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Mitch Vingle: Big 12 expansion and MEC tournament news

AP photo
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

The views from here:

n As we move toward the Big 12’s probable summertime decision on whether to expand, bits and pieces of the big-picture story leak out.

In the past you’ve read here news of the expansion leaders — Cincinnati and Connecticut — and learned how the failing Longhorn Network could benefit the league as a whole.

This week, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports added two other tidbits. First, any expansion would happen over a two-year period. And, second, a new quote was put forth from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

“If we do nothing,” Bowlsby said, “12 years from now we’ll be $20 million per school behind the SEC and Big Ten.”

What seems to be lost in Big 12 expansion discussion is how the disparity can be overcome. If Bowlsby or Dodd or anyone else believes the “$20 million per school” can be made up by simply adding schools and renegotiating with TV networks, they’re sadly mistaken.

According to television insiders, the Big Ten will be disappointed when it negotiates a new deal this summer. Yes, it will get a modest bump, but you won’t hear the term “blockbuster deal.”

Also, look around. The number of bidders is dwindling. Fox didn’t even bid on Conference USA football. Fox 1 has been a marginal success. Fox 2 is a disaster. ESPN is looking for every way to contain costs.

The network gravy train is over, folks. And the Big 12 won’t be making up that money through marketing, adding a football championship or by increasing attendance.

The only way to close the gap is by negotiating with Texas to end the lame Longhorn Network and starting a potential Big 12 network as Oklahoma president Dave Boren suggested.

If you’re looking for a $200 million difference in the leagues, there it is. The SEC and Big Ten are making hundreds of millions off their networks. The Big 12 can be successful as well, according to the insiders. Roll the Longhorn Network into a venture with either ESPN or Fox.

As I mentioned here before, adding Connecticut would give the league access into the Northeast, including New York. It’s what the Big Ten thought when it took in Rutgers — only Connecticut has good basketball. (And went to a BCS bowl in football.)

Cincinnati, meanwhile, isn’t Ohio State, but at least the Bearcats’ large state is cabled.

n Remember when the Cincinnati Enquirer requested public records and published communications between UC and the Big 12? Well, after that, reports surfaced that Connecticut president Susan Herbst hosted dinner for Kansas State president Kirk Schulz, who happens to be chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

As I’ve written, UC and UConn are the front-runners for any open spots, but word I get is a third option is Central Florida. There is also some sentiment for Houston and Memphis, but if the league wishes to dive into Florida, UCF seems the leader.

In Tampa, however, South Florida officials aren’t giving up. The Tampa Bay Times recently requested any correspondence between athletic director Mark Harlan and/or school president Judy Genshaft and the Big 12. The newspaper was told none exists, but Harlan said “suffice to say that I am always in contact with leaders in our industry and always will remain so.”

n If, by the way, the American Athletic Conference gets picked over by the Big 12, it could be good news for Marshall.

If the AAC loses two teams, it could simply drop from 12 to 10 and stay put. But, if not, it will look for good football. And MU has the best football currently available.

Thundering Herd AD Mike Hamrick might want to start making calls.

n And finally

A hearty welcome to those in Charleston for the girls basketball tournament. The Gazette-Mail, I promise, will have you covered from the first buzzer to the last.

Also, let’s hope the city welcomes you as well. Earlier this week, I reported the Mountain East Conference is considering moving its event out of the Civic Center if changes aren’t made and more support added.

On Tuesday, MEC commissioner Reid Amos told me paid attendance was up for last week’s tournament, but drew only 7,816. In addition, as I reported, if the league didn’t hit $60,000 in revenue, it could get out of the last year — 2017 — of the current contract.

“We did not hit $60,000,” Amos said Tuesday. “We still have to go through a final audit for accuracy, but it looks like we’ll be at about $54,000.”

That’s not good for Charleston, especially in light of the problems outlined in my Monday column. On top of that, there came a response on my column from Will Prewitt, one of the most highly respected former West Virginia Conference officials. He is now the commissioner of the Great American Conference.

As you might remember, I pointed to the Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Sports Commission in my piece. Over 300 volunteers help put on the Division II GAC tournament that Prewitt now oversees.

Prewitt said the BSC “helps in ways like donated billboards across the city, signage across downtown, and incredible hospitality from hotels and restaurants.

“The entire community makes our teams feel like rock stars and visiting fans feel special. It’s a definite upgrade from the general indifference we felt from the city leadership during the 13 WVC tournaments that I was a part of.

“The Lions Club folks were great, as were some members of the Civic Center staff. Other than that, it was an attitude of ‘we don’t have to do anything; we’re Charleston; and you don’t have anywhere else to go.’ ”

Let’s hope Charleston “ups” its game.

Starting today.

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