Big 12 considers what Big Ten, SEC might do next in expansion

IRVING, Texas -- The Big 12 expressed widespread satisfaction with its 10-team model during a Monday meeting with athletic directors but still identified potentially available schools that the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference likely wouldn't target as expansion options, has learned.

The Big 12 pointed out in its closed-door, four-hour meeting at the Four Seasons Las Colinas that the Big Ten, should it expand, would likely push for schools already included in the Association of American Universities – in the ACC, that list includes Virginia, UNC, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Duke.

The conference also explained the SEC, should it expand, would likely gravitate toward schools from states where it doesn’t have a presence – in the ACC, that includes schools in Virginia (UVA, Virginia Tech) or North Carolina (UNC, Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest).

Based on that information, the conference identified teams that would be left, including reputable football schools Florida State, Clemson and Louisville.

This was a fact-finding mission for a conference that seems comfortable with 10 teams but is exhausting all options.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby made clear any additional members must bring the same amount of annual revenue as its per-school average of $26.2 million, the highest number among the conferences.

Bowlsby calls the 10-team setup “terrific” but also wants contingencies in place for the future, depending on what develops around him.

“We have to be prepared to respond to that changing environment,” Bowlsby said. “Planning ahead and trying to be nimble enough to deal with any eventuality.”

The 14-team ACC is one of the five power conferences but could be susceptible if Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, or any other commissioner, gets aggressive. Maryland, which left the ACC for the Big Ten in November, projects to make $32 million when joining the league in two years, compared to $20 million with the ACC, according to a Sports Illustrated report.

ACC presidents have expressed public support for the league, which added Louisville in late November. The results of the ACC’s lawsuit with Maryland over a $50 million exit fee could have expansion implications. The league is in better shape if it wins the case and Maryland has to pay the entire amount.

Upon leaving the meeting at around 5 p.m. Monday, athletic directors deferred to Bowlsby as part of a “one voice” mantra. Bowlsby basically spoke in eloquent code when discussing his group’s meeting, which also included scheduling and a potential alliance with the ACC that could, in theory, curb expansion.

Tap-dancing is not optional in expansion. Specifics are barely divulged in public settings.

The group addressed several “what ifs” during the meeting, Bowlsby said, declining comment on the exact nature of those scenarios.

“We have evidence on both sides of it,” said Bowlsby on the pros and cons of adding vs. staying put. “I don’t know if any of it’s compelling enough to cause change right now.”

In other words: Be comfortable, but perhaps not too comfortable if word leaks that Delany is trigger-happy.

When asked what the plan is should the Big Ten expand from 14 to 16 teams, Bowlsby said, “It’s not about what we’re prepared to do, it’s that we’re prepared.”

With the college football playoff looming in 2014, conferences are jockeying for national semifinal positioning.

There’s an argument that a conference championship game, which would necessitate 12 teams, would have elevated 2011 Oklahoma State and 2012 Kansas State -- both with one loss – closer to the top of the standings in a playoff format.

Bowlsby points out ratings and ticket sales are down across the country in those games (except with the SEC). Just in case, the league has asked the NCAA to revisit its ruling that 12 teams are necessary to qualify for a title game.

For now, the Big 12 is evaluating how much it can maximize value without splitting revenue more than 10 ways. But still, the rapid pace of today’s realignment has made the league re-evaluate.

If the league gets proactive, it’s still uncertain how attracted it is to the teams listed above.  

The meeting also addressed the league’s curiosity with Bowlsby’s proposed alliance with the ACC – “friends with benefits,” he calls it. The two conferences could share resources, television scheduling, bowl agreements and more.

The Pac-12 and Big Ten tried this last year but plans fell through. Looking back, a completion of that deal might have satiated the Big Ten’s appetite to expand.

The alliance seems more likely for the Big 12 than expansion. It would also be another boost of confidence for the ACC.

“We’re prepared to support it,” Bowlsby said. “Everyone was on board with that. They were unanimous.”


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