Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addresses attendees during Big 12 media day, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Dallas. With expansion still an unsettled issue for the Big 12 Conference, Commissioner Bowlsby gave his annual state of the league address to open football media days. And a day later he meets with the league's board of directors. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Football

Changing course: Big 12 presidents will now ‘actively evaluate’ conference expansion

At spring meetings, Big 12 presidents were lukewarm toward expansion. Now, 2-4 teams could be added by 2017

Posted July 19th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • As many as 10 schools have been mentioned as possible expansion targets.
  • Cincinnati, Houston, UConn, BYU, Memphis are all possibilities.
  • OU's David Boren: 'There are a number of factors that will be considered.'

DALLAS — The Big 12 Conference, long perceived as being reactive instead of proactive, abruptly switched gears on Tuesday and will now examine whether adding two or four expansion schools can strengthen the league’s overall profile.

The league’s 10 presidents met on Tuesday in Dallas away from the Omni Hotel, where dozens of reporters were holed up for Big 12 media days.

On a teleconference afterward, Oklahoma president David Boren said, “There was continued interest expressed in expansion.” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was authorized to actively evaluate what schools are interested and to report those findings back to the league presidents.

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“We just finished the meeting, and I don’t know that I’m prepared to put a timeframe on it right now,” Bowlsby said. “But we intend to be active very soon.”

Later, Bowlsby said new schools could be added as soon as the 2017-18 athletic year. That’s fantastic news to school officials in places like Cincinnati, Houston, South Florida and BYU.

At least 10 schools have been connected to a larger Big 12, although it’s unclear which schools would be favored and which schools aren’t.

“If we are to expand, we want to find the strongest possible partners for expansion,” Boren said. “We’re not talking about just athletic partners, which of course that’s very important. What is the fan base? What is the TV following? But also what are the academic standards of these schools? What reputations do these schools have as institutions of integrity and shared values with us?

“So there are a number of factors that will be considered.”

While expansion will thrill some, it’s unclear what changed from the Big 12 spring meetings when expansion talk was cooling. Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione went a step further earlier this month by telling CBS Sports that expansion was dead “for the time being.”

Big 12 officials made it sound like expansion was no longer needed once the league brought back the football championship game for the 2017 season. That was the much-discussed “13th data point” that College Football Playoff organizers wanted to see. The championship game is expected to be worth approximately $30 million — about $3 million for each school.

“The Big 12 will benefit from its champion having played another game against a quality opponent,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said Tuesday. “That’s what the Big 12 has been missing.”

Bowlsby never closed the door completely on expansion, though. On Monday, the ACC reached an agreement with ESPN for a digital network. Boren said Big 12 presidents didn’t have details of the ACC contract yet. Could the Big 12 strengthen its leverage with TV partners to get a conference network by adding more teams? Boren wasn’t sure.

Texas President Gregory L. Fenves told the American-Statesman in June that a case for conference expansion had to be “a strong one.” Apparently, now it is.

“I would be presumptuous and not fully honest if I told you that I have a completely fleshed-out plan on it at this point,” Bowlsby said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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