Big 12 expansion: Ranking the top 10 candidates and breaking down the latest

It's quiet. Too quiet.

Big 12 expansion, one conference hopeful told me, is at the point of being, "in the hands of the lawyers."

Prospective members were required to submit "a letter of interest" to the Big 12, multiple sources told CBS Sports. From there, the Big 12 has assembled a list that ESPN.com reported is now at 18 schools.

It is believed all the candidates have been made to sign a sort of confidentiality agreement with the Big 12 regarding the process. However, a source at one of those 18 said the belief is the Big 12 will make a "cut" of the 18 candidates by the end of the month.

That would be followed by a more detailed interview with the Big 12 at a neutral site

"My understanding is everybody who has expressed interest is going to get a call [from the Big 12]," a source at one expansion hopeful said.

That begs the question, why didn't all 60 Group of Five school send the Big 12 a letter of interest? As it stands, those 18 represent 30 percent of the non-autonomous leagues (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) -- plus BYU -- expressing interest.

One official still wonders how his school was among the 18. The school never contacted the Big 12 and was never contacted by the conference, the source told CBS Sports. He was flattered, happy and intended to follow through but wondered out loud: Where do we go from here?

Perhaps nowhere. While the outside world is speculating on which and how many schools will join, there continues to be chatter the league may stay with 10 members.

"I think that's possible," said one person closely involved in the process.

Another source at a Big 12 school said expansion at this point is "a long putt."

Colleague Jon Solomon pointed out a while ago what has now become a speculative conversation piece within the league. ESPN/Fox could pay the Big 12 not to expand. Any number less than the pro rata amount the rights holders would be contractually bound to pay in expansion would be a net savings.

The point is that everything is still on the table. Lawyers? Confidentiality agreements? In these dog days of summer, bark away. Any expansion speculation can't be wrong.

"At this point, I don't know where the hell everything is." said a source at a Big 12 school.

With that in mind, here are five things to consider while the Big 12 expansion process plays out.

Texas and Oklahoma are still in control. The underlying concern in the Big 12 is how the conference's two superpowers view expansion. Will it drive them away? Will it convince them to stay in the eternally shaky Big 12? Will the eternally shaky Big 12 break up if Texas and/or OU leave?

Last we heard, both Texas and Oklahoma presidents were among those voting unanimously in July for commissioner Bob Bowlsby to explore expansion. That was a direct shift from Texas' stance earlier this summer. Oklahoma president David Boren walked back expansion as recently as May.

In a roundabout way, though, don't be surprised if all of this results in Texas and Oklahoma staying put in the Big 12. It's the best place for each program to conference championships and chase College Football Playoff bids.

Here's how it happens: Even if ESPN/Fox wanted to extend the Big 12 deal that ends in 2025 -- not likely -- Texas and/or Oklahoma probably would be against it. They're the only two schools in the league that have future options and leverage in conference realignment. Remember that Oklahoma regent telling me his school "was within 30 minutes" of leaving for the Pac-12 in 2010?

Without an extension, Texas and Oklahoma are going to do whatever they want anyway when the current deal expires in eight years. If the assumption is the Big 12's superpowers are going to test the waters, why not try to get bigger and richer?

If the Big 12 expands by four, suddenly the Pac-12 would be the only Power Five conference with fewer than 14 teams. Just as suddenly, the Big 12 would look congruous with the other leagues it has been chasing.

Let's say, in eight years, Texas goes to the ACC. It would walk into those league meetings no longer the lone top dog. Ever hear of Notre Dame? Plus, the Longhorn Network would be the 900-pound steer in the room for an ACC anxious to launch its own new network in 2019.

In the Big Ten that task gets even more daunting. Think of Texas officials trying to get their way with Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and others in the room.

There is no geographic fit and perhaps no cultural fit.

Let's say Oklahoma has its eyes on the SEC. The Sooners immediately become Auburn Plus. A Big 12 giant walks into any SEC meeting nothing more than a peer with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee in terms of clout, brand and familiarity.

Those are muscles routinely flexed in the Big 12 by Texas and OU. Sure, those two can earn slightly more money in other leagues, but by the end of the current deal, they will be making at least $50 million in annual Big 12 revenue.

Oklahoma probably can't win nine titles in 17 years in the SEC as it has done with Bob Stoops in the Big 12. Let's see how hard Texas rebuild becomes if it has to play in a division with Alabama and LSU.

In the end, the Big 12 may be the best place for Texas and Oklahoma to chase championships. Winning. Isn't that what it's all about?

Ranking the top 10 candidates.

RankingSchoolThoughts
1BYUAlready looks like a Power Five team.
2HoustonTremendous upside -- best of the bunch.
3CincinnatiPotential West Virginia travel partner.
4UCFEmerging powerhouse under Scott Frost?
5UConnEast Hartford in November. Ahhh.
6MemphisFedEx U.
7South FloridaWillie Taggart has Big (12) connections.
8Colorado StateWon't deliver Denver.
9TulaneSo you're saying there's a chance?
10Boise StateA campus too far.

The Big Push Back: We know the ESPN/Fox stance on Big 12 expansion. The SportsBusiness Journal reported the two media giants are against it because of the lack of quality options.

Make sense. We get it. The rights holders want to keep their costs down. If the Big 12 expands by four, we're talking about a possible network payout increase of $80 million-$100 million per year.

But consider this: These are the same TV giants who paid for TCU to come to the Big 12 in 2011 and Utah to enter the Pac-12 in 2010. Were Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten in 2013 any better than what the Big 12 is trying to do?

If you're counting: In the last five years, that's two Group of Five schools (TCU, Utah) in addition to Rutgers being assured major-conference status. The Scarlet Knights went to exactly one bowl in the first 136 years of their history.

Now the likes of Houston, Cincinnati and BYU don't deserve a shot? That's being a bit hypocritical.

This may be a simple case of better budgeting. ESPN/Fox just spent a combined $2.6 billion to reup their deal with the Big Ten. While the Big Ten is a valuable property, paying the conference all that money was merely a business decision. And rights holders almost always overpay in these sorts of negotiations.

ESPN/Fox knew it would have to pay the Big 12 if the conference expanded. It's in the contract agreed to by both parties.

ESPN/Fox entered into a Big 12 contract where is knew it could be compelled to pay millions more for the likes of Colorado State while at the same time deciding whether to pay for Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten.

BYU's honor code is an issue. No matter what happens to BYU in expansion, it's fair to assume church leaders aren't going to change the school's honor code to accommodate the Big 12.

Fox Sports reported last week that 25 LGBT groups wrote the Big 12 urging it not to expand to BYU. The groups cited what they called BYU's discriminatory practices regarding homosexual behavior.

Whether all of it becomes an impediment to expansion is not known. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe released a statement saying, "LGBT players, coaches and fans are always welcome to the BYU campus. Everyone should be treated with respect, dignity and love."

While appearing on ESPN, former BYU AD Val Hale probably summed it up best: "That's the way it's always been and I don't see BYU changing that policy at all in the future. If it means that it precludes them from participating in another conference or even having an athletic program, I think BYU would probably say, 'So be it.'"

Will the Big 12 be swayed? In an age when the NBA can take the All-Star Game out of North Carolina, in an age when Missouri players can threaten to boycott over perceived racial inequality, it's fair to assume this issue has to be taken into account by the Big 12.

Presidents take over. In decisions this big, conference presidents usually act on recommendations from their athletic directors. The ADs are the professionals on the ground who know about things like department budgets. That's why they were hired.

But sources told CBS Sports that Big 12 presidents may have both voted in that championship game in June and authorized expansion exploration without direct input from the ADs.

While consulting with ADs isn't required, it would be surprising if this topic wasn't discuss considering the magnitude of the situation. Three Big 12 interim presidents helped make these decisions (Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech). Isn't a lot to put on men and women in temporary positions?

This is nothing but a money grab. So freakin' what?! What was the Big Ten Network in 2007? What was the SEC Network in 2014? What in the name of John Swofford is the ACC Network when it goes linear in 2019?

The College Football Playoff is worth $7.2 billion. Welcome to the world of big-time college athletics.

The demographics say the Big 12 can't launch a network. It has already added a championship game beginning in 2017. With expansion, it will get paid more.

Someone call the lawyers. It's been too quiet.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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