On Tuesday afternoon, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and chairman of the board David Boren revealed that the Big 12 presidents have authorized Bowlsby to begin vetting candidates for expansion.
Boren had previously been a very outspoken advocate for expansion but quieted down across the summer, to the point where it seemed unlikely. Now conference leadership will be meeting with schools.
This is the strongest step that the conference has taken at any point during this latest episode of EXPANSION WATCH, with the Big 12 potentially looking to move quickly— schools may join as early as 2017. This exploratory proposal moved forward with a unanimous vote, which means the schools which had previously been against expansion, most notably Texas, now appear to be on board.
This announcement comes on the heels of reports earlier in the day that the ACC would be launching a television network and extending its Grant of Rights, an agreement where a school leaving the conference would have to forfeit television revenue, to 2036. Even though Boren, also Oklahoma's president, renounced the idea of a conference television network just over a month ago, he and the Big 12 leadership have suddenly changed their mind.
"We live in a very fast-changing world," Boren said.
Boren and Bowlsby stated that possible expansion could involve two or four more teams, and listed a set of criteria for candidates which did not include geography— an omission which may give UConn fans hope. As for UConn's other weakness in this beauty pageant, quality of the football program, Boren provided some more optimism.
"We're looking at those schools that are not only have arrived competitively but have a huge potential to improve their competitive capabilities, too, by becoming members of our conference," he said.
Boren's comments also implied that the conference will be shopping around for the best offer, or more plainly, the school willing to make the most financial concessions for entry into the club. Emphasis is mine.
"[Bowlsby will] find out exactly the nature of the interest, evaluate what proposals they might make in accordance with their interests, and then he'll be reporting back to us," he shared.
The Big 12 schools will make $30 million each from the 2015-'16 season. American Athletic Conference members currently earn around $2 million per year, with the original Big East schools (UConn, South Florida, Cincinnati) having slightly more in the bank thanks to the 'Catholic 7' buyout money. With what may be the final "power conference" spots available, any school would be silly not to accept a much smaller share of the revenue pie in the interest of gaining shelter while still earning considerably more money than at its previous stop.
This opportunity is probably what makes expansion feasible, even for the Big 12 schools who were previously against it. In the arms race that is modern college athletics, it would be foolish to leave money on the table. And that's what it's all about.
Let's just simplify the situation and say the Big 12 revenue pie is $300 million. Adding four schools would bring in another $40 million. The championship game adds another $20-30 million and a digital network as a precursor to a cable network would produce revenue as well. If the conference can get new members to take less than an equal share in order to join, the money works out and they can negotiatie a bigger raise in the next network deal conversation. Those gains will help member schools keep up with the ACC, SEC or the $40+ million per year Big Ten schools will start raking in once their new TV deal kicks in.
The timing for a decision is still uncertain.
"It's possible that this could extend to our October board meeting," Bowlsby said. "But it's also possible that we could have a special meeting sometime between now and then."
UConn needs some sort of life raft out of the AAC. Whether it's the Big 12, ACC or Big 10 it needs to come relatively soon. With this being a good a chance as any, David Benedict's administration needs to bring its A-game in order to secure the future of Husky athletics.