MORGANTOWN - The Big 12 Conference has a newly minted commissioner and soon will have one of those gargantuan television contracts that keep money flowing freely.The league will also have what appears to be rock-solid stability through 2025 assuming that the TV pact being finalized includes the provision that each member relinquish its first-born child (only slightly more valuable than $20 million a year in TV rights) through the length of the contract.And while there are certainly other issues with which the league must concern itself, only one will carry the weight of intense public interest and scrutiny.Expansion.
Who's next?That new commish, Bob Bowlsby, treads lightly around the subject."I think that our discussions around expansion, whenever they come, should take into account the eight members that are here plus West Virginia and TCU,'' Bowlsby said. "And I think we need to be thoughtful about how we consider any other expansions.''Thoughtful? Consideration of options? You've got to be kidding. That flies directly in the face of this blog- and twitter-dominated age, does it not?Out there in cyberspace, the issue has all but been decided, right? It's Florida State and Louisville.Or is it Louisville and Notre Dame? Or Clemson and Florida State? Or Louisville and BYU?Or maybe it was Cincinnati and Louisville and Pitt.Oh, well, it'll change tomorrow anyway.No, despite rumors to the contrary, no one has a leg up in the race to escape whatever tortured existences in which schools find themselves. Mitch McConnell didn't back off from his head-butting of Joe Manchin and West Virginia because he was promised Louisville was next in line. Florida State isn't a gimme just because it has a brand name and is tired of being in a basketball-first league. Cincinnati doesn't just get to tag along because it's close to Louisville and WVU.The fact is, the only school that could knock on Bowlsby's door when he officially takes over on June 15 and be given a seat at the table is Notre Dame. Then again, Notre Dame could knock on any league's door - yes, even the SEC or the Big Ten - and have a seat, so there's no news there.No, the way Bowlsby envisions expansion is far more measured than what public perception deems logical, mainly because logic is quite often in the eye of the beholder: Of course Louisville believes it is the logical next choice, etc.
It is generally accepted that expansion is inevitable, and in that realm perception is probably correct. But Bowlsby is taking it right from square one."There needs to be carefully formulated strategic initiatives to get to a predetermined point,'' he said, sounding very much like a guy whose recent past was spent at Stanford. "There isn't anything magical about getting to 11 or getting to 12 to have a playoff. I think we've made commitments in a number of ways to demonstrate our stability - the nine-game football schedule and the round-robin basketball and the grant of rights and all of those things.''There is also the national landscape to consider. The SEC and ACC are or soon will be at 14 schools each, the Big Ten and Pac-12 at 12. Even Conference USA and the Big East are at what, 36 or so now?What those conferences do will have little impact on where the Big 12 eventually settles, but from a national perspective there is also the new BCS to consider. While no one is quite sure how that will shake out, the Big 12 is at least in a position now that it can sit back and take a look at what happens before making a move on expansion."I think we have the advantage of looking at what comes of the BCS process in the coming weeks and months, and that certainly is going to be informative to us as to how we move forward,'' Bowlsby said. "But we will always have to be disciplined to make sure that whatever we do relative to expansion - and certainly every other business decision we make - that there's a specific reason and a specific point of opportunity for us with each move."I don't think simply the attainment of a number makes any sense for us. We have to add institutions, if we ever do, that are going to specifically fortify and make the sum of the parts exceed the whole.''
There is, of course, a faction that would prefer not to see the league expand. With 10 schools, the Big 12 is able to play a round-robin football schedule and a double round-robin in basketball.Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, who chaired the committee that selected Bowlsby, said that among the school presidents - who ultimately have the final say - there is no consensus regarding expansion."No, I don't think there's a consensus on it,'' Hargis said. "I think there are a lot of variables [and] a lot of factors that have to be considered. Right now we have a lot of views on it, but they're all subject, I think, to what we believe the future of college athletics will be and who might we ask to join."I do think there's a strong feeling in the conference for the round-robin nature of our schedules. I know our athletic directors really like that [and] I think fans really like that. So there would have to be a very good reason to abandon that.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.