The Big 12 still hasn't settled on its next move.
At conference meetings during the first week of February, the league did not make any decisions on a potential conference championship game or any potential expansion.
At that time, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby stressed that one unified voice should represent the league. However, most recently, University of Oklahoma president David Boren has struck out on his own.
Boren, on Monday, again spoke out and made his position clear. He wants expansion back to 12 members and the Longhorn Network folded into a league network. He also said a major vote about the league's future is looming in the coming months.
With an eye on the Big 12's big summer, ESPN.com national college football reporter Adam Rittenberg, College Football Playoff reporter Heather Dinich and Big 12 reporter Jake Trotter hammered out their positions in a Slack chat that includes predictions on what will happen next along with some unconventional thinking on expansion:
Rittenberg: OK, Jake and Heather. Let's start with this because it's always tricky to figure out with the Big 12. What's the true appetite for expansion? We know Oklahoma president David Boren (aka #Big12OneVoice) wants the league to get bigger. But is there a widespread desire to expand?
Trotter: It doesn't sound like it. So far, West Virginia president Gordon Gee and K-State coach Bill Snyder have been the only two within the Big 12 to publicly support expansion. Boren has leverage to push others into his camp by the summer. But I think if they took a vote today, expansion would fail.
Dinich: I would agree with Jake. Every conversation I've had with Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby has been about patience. He has repeatedly told me that one year does not make a trend, nor does two.
Rittenberg: Boren is a pretty powerful voice, though. What fascinates me is how Oklahoma is the alpha dog this time around, instead of following whatever Texas wants to do like the first round of expansion. How persuasive can Boren be to swing others to his view that bigger is better in the long run?
Dinich: To me the burden of proof is on him to prove that the Big 12 will profit financially from adding a program like Cincinnati. It all boils down to that. While the bulk of this conversation started again because TCU and Baylor were left out of the playoff last year, it has morphed into a larger issue that was never solved before. Whether or not the Big 12 needs a title game to get into the CFP? It didn't need one this year. The bigger question is whether it can PROFIT from expansion. I was left with the impression from Bowlsby that was a last resort, not a first priority.
Rittenberg: That's a great point, HD. There aren't many or possibly any candidates out there that would enhance the Big 12's brand going forward. It's about more than having a title game. It's about future TV deals and the league's overall reach.
That's why the expand-just-to-expand discussion tires me. Leagues don't have to get to 16 members if you're just adding filler.
Trotter: Yes, but doesn't the Big 12 have to act to change the outside perception of the conference? The league has a negative vibe right now that isn't going away without action. And that has trickled all the way down to recruiting, where the Big 12 collectively got punched in the mouth again by the SEC, which swiped eight of the top 15 players away from the state of Texas, the Big 12's lifeblood.
Dinich: The Big 12 can change its perception in one season if Texas and OU are top-five.
Trotter: Agreed on Texas. But OU made the playoff this year. It didn't seem to make much of a difference.
State of the Big 12
Dinich: I think the Big 12's reputation is unfairly taking a hard hit. Why? TCU and Baylor were excellent last year. And as you mentioned, OU was a playoff team this year. Texas was a mess, yes, but Charlie Strong finished the recruiting season very well. I admit I look at this through football tunnel vision and the league officials have to take a broader scope to evaluate. Maybe it's naive, but I don't think this situation is as dire as it comes across ... on Twitter.
Rittenberg: It's hard to ignore the revenue numbers compared to leagues like the Big Ten and SEC.
Trotter: That's the point. The Big 12 may seem fine now. But what about in 10 years, when the next seismic shift in realignment takes place? The most vulnerable conference will be the one that dissolves. I'm not saying adding Houston and Cincinnati solves that. But in every decision, the Big 12 has to think long term to survive long term.
Dinich: Ah yes, and that all boils down to TV, the heart of the issue we can't ignore. The Longhorn Network is a question mark and was at the crux of this conversation the last go-round. ESPN obviously has an interest in it, and what has changed from Texas' perspective on it? The Big 12 needs to figure out, from a TV revenue standpoint, what is best for the league, period.
Rittenberg: But that strikes at the fundamental problem with the Big 12 -- uneven revenue sharing. How many Big 12 schools really care what's best for the league as a whole? Texas is going to look out for itself because the Big 12 has enabled it for years to do so.
Trotter: Which is why, as powerful as Boren's voice seems, this really is about Texas. With a new president and new athletic director, would Texas be open to folding the Longhorn Network into a Big 12 television package?
Rittenberg: Jake is preparing a new career in comedy, I see.
Trotter: Ha. It might seem like a joke. But my guess is that Oklahoma will eventually look elsewhere if Texas sticks to its guns. The Big 12 will be mired in the status quo without a different Tier 3 TV system.
Dinich: It just doesn't make much sense to me to have a championship game with 10 teams. Why risk that? If you're Stoops, and you're undefeated -- having beaten everyone in your league -- why in god's name would you want to line up against the No. 2 team AGAIN?
Trotter: I agree. That's another reason why expansion makes sense. That solves the championship game and the 13th data point issue. But let me propose another scenario ...
Making a big move: What about Florida State?
Trotter: Say the Big 12 folded the Longhorn Network into a Big 12 television network that proved to be lucrative. More lucrative than the Pac-12's and obviously the ACC, since it doesn't have one. Could down the line the Big 12 make a play to expand from one of the other Power 5 programs? The Big 12 would at least have something to offer.
Dinich: That's a terrific idea and makes sense. Would definitely be a leg up on the ACC.
Trotter: So then, if you're Florida State, Clemson and Miami, and the Big 12 is offering, say, $8 million in additional revenue ... does that give you pause?
Rittenberg: OK, let's assume the Big 12 will expand. Who do we like as candidates and why?
Dinich: BYU and ... wait for it ... wait for it ... NEBRASKA. Yep, I said it. GET THEM BACK.
Rittenberg: You realize Nebraska would essentially be saying, "Nah, we don't like money."
Dinich: I didn't say it would be easy.
Trotter: The Big 12 is not getting anyone from the Big Ten or SEC.
Rittenberg: Tend to agree with Jake. Would be fiscally irresponsible for any of those schools to leave.
Trotter: But what about the ACC?
Rittenberg: There has been buzz about Florida State being unhappy in the ACC. The SEC doesn't seem like an option for the Noles. What would be the Big 12's appeal to FSU? It would be a great addition for the Big 12.
Trotter: In my scenario, a viable conference network and inroads into another recruiting hotbed. Plus, better matchups.
Dinich: Which is why they should stay put. Own the ACC. Be a guaranteed CFP contender. The ACC is two deep right now. FSU is king of the hill and in the state (for now).
Rittenberg: I just don't know if you stay in a league or leave a league simply because of playoff access in one sport, even if it is football. Florida State has the type of program that recruits well enough and has enough tradition to win in any league.
Trotter: Especially as the gap between the SEC/Big Ten and the other conferences continues to widen.
Dinich: Well, that's a fair point, Ritt. It's a tough call to make without knowing exactly how much of a profit it would be for them and how it would impact other sports, etc. There was some buzz about it last round of expansion. I certainly by no means would rule it out, I just think FSU has it really good right now. I do know, though, that the ACC really wants a network. Again we go back to TV ...
Trotter: This is all about TV. That's where the money is.
Rittenberg: That's really what drives this whole thing. It's why Nebraska would be out of its mind to leave the Big Ten with a new TV deal coming and a full membership stake at last.
Trotter: Which is why, if the Big 12 had a package that was better than the ACC's, would it at least give Florida State pause? Or, say, Arizona and Arizona State, from the Pac-12?
I'm not saying the Big 12 could get them. But the Big 12 should be thinking big.
Rittenberg: Let's remember that the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 all have grant of rights agreements, which makes it very difficult for members to leave. The SEC doesn't have to worry about anyone leaving. So I think we're really looking at G5 candidates.
Trotter: In the short term, yes. But five to seven years from now? I'm convinced when it comes to college sports, any agreement can be negotiated out of.
Cincinnati and the Group of 5
Rittenberg: Let's talk about Cincinnati. Strong tradition in basketball and a really good run in football under multiple coaches. Investment in facilities. Respected president in Santa Ono. And they're located in a pro city and in a state filled with talent.
Trotter: When it comes to expansion from the Group of 5, they are one of the top three options, in my opinion, along with BYU and Houston.
Rittenberg: Jake, what's the real resistance to Houston? Does the Big 12 just sense it already has that market and enough Texas schools?
Trotter: The Big 12 wants to be careful not to oversaturate Texas, a footprint it still has a pretty firm stranglehold on. By adding Houston, you'd be giving recruits a reason to go to Houston instead of, say, Texas or Oklahoma or Baylor or Oklahoma State.
Dinich: Tom Herman is doing his best to give them one now.
Rittenberg: It's the same argument that made them resistant to TCU. But TCU has been a good addition so far.
Trotter: Yes, but there are players that are now going to TCU that previously would've gone to Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State.
Rittenberg: What about Memphis? Program might not be as strong as Cincinnati, but there's strong civic support and it would put the Big 12 in the SEC's recruiting footprint.
Dinich: I feel like we're throwing darts. What about South Florida? I mean, what in the world did the Big Ten get out of Maryland and Rutgers besides geography and markets? What exactly is the priority in expansion?
Rittenberg: Those are the priorities. Plus, it gives the Big Ten more reason to recruit New Jersey and the DMV. Look at Michigan's recruiting class this year. Filled with Jersey prospects, led by Rashan Gary.
Trotter: Memphis is fine. But when it comes to expansion from the Group of 5, I think the Big 12 needs to be considering program strength. In other words, which program is going to best bolster the reputation of the league. And to me, that's BYU. Few programs have won more than BYU has over the last 35 years.
Rittenberg: Big Ten expansion always was about betting on itself, its existing brand, to flourish in dense new markets. Not sure the Big 12 has that luxury.
What about BYU?
Rittenberg: Let's talk about BYU. A very unique school for sure. More of a national following. Not in a huge market (Salt Lake/Utah) but has clout through the LDS connection. And, as Jake notes, excellent football tradition.
Trotter: BYU can still bring it. Ask Texas and OU, whom BYU has both defeated in the last six years.
Dinich: That's one that makes more sense to me for all of the aforementioned reasons.
Trotter: To me, they enhance the TV possibilities, and they have the best tradition. The proximity to West Virginia is problematic. But they're the best candidate.
Dinich: It has to make the Big 12 better in every regard. Agree with Jake that program strength has to matter. It can't be a Rutgers right now.
Rittenberg: Right. The Big 12 doesn't have the luxury to add a really poor athletic program. The Big Ten had that.
Dinich: It's hard to project, though, and one Big 12 coach I talked to said there is talk about trying to look ahead, who could add that strength down the road.
Trotter: Memphis is an upside program, with the FedEx money behind it.
Rittenberg: That's why I think Memphis merits more discussion.
Rittenberg: There's FedEx money, strong booster support elsewhere. They've upgraded the Liberty Bowl. They have really good Sunday-Friday facilities for football. I visited there last fall and came away very impressed.
Trotter: Memphis expands the footprint, too. And it's in a logical location, relative to the rest of the league.
What will happen this summer?
Rittenberg: OK, guys, final thoughts. Two questions: What do you think will happen? And if expansion is the play, what will the Big 12 ultimately do there?
Trotter: My prediction is that the Big 12 will vote to do nothing this summer. And the pressure to act will begin to mount substantially going into 2017.
Dinich: I think the Big 12 gets a title game before it expands because that was the whole point of the deregulation proposal for the conference championship games. Bowlsby told me he was happy with that result. If they want their game, they can have it as long as they keep the round robin. Like all politics, expansion won't happen quickly.
Rittenberg: Jake, you agree we'll see a title game before expansion?
Trotter: Not if Boren gets his way. He may filibuster on any individual move that doesn't come with all three (championship game, conference network, expansion). It's going to be fascinating to see what Boren does if the league doesn't go along with his agenda by the summer.
Rittenberg: I just love how Oklahoma is asserting its power this time. I found OU so weak last go-round, following around Texas. I could never imagine Ohio State doing that with Michigan.
Trotter: Remember, though: Oklahoma tried to leverage Texas last time by threatening to leave for the Pac-12 -- and Texas successfully called Oklahoma's bluff (Oklahoma didn't have a firm Pac-12 offer anyway).
But I don't know that Boren will bluff again. This could be the last go-round.