Thanks to the wandering eyes of administrators at Missouri, the Big 12 will remain at the epicenter of conference realignment news and speculation for the foreseeable future.
Let’s be clear: No one should blame Missouri officials for wanting to explore their long-term options before pledging allegiance to a league that is asking for only a six-year commitment from existing – and prospective – members going forward. It’s the prudent thing to do and Missouri officials announced Tuesday night they will take that step.
What would a Missouri departure to the Southeastern Conference mean to the Big 12?
For starters, it would enhance TCU’s stock as an expansion candidate.
If the Big 12 needs to expand from an eight-team nucleus, there no longer would be a choice to make between TCU and Brigham Young in terms of recapturing a 10-team configuration to fit the parameters of the league’s lucrative Fox Sports contract signed in April.
You’d need two schools and, for a variety of reasons, those two project to be at the head of the expansion list. BYU, an independent in football, and TCU – which can legally get out of its commitment to join the Big East next year, if it chooses – would be the easiest plug-in replacements for a 2012 football schedule that must be re-worked without A&M (and, possibly, without Mizzou).
Both schools also offer long-term value and make sense geographically if additional expansion occurs. If the Big 12 drops to an eight-team nucleus, do not be surprised if league officials explore a two-step expansion process: TCU and BYU in stage one, with other schools added/approached later.
If Missouri stays, the Big 12 would be rebuilding from a nine-team nucleus. If Big 12 administrators opt to stop the expansion process at 10, a choice would have to be made between TCU and BYU. If the expansion process is extended to 12 or more teams, both remain in play.
At this juncture, there is not going to be much tangible movement in regard to Big 12 expansion until Missouri makes a decision. Just a lot of chatter and speculation.
League administrators, who have looked at future models consisting of 9, 10, 12 and 16 teams, need a clearer vision of their starting point – as either an eight- or nine-school nucleus – before they begin approaching expansion candidates to gauge interest. It is a key consideration, especially if the continent pushing for a 10-team configuration wins the day. If only one school is needed, only one would be approached.
Depending on what Missouri does, the Big 12 could respond with anything from inactivity to consideration of a full-blown merger with the Big East (which is down to seven football-playing schools, including TCU, for the 2012 season but it looking at expansion plans to include Navy, Air Force and Temple).
What happens next? Here are some Big 12 options and thoughts about each:
1. Staying with 9 teams: Would maximize revenues per team from TV contracts but would do little to appease teams seeking long-term stability going forward. Probably a low percentage play.
2. Expanding to 10 teams: Would recapture 10-team configuration in place for Fox Sports TV contract. Would also keep revenues-per-team high. But it would not appease those schools seeking long-term league stability. And that is the desire of multiple schools. Texas men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds has expressed a desire for a 10-team configuration.
3. Expanding to 12 teams: Multiple options on the table, many of them including TCU and Big East schools Louisville, Cincinnati and West Virginia. BYU and Boise State also in the mix. One possibility, if Mizzou departs, would be to seek a four-team package of 2012 Big East members (TCU, Louisville, Cincy, W. Va.). Another could include TCU, BYU, Louisville and West Virginia or Cincy. If Mizzou stays, a three-team expansion move could involve TCU, BYU and Boise State. Or TCU, BYU and Louisville.
4. Schools interested in long-term stability, as well as those wanting to recapture a conference championship game in football to generate revenues, prefer the 12-team models. Oklahoma president David Boren has been public about favoring a 12-team model.
5. 16-team model: A full-blown merger between Big 12 and Big East football-playing members in 2012 gets you to this number. But it’s not a high-percentage play because other options are more profitable and more appealing. If Missouri leaves, C-USA member Central Florida could enter the picture in a 16-team expansion model.
_ Jimmy Burch