While Big 12 expansion talk once again reached a fever pitch earlier this month, the fervor died a bit last week. Now, what seemed like an inevitability a couple weeks ago is just a possibility, but not one that anybody is rushing to see come to fruition.
This is good news for the Big 12. The truth is, while it might seems like a good idea, the fact is that going back to 12 schools isn't going to do anything to change the position the Big 12 is currently in.
1. There are no schools that can change the conference's fortunes: That's not to say there aren't schools that would be nice additions. I believe BYU would be a nice school for the Big 12 to add because it brings a good football program and a very large fan base. It's just, after BYU, all the other schools feel the same to me.
Houston makes the most sense as far as football is concerned, but it doesn't bring another market to the Big 12. The conference already has the state of Texas. Every other candidate -- be it Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF, UConn, whoever -- has its positives and negatives. None is a slam dunk sure thing.
It's important to remember that, during the Great Conference Realignment Wars at the beginning of the decade, the rest of the Power Five conferences weren't going after schools from the smaller conferences. They were going after other major conference programs.
By the time the dust settled, the only two programs from outside the BCS conferences moved up in class: Utah joined the Pac-12 and TCU entered the Big 12 (via a quick Big East pit stop, and only after the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC raided the Big 12). Louisville doesn't count because it entered the ACC from the Big East, which may now be known as the American Athletic Conference but was a BCS conference at the time.
Which leads to the next point.
2. The television money just isn't going to be there: Conferences like the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 expanded in large part to make their television deals -- and their own personal television networks -- more profitable. It's worked well for both the Big Ten and SEC, but those two have always been the two most popular college football conferences in the country, and they had the cache to be financially viable before either expanded to 14 teams. Since college football is what really drives revenue, that's what matters most. (The extra cable boxes in new markets don't hurt the profit margin, either.) The Pac-12 hasn't reaped the benefits it believed it would with its own network, and the ACC doesn't even have its own.
If the Big 12 thinks adding two new schools is going to help it create its own television network, who is going to pay the Big 12 for it? The Big Ten and SEC are partnered with Fox Sports and ESPN, respectively, and that helps keep their networks viable. The Pac-12 owns its network, and it's the network that's struggling.
So who is going to go in with the Big 12? Will it be ESPN, which has been tightening its belt lately and is already losing money on The Longhorn Network with Texas? I doubt it. Both ESPN and Fox already have a TV deal with the Big 12, so there really isn't any incentive for either network to invest more money in a Big 12 Network.
Five years ago, it seemed like TV money was in endless supply, and everybody wanted their own piece of the pie. That's just no longer the case.
If the Big 12 wants to start a network in this environment, it's actually better off doing it with the 10 schools it already has. Two new schools aren't going to bring enough new television revenue to make it worth it for the 10 schools currently in the conference. Better to share a small pizza between 10 people than the same size pizza between 12.
3. It won't increase the Big 12's odds of reaching the College Football Playoff: When I was growing up, I was good in math. I tested well, and I received good grades throughout my childhood. That is, until my senior year of high school. That's when I ran into AP calculus, and that fried my brain when it came to arithmetic. I had run into the wall, and I couldn't climb over it.
So I'm no great mathematician, and odds are that whatever numbers the folks at Navigate Research crunched to come to the conclusion that expansion would increase the Big 12's odds of CFP success are beyond me. I'm guessing the math did not lie to them; it's just that numbers can lie, and I'm not sure what data or analytics were used to come to this conclusion.
What I do know is that the College Football Playoff has existed for two years, and the Big 12 has been represented 50 percent of the time. That number might be 100 percent if the Big 12 had actually named a champion in 2014, instead of saying TCU and Baylor were co-champions even though Baylor had beaten TCU during the season. Which I thought was the whole point of a round-robin schedule, but I digress.
Anyway, my point is that the Big 12 has been its own worst enemy when it comes to the CFP so far, and it has nothing to do with the fact the conference has only 10 teams.
The best thing that can happen to the Big 12's CFP hopes on an annual basis isn't BYU or Cincinnati. It isn't the FedEx Big 12 Championship Game thanks to Memphis.
It's Texas competing for Big 12 titles.
While Baylor may have gotten in had the Big 12 declared it the One True Champion, it may still have been passed over for the brand that is Ohio State. Had it been Texas having Baylor's 2014 season, that might not have been the case. I don't think it's a coincidence that when Oklahoma won the Big 12, it was chosen for the CFP.
Oklahoma is Oklahoma. Texas is Texas. Brands are brands, and names like Oklahoma and Texas will always carry more weight with a selection committee than a TCU or Baylor will, whether the members of the selection committee even realize it or not.
Texas getting back to winning in the Big 12 is much better for the conference in the long-term than going to 12 teams or adding a championship game will ever be.
Plus, while it doesn't come up very often, we're ignoring one key factor when discussing the Big 12's chances of cracking the CFP right now: the CFP is a four-team tournament. I like four teams. I think four teams is perfect. None of this means I'm naive enough to believe it will remain at four teams.
When it's the Power Five and there are only four spots available, well, I didn't need to get past AP Calculus to understand how that math is going to work.
Someday, the CFP will include eight teams with each of the Power Five champions earning an automatic berth and three at-larges (or maybe two at-larges and the Group of Five Chosen One). When that's the situation, the ultimate goal will be getting two teams into the playoff field, and when that's the case, having a championship game might become a detriment.
Championship games could help two-loss teams on the bubble become three-loss teams without a chance.
In a situation like that, maybe both 2014 TCU and Baylor get in rather than neither.