Bob Bowlsby to begin contacting schools to gauge interest in Big 12

IRVING, Texas -- The Big 12 Conference announced Tuesday that it has authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to begin exploring expansion candidates.

The Big 12 board of directors met in Irving and deliberated on the merits of expansion, hearing presentations from two paid consultants on the issue.

Bowlsby is expected to begin contacting schools to gauge their interest in the Big 12 in the coming days.

"It's a forward step, a positive step," said Oklahoma president and board chair David Boren, who has been the most outspoken expansion proponent. "Not yet a decision ... but it shows momentum on the board to consider [expansion] as a possibility."

Boren said expansion by both two schools and four schools will be on the table.

Bowlsby told ESPN that it's "conceivable" the conference would be ready to vote on specific expansion candidates before the board's regularly scheduled meeting in October.

The Big 12 has been a 10-team conference since 2012, after Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri left during the last major wave of realignment and TCU and West Virginia joined.

The conference has been batting around the idea of adding more members for more than a year and begins its search with plenty of suitors. The Big 12 has been getting pitches behind the scenes for months from American Athletic Conference schools such as Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis, Houston and Central Florida. BYU, a football independent, has made it known it wants into a Power 5 conference. Colorado State has also reached out to Big 12 leaders.

"We've been contacted by a number of institutions, and I would imagine after this news breaks we'll be contacted again," Bowlsby said.

Big 12 leaders have acknowledged that none of the available schools is a natural fit. None is guaranteed to deliver both highly competitive teams -- especially football teams -- as well as large new markets to increase the value of future media deals.

"We are looking for members that will grow over time as we grow," Bowlsby said. "That bring stability. That have a high top end."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.