Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Big 12 will hang at 10

Expansion of conference to embrace more schools is off the table for now, as focus shits to better over bigger.

Posted July 21st, 2015

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Story highlights
  • So sorry, BYU. My apologies, Cincinnati. Keep waiting, Central Florida and Houston.
  • Maybe, as Bowlsby said of football, 'We just need to play better.'

DALLAS — Sorry, college football fans.

I hate to disappoint you, but expansion for the Big 12 is not inevitable, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told me privately Monday. Nor is it even expected.

It’s somewhere in the vast in-between, a moving situation kind of like Donald Trump’s hair.

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So sorry, BYU. My apologies, Cincinnati. Keep waiting, Central Florida and Houston. Realignment apparently is not on the table. For now.

But the elephant in the room at Big 12 media days was unavoidable, especially after the Oklahoma president got up on his soapbox this summer and said the 10-team league was at a “psychological disadvantage” compared with the other Power Five conferences.

Bowlsby disagreed, but he did joke about himself that he was “personally at a psychological disadvantage.”

There was time for levity because the day was light on hard news, unlike last summer when Bowlsby ripped into the NCAA and spoke of widespread cheating. In the absence of such inflammatory remarks, there was more conversation about realignment, which is so common I’m assuming it will be introduced as an Olympic sport before the 2020 Games.

Realignment isn’t going away. But it’s not on the Big 12’s doorstep either, unless the league could pry a pair of schools from two power conferences where teams have not signed away their grant of rights. Neither the Big Ten nor the SEC has such legal obligations, making them fair game. It would be more difficult to lure someone from the ACC or Pac-12 because of their contractual stipulations.

That said, it’s highly unlikely the Big 12 could snatch away an Arkansas and an LSU. The Big 12 would probably love to steal back a Nebraska or a Texas A&M, but the Men of Corn aren’t returning because of the access to hundreds of millions of dollars in research money the Big Ten has brought them. As for the Aggies, whom are we kidding? Can’t see them ever doing a U-turn because they’re still thrilled they’re out of the Longhorns’ shadow and playing in the world’s best league, even if they haven’t yet won a trophy.

Maybe the Big 12 does need to grow. Or maybe, as Bowlsby said of football,”We just need to play better.”

If anything, the Big 12 is still fighting perception that the league is down and a bit irrelevant. But that has more to do with the falloff of Texas and Oklahoma and a recent 2-5 bowl record.

No one inside the Big 12 is banging down Bowlsby’s door about expansion, aside from OU’s David Boren’s provocative comments.

“It is my understanding at the present time that the majority of our presidents and chancellors believe 10 is the right number for us,” Bowlsby said. “There are those that believe we should get larger, and they feel strongly about it. There are those who believe we should stay at 10, and they feel strongly about it. And there are probably four or five in the middle who are persuadable one way or the other. And I think that’s exactly where we’re at.”

Outside the league, however, everyone’s pressing him for an invitation.

Heck, Bowlsby quipped that at least “20 (school reps) would walk naked to Dallas to join.”

I’m not among those who think the Big 12 is desperate to grow. While I still think BYU would make an outstanding addition, there’s just not enough in the available school talent pool to entice the league to act. But colleges need to stop the backslide of diminishing rivalries, whether it’s A&M-Texas or Notre Dame-Michigan.

“The loss of rivalries are one of the most dangerous things in sports,” Bowlsby said. “Without rivalries, you have less interest in the sport.”

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder voiced his strong support for expanding the league and instituting a conference championship game if one is adopted after NCAA deregulation in January. But even then, who can forget A&M over Kansas State or Colorado over Texas? Of the 11 instances in which Big 12 teams had a shot at the national title, five lost in Big 12 title games. That’s a good thing?

The Big 12 might be forced to go down that path, although there appears to be little benefit other than a payout that would produce between $20 million and $30 million. That’s chump change for what a national title game can bring.

However, the league might be compelled to act just to get an extra game, as it learned when Ohio State bum-rushed Wisconsin in the Big Ten finale to edge out Baylor for the final spot. And the message?

“Thirteen is better than 12,” Bowlsby said.

Games, not teams. Another message is clearer: Just get better, Big 12.

Contact Kirk Bohls at 512-445-3772.

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