GRAPEVINE, Texas – If you’re surprised that the Big 12 Conference voted thumbs down on expansion, then you obviously have not been paying attention.
The indications leading up to the quarterly Board of Directors meetings held Monday at the DFW Grand Hyatt hotel clearly pointed that none of the dozen candidates moved the needle. The unanimous decision by the 10 presidents and chancellors was the status quo.
“All the schools participated very actively in the decision,” said David Boren, Oklahoma president and chair of the board of directors. “So once that decision was made, once we decided that this issue would no longer stay on the agenda, we decided to move on.”
Boren also said “never say never” when it comes to expansion … because never is a very long time. If there is a positive it was this: A conference that often bumbles and stumbles made a decision. Expansion is no longer on its agenda.
“I made one recommendation on expansion and that was we should bring this to closure and not kick the can down the road,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “This was not a decision to not expand. This was an endorsement and reinvestment in the 10 that we had.”
Individual schools weren’t discussed by the board, although Bowlsby said he referenced some schools during his 90-minute presentation on his expansion research. Had a decision been made to expand, it’s doubtful that any of the 12 candidates would have received the necessary eight votes for approval.
The Dismissed Dozen — Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, UConn, SMU, South Florida, Central Florida, Air Force, Colorado State, Rice and Tulane – were contacted by Bowlsby Monday afternoon following the the meeting that wrapped up and adjourned about two hours earlier than expected.
University of Houston president Renu Khator responded with this Tweet:
Cincinnati interim president Beverly Davenport responded this way:
And Tilman Fertitta, chair of the UH board of regents, boldly claimed the Cougars will wind up in a Power Five conference.
That might be as bold a prediction as betting on the Big 12’s future.
The process that led to nearly 20 schools figuratively raising their hands to be considered caused considerable consternation – East Carolina? San Diego State? Really? But Boren explained there was a method to the madness.
“You don’t want to be guilty of tortious interference with members who feel they’re in one way or another bound to another conference,” Boren said.
While other conferences have regarded “tortious interference” as Pinocchio regarded the truth, the Big 12 believed that it needed to be above board in the process. Plus, the exploration of expansion was not a guarantee that the Big 12 would add members. Covert operations with schools who were negotiating with no guarantees would have been worse than the “beauty pageant” staged by the Big 12.
“It was perhaps a little more of a sweepstakes than we might have thought it was gonna be at the very beginning,” Bowlsby said. “But it was a very good process.”
In the last 18 months, the Big 12 has heard one of its biggest voices – Boren – bleat about the Big 12 being “psychologically disadvantaged” to claiming kumbaya. He explained Monday that his infamous comment had to do with his perception that the Big 12 needed its own network.
“The circumstances have changed,” Boren said. “The marketplace has in essence made that decision (no network) for us.”
In June, the Big 12 boasted record revenue sharing and a championship game restart and six weeks later dropped the bomb that commissioner Bob Bowlsby had been charged with researching expansion candidates.
And on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, the Big 12 remains hale and hearty. Cue Kevin Bacon in “Animal House” — remain calm, all is well.
All one can do is listen to what the Big 12’s leaders say and try to digest the meaning of the words. Do they mean what they say? Are the 10 Big 12 schools – especially Oklahoma and Texas – all in on remaining members of the smallest Power Five conference?
“I have never heard, since I’ve been on the board, such strong commitments and such a unified sense of purpose on the board,” said Boren, who has been OU’s president since the Big 12’s inception. “There have been times over the past in the history of the Big 12 when there’s not been that sense of unity in the room, real cohesion, and sincere commitment.
“In my opinion, there’s not a single school in this conference that is looking to go elsewhere. We are committed to each other. We’re committed to the Big 12 Conference. We’re committed to staying in the Big 12 Conference and making it as strong as possible.”
Predicting the future, especially how and what college sports will look like in, say, six years, is a fool’s errand. As Bowlsby astutely pointed out, more inventory (and more schools) is needed for a linear conference network that runs 24-7. But a digital, on-demand delivery system via streaming, if monetized, could be the sweet spot for a 10-team conference.
After the news conference, I asked Bowlsby about the nattering nabobs of negativity who will claim that the Big 12 as a 10-team conference won’t last after the handcuffs of the grant of rights are unlocked, allowing Texas and Oklahoma to be free agents for any conference.
“I’ll predict the future,” he said. “I think we’ve got a very bright future. We’re competitive and energetic and we’ve got great schools. I think that we’ll have lots of good things in our future.
“The only thing constant is change.”
And as for now, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, the 10-member Big 12 isn’t changing.