Is BYU looking for a Big 12 partner?

By Jimmy Burch

McClatchy Newspapers

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 1 2010 8:00 p.m. MDT

FORT WORTH, Texas — Children of the Corn, your harvest awaits. Brigham Young fans, don't hold your breath waiting for a Big 12 invitation unless you can secure a higher-profile expansion partner.

Let those sentences serve as responses to two of the biggest unanswered questions hanging over this Big 12 football season: Who will win the 2010 championship? And, the follow-up: What will happen once Nebraska bolts for the Big Ten after the Cornhuskers prevail in this year's conference championship game at Cowboys Stadium?

Yes, I'm still drinking the Big Red Kool-Aid — as I mentioned for the first time in January — regardless of who emerges as the Huskers' starting quarterback. Nebraska has a user-friendly schedule and a defense strong enough to trump any lingering offensive deficiencies, especially with offenses at Texas and Oklahoma under the direction of young quarterbacks prone to ill-timed turnovers.

Besides, it seems only appropriate in this year of endless conference realignment talk that the final scene should involve commissioner Dan Beebe handing the championship trophy to Nebraska administrators while chants of "Big Ten! Big Ten!" rain down from the rafters in Arlington.

So, book it: Nebraska over Oklahoma for the Big 12 title on Dec. 4. But that merely opens the door to Question No. 2, which has a greater long-term impact on the remaining league teams:

How will the conference look in future football seasons, once Nebraska and Colorado move on to other leagues? Big 12 officials swear they love their soon-to-be, 10-member configuration. And I believe them ... unless network TV officials offer a more lucrative expansion plan.

Then, everything changes. If there's one thing we've learned this summer, it's that network TV officials have the power to make college administrators do almost anything if the money is piled high enough.

One conspiracy theory, and a good one, suggests that BYU's recent decision to compete as an independent in football, starting in 2011, is merely the first step in a journey toward greener financial pastures and BCS inclusion.

Instead of a permanent declaration of independence, BYU is testing the market in free agency.

If this is not true, BYU administrators are setting an NCAA record for short-sighted and ill-advised decisions. So I'll grant them the benefit of the doubt and assume there is method to this madness.

Once on the free-agent market, BYU's final stop could be the Big 12, with the Cougars joining the league in conjunction with a higher-profile expansion partner — Arkansas, perhaps — as part of a reconfigured Big 12 that truly would have a dozen teams at some point in the future.

Let's be clear: BYU, by itself, offers very little to push Big 12 administrators toward expansion. But BYU, in conjunction with another school that resonates loudly on the national college football landscape (read: Arkansas or Notre Dame), could be part of a strategic two-team combo that would recapture the 12-member configuration needed to boost TV revenues by holding a championship game in football.

In recent interviews, Beebe has expressed satisfaction with the Big 12's 10-member league. But he left open the door to future expansion in selected situations.

"If an institution in this region of the country that could bring great value — more value than what we would have to provide to them — was to step up and want to be a part of us, then maybe we'd have to look at it," said Beebe, who stressed that conference officials are "certainly not looking at any schools within our five-state geographic region."

Because BYU would expand the Big 12's existing, five-state geographic footprint in future TV negotiations (unlike TCU, which is located in Texas), a case could be made that BYU would be a valuable acquisition if paired with the right expansion partner.

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