The folks that run college athletics could have nudged the Big 12 closer to expansion on Wednesday and put BYU closer to legitimate Power 5 inclusion, but they did not.
Does this shut the door on BYU's hopes to be invited to a Power 5 league? No, but it doesn’t help. This vote was the next big item on the national scene that could have ignited the Big 12 to expand. It does not mean Big 12 presidents will absolutely not decide to add other teams in the future, but it does means the status quo is likely.
The Division I Council voted to allow FBS conferences without 12 members to hold a conference championship game. This means the Big 12 does not have to grow to 12 teams to have that title game.
In my opinion, regardless of this vote, the Big 12 will continue to be criticized nationally for not risking as much as other Power 5 conferences in the race to get one of the four playoff spots. All other P5 conferences have expanded to or beyond 12 schools. This 10-team league will continue to receive more scrutiny by the CFP committee when it puts out its ranking due to its oddball status.
“It is too early to speculate on the impact this will have with our member institutions regarding a football championship game,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a released statement.
“I appreciate that what was acted upon today takes into account our unique 10-team, full round-robin scheduling model. However, this vote does not automatically mean the Big 12 will implement a football championship game. Our membership will continue to analyze its pros and cons as we now know the requirements, should we decide to go down that path.”
A conference championship game could bring the Big 12 between $25 to $30 million dollars. So far, Bowlsby and Big 12 presidents have avoided the event while other leagues have risked injury, exposed themselves to further scouting and general wear and tear by staging a title game.
One college football pundit, Pac-12 expert Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, tweeted: “Big 12 should just decide every Nov. 30 if it will hold title game, based on rankings at the time. Only takes 2-3 days to get set up.”
Oklahoma president David Boren told the OU Daily Wednesday the vote doesn't solve the league's issues. "The Big 12 is disadvantaged when compared to the other conferences in three ways. We do not have at least 12 members, we do not have a conference network and we do not have a championship game.
"I think all three of these disadvantages need to be addressed at the same time. Addressing one without addressing all three will not be adequate to improve the strength of the conference."
Bowlsby told reporters Wednesday, "We didn’t want to be forced into expansion. ... That doesn’t mean we won't keep a pretty close surveillance on the landscape."
What are factors that could move the Big 12 to expand now? It would have to be something big. BYU, Memphis, Houston, Cincinnati, UConn and Central Florida are all candidates most talked about as potential Big 12 members and they are anxiously waiting to see if that decision will ever come.
What are those factors?
• The CFP committee docks the Big 12 for being the smallest Power 5 league and playing weak out of conference schedules.
• ESPN and other P5 television partners continue to lose subscribers and revenue and major adjustments are forced on college football as expenses and salaries mushroom.
• The Big 12 is told by TV partners it needs to expand its inventory and geography.
• The level of competition gap between the big dogs of the Big 12 and its bottom dwellers increases.
• The Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 or SEC poaches the Big 12 like we saw with the defection of Missouri, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Colorado. Those teams decide to pay the penalty for granting media rights to the Big 12.
When Power 5 conferences begin negotiating their TV contracts set to expire, there are plenty of reasons some leagues will get back to poaching other leagues. The Big Ten is up first in 2017. The SEC and Pac-12 are in 2024, followed by the Big 12, Notre Dame and CFP. The ACC's TV deal expires in 2017.
The granting of media rights by current Big 12 teams was meant to be a big stick to keep the group intact. But contracts are made to be broken and college football isn’t immune. Neither is basketball if you recall what Utah did with BYU last week.
Jason Hutzler, a contract lawyer from Arizona, claimed in a Fox Sports column three years ago, “That a grant of rights prevents conferences from being raided is a myth. The Big 12 is still vulnerable because the Texas’ and Oklahomas are still in play to be gobbled up in conference realignment.”
The bottom line locally in Wednesday's news is the Big 12 found a great reason not to expand soon.
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Bowlsby will take this vote back to Big 12 presidents, who have formed an expansion committee that has been in operation all fall and winter, and discuss all of the implications.
It’s a league that is known for doing some goofy things. And doing those things — wrestling with league politics, resentment of Texas, being indecisive — could end up being costly.