back to 12 teams, it would give the Big 12 the armament to challenge the SEC as college football's pre-eminent conference.
3. Least likely: Get the band back together
Put a truth serum in many Nebraska fans, and they would probably admit their realignment to the Big Ten hasn’t been what they hoped it would be.
The Huskers have fallen into second-tier status in the Big Ten. They're in the division opposite Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, which reduces their number of marquee games.
Nebraska once played one of college football's most storied rivalry games against Oklahoma. Today, Nebraska's big rival is Iowa, which barely moves the needle in Lincoln, much less the rest of the country.
Nebraska left the Big 12 primarily over its frustrations with the leadership at Texas. But since Nebraska's exit, the Longhorns have hired a president, a new athletic director and a new football coach.
If the Huskers completely soured on their Big Ten experience, maybe they would be open to reconciliation. One thing is for sure: The Big 12 would welcome them back with open arms.