What's the old gangland saying: Keep your friends close but your enemies closer?
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has to be familiar. His conference's athletic directors are meeting Monday and Tuesday in Dallas with just about everything on the table for the future.
Bowlsby confirmed to CBSSports.com that the league is in the exploratory stage about an alliance with the ACC and perhaps some other leagues. That could involve a scheduling agreement, marketing, anything to enrich both conferences.
“I think he is doing something that is very smart,” said a person with knowledge of the process. “He's looking at a way to enhance the value of the Big 12 without having split his money up any further.”
In other words, no expansion. Such an arrangement might quash speculation about Clemson and Florida State eventually coming to the Big 12. It's still a debate whether those schools add value to the Big 12. And the discussion doesn't start unless, say, Jim Delany raids the ACC again.
TV partners had not been looped in yet on what Bowlsby calls exploratory talks with those other leagues. And never say never in these uncertain times of realignment but that's why there is strength in joining hands from Tobacco Road to the Great Plains. Despite their different sizes (10 teams vs. 14), the Big 12 and ACC look a lot alike. They each have their cornerstone schools -- Texas/Oklahoma, North Carolina/Duke. Each has a similar profile in basketball. (Don't laugh: From 2000-09, the Big 12 had more teams in the tournament and a similar winning percentage -- .624 compared to ACC's .654)
They need each other in football. Lord knows, the ACC could use an upgrade. Bowlsby admitted Oklahoma State's situation was disconcerting in 2011. The Cowboys finished .0086 behind Alabama for the BCS title game. A nonconference scheduling alliance could be symbiotic.
That's why it's important that Bowlsby knows the intricacies of NCAA basketball committee. He spent two years as the chairman of the powerful body from 2003-2005. The playoff selection committee is going to be a lot like dealing with that basketball committee. Bowlsby told me there will be metrics for that football committee to measure conference strength and nonconference strength. Think of the RPI.
A scheduling alliance helps both leagues. Miami and Florida State available to the Big 12. Oklahoma and Texas matriculating through the ACC. Remember, the ACC already has Notre Dame. This might be what Bowlsby meant by being “proactive” in expansion.
The ACC and Big 12 both make about the same amount per year in TV revenue -- $19.8 million for the Big 12, $19.5 million for the ACC. (That is strictly TV revenue and does not include other payouts.)
“Bob doesn't want to expand, doesn't believe in it,” said a source. “Doesn't believe it's good for the student-athlete.”
Bowlsby has basically said that publicly, but the decision might not be his. If Delany gets that itchy trigger finger, there might be a decision to be made. But if you're partners, then a midnight raid from the Big Ten becomes less likely. There's strength in numbers. Those numbers start with “$”.
Instead of expansion, “I'd go the other way,” said an industry source, “really own the fact that they're (Big 12) 10 teams, they're the only true conference champion, the annual tour [conference schedule] doesn't skip a town.”
It's already been reported that the ACC is exploring a network. A combined Big 12/ACC network is more problematic. The Big 12 has multiple TV partners (ESPN, Fox, Texas with Longhorn Network).
Bowlsby actually called the whole thing having “friends with benefits.”
If the Big 12 wanted to stage a conference championship game, it could probably do it tomorrow. Bowlsby's idea to get rid of the NCAA's 12-team conference minimum for such a game has support from the ACC -- and probably every other conference. It is noncontroversial.
Bowlsby said the league could take the idea of a championship game with a 10-team league to the NCAA board of directors this year. But the Big 12 has to think long and hard about staging such a game. It is the only BCS league that doesn't have a conference title game.
Good or bad? It has been pointed out many times that in 2011, Oklahoma State would have passed Alabama for the No. 2 spot in the BCS if the Cowboys had played in and won a Big 12 title game. Aside from the SEC where the favorite has won the majority of the games, catapulting that league into national championship dominance, a conference title game has been a dicey proposition.
In 2012 if the Big 12 had a conference championship game, Kansas State would have most likely played Oklahoma. Whoever won, it wouldn't have made any difference in the BCS. There was only one at-large BCS berth available in 2012. (Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl). The championship game loser would not have gone to the BCS.
In the playoff era, there will be precious few at-large slots available after the two national semifinals. An ACC/Big 12 alliance would strengthen their shot at filling those slots.