In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we break down the conference's decision not to expand Monday, and its ramifications for the league.
Did the Big 12 make the right call?
Mitch Sherman: Ultimately, I’m OK with the decision to stand pat. I have a huge problem with how the league reached that decision, but we’ll cover that later. Staying on point, I don’t think the extra cash available in the short term to any coalition within the league that could have forced the hand of Texas and Oklahoma was worth the long-term price. Unity, or the appearance of unity, is important to the Big 12 -- and this was the only way to create that look.
Max Olson: The Big 12 made the only move it could, I think, since it seems clear no one candidate was going to get eight or more votes. Which makes me wonder why Big 12 presidents voted in July to explore this in the first place. But I'm fine with the result of this round of exploration. I recognize why staying at 10 for now was the preferable route, even if it was the only route the majority could agree upon.
Jake Trotter: I’ve been of the opinion that the Big 12 had nothing to lose by expanding. But on the flip side, expansion itself wasn’t going to save the Big 12, either. There has to be a long-term commitment to the league from the flagships, and based on how others — and even how they to a large degree — see the Big 12 at the moment, there is little doubt that they will be looking around as the grant of rights expiration nears.
What was the top lesson learned from this exercise?
Sherman: When the Big Ten expanded, it didn’t make a proclamation at the beginning of the process that it planned to examine candidates. Same with the other Power 5 leagues. So why the Big 12? Well, because the Big 12 is your uncle who can’t stop himself from talking about matters that have no place at the Thanksgiving dinner table. If the Big 12 was going to go public with its plans, it needed to be certain it was ready to expand. And even then, what’s the point of telling everyone? If there’s ever a next time, the league ought to try a stealth approach.
Olson: I guess we don't totally know the answer to this yet, because we don't know what kind of new arrangement the Big 12 is about to strike with its TV partners. But I think we learned the true priority of this round of expansion was financial stability. The concerns about the Big 12's position relative to its Power 5 peers are valid, no doubt. Moves like bringing back the championship game and leveraging the pro rata clause don't necessarily make the conference "stronger," but they do make its members more money.
Trotter: The Big 12 has to stop being its own worst enemy. You know why people think the Big 12 is unstable, unsteady and indecisive? Because its own board chair termed the league "psychologically disadvantaged." The conference really wasn't in that bad of shape at the time David Boren uttered that phrase. The TV distribution was on par with the ACC and Pac-12. The tier 3 revenue some of the schools had been generating was beginning to be significant. Oklahoma was about to make the CFP and the Final Four. Instead of building on all of that, the Big 12 went predictably went haywire, and conducted a overly dramatic, drawn-out process that did nothing for the league except give it a championship game.
Can the league survive long term with 10 members?
Sherman: Sure. College sports can change in a flash. Let’s say Oklahoma and Texas remain in position for the playoff late into the 2020 or 2021 season -- after the Red River Showdown. Similar scenarios may happen in the ACC and Big Ten this year with Clemson-Louisville and Ohio State-Michigan. If the top is strong and the Sooners and Longhorns are happy and feel the Big 12 provides their best chance to win national titles, few reasons exist to prevent the powers from signing off an extension of the grant of rights.
Olson: If "long term" means the next nine years, then sure. I have no clue what the landscape of college athletics will look like by 2024-25, but Bob Bowlsby and Big 12 leadership have a lot of time to think of better methods for improving the conference and reducing the perception of dysfunction. For example, as the brilliant Dan Wetzel pointed out this week, it might be in the Big 12's best interest to lobby for an expanded playoff that guarantees the inclusion of every Power 5 champ.
Trotter: Of course the league can survive. But that really isn't the pertinent question. The question is whether the league can thrive long-term. Given the dysfunction that has enveloped the conference over the past six years, it's difficult right now to see whether either is possible.