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Big 12: No expansion -- for now

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Big 12 stance Wednesday was clear. Absolutely, positively no expansion.

Well, for now.

Unless Notre Dame picks up the phone.

“We'd accept the call,” interim commissioner Chuck Neinas admitted.

Yup, the Big 12 continued to baffle third-grade math classes by telling the world it will remain at 10 members. While the opportunity is there for the once-wounded conference to thrive, grow, even destroy the competition, by expanding, it is standing pat.

Once again, that's just for now. No one who spoke Wednesday here could calculate how long the 10-team freeze-out would last. They wouldn't even venture that it would last a year. Why would they? Historically in the Big 12, moods change quickly.

“I don't think there is anything that has transpired that would [make] us talk about that anytime in the near future,” said Iowa State's Jamie Pollard, chairman of the league's ADs. “At the same time I think it's important to say our heads aren't buried in the sand.”

That was the somewhat muddled takeaway from the first day of the conference's spring meetings that were not to be missed. That's because two years ago at this even the Big 12 almost melted down before our eyes as Nebraska and Colorado began their exits.

This year there it's the exact opposite. Expansion talk is in the air. The overriding issue is stability. That's where expansion comes in. The Big 12 is in a position to strengthen itself by adding at least two teams, stage a championship game, rake in more money and put more distance between the Big Four and everyone else.

One problem, that's not the way Conference Conservative sees it at the moment.

“We think we're positioned extremely well,” Pollard said.

The logic centers around the assertion that without a conference championship game, the Big 12 champion would have a more direct path to a playoff. That playoff – whatever it looks like – won't debut for two more years. Meanwhile, in the first year of a 10-team league, Oklahoma State was left out of the BCS title game behind Alabama because the Big 12 didn't have a championship game.

That topic, though, seems to be secondary. There is more benefit to be gained from expansion for the Big 12 that offset any possible playoff implications. Remember, the access is doubling from two to four spots. That makes it theoretically possible that a school could lose its conference championship game and remain in a four-team playoff.

The expansion talk is so virulent that the Tallahassee Democrat sent a reporter to cover the meetings. So far, he and the rest of us have come up empty-handed in fleshing out any interest in Florida State. Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said there has been no communication with FSU.

“I wish you would have said this last week before I bought a plane ticket,” the reporter told Neinas.

There is reason, historically, for the Big 12's trepidation. Neinas and Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione admitted that the Big 12 going to divisions the first time (1996-2010) caused a rift between the North and South. Next thing you knew, Nebraska was pissed at Texas, Colorado was nervous about Missouri, Texas A&M needed an excuse to leave and Missouri just said, the hell with it.

But for 14 years, the Big 12 title game was good to the league. Oklahoma played in eight of them, winning seven. The one it lost (2003), it still remained No. 1 and played for the national championship.

Now the game is perceived as a stumbling block? Go figure.

“The first time somebody's best team gets knocked out of a four-team playoff because they lost their championship game to a 7-5 team or 8-4 team, we'll see how long they want to keep a championship game,” Pollard said.

Except, Pollard was reminded, if that championship game loser stays in the top four of a playoff – much like OU in 2003 -- no harm, no foul.

All this has come before the playoff model is finalized. The Big 12 joined the SEC Wednesday in supporting a seeded four-team structure. The Big 12 also prefers a human selection committee and a strength of schedule component to pick those teams.

Meanwhile, the Big 12's expansion stance seems a bit premature. Who knows what schools might be frightened into a conference once that playoff model is announced?

Remember, Neinas said he'd take Notre Dame's call.

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