It isn’t summer until an athletic director or school president sparks up a conversation about conference realignment. In the latest edition of speculative musical chairs, Oklahoma University President David Boren talked to the media on Wednesday about a number of things, but what grabbed headlines is his awareness that the Big 12 needs to grow to stay relevant on a national stage.
The Big 12 doesn’t have 12 teams. There are inherent advantages in that because the pie gets split less with fewer teams. It also allows the Big 12 to play a round-robin schedule that doesn’t favor any school or cause outcries about which side of the conference has the tougher schedule. Still, not being a full-fledged conference with a conference championship game hinders the Big 12 on the national stage. Exhibit A was seen in 2014 when TCU was left out of the college football playoff after Ohio State trounced Wisconsin in the Big 10 Conference Championship.
Boren sees this issue and stated as much when he suggested that expanding back to a 12-team conference would be to the benefit of the Big 12.
“I think it’s something we should strive for while we have the time, stability, all of that to look and be choosy,” he said. “[We] can be very selective about who we want to add. It would have to add value to the conference. I think we should.”
Boren also went on to rip the Longhorn Network’s shortcomings without mentioning the actual name and explain that expanding the conference wouldn’t lessen the monetary gain of each school in the conference because the primary television contract is set up to increase with the addition of schools. Texas has long been the scapegoat in Big 12 realignment conversations. The Longhorn Network was given blame for the exodus of schools like Nebraska and specifically Texas A&M.
““The elephant in the room remains the network south of us that has struggled and has in a way as long as it’s there,” Boren said. “And we have done quite well with our network, and if anything ever changed, it has value to it, which we see. But someday, maybe we’ll get past that other problem as well. It’s a problem.”
No matter the problem, the solution seems simple enough on the surface. The Big 12 needs to add teams, expand the brand and have a conference championship game. The issue is in the details. When the major shuffling took place a few years ago the Big 12 had a chance to add a program like Louisville, and there were even rumors that Florida State would be interested. The Big 12 had lost Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri. The conference responded by adding West Virginia.
Now that most of the major programs are settled in to conferences, at least for the time being, it leaves the Big 12 without many positive options. Adding a team from the AAC wouldn’t move the needle much, and it would be a hard sell to a lot of the programs in the conference.
The Big 12 is in a tough position. There are five major conferences, but only four spots in the college football playoff. The perception is that the Big 12 has fallen behind the other four major conferences, and perception is reality in a system like the NCAA selection process. Something has to be done, but talking about it and putting it into action are different animals.
We all know the problem. No one seems to have a solution.
A former newspaper man, Mike Craven is the publisher of BirdsUp.com of the Rivals.com network. His work can also be found in Dave Campbell's Texas Football Magazine and in the Texas FNF Magazine.