It seem inevitable now that the Big 12 (which has ten teams) won’t expand back to 12 teams in the near future. Memphis, Houston, UCF and Colorado State seem to be the schools most aggressively pursuing an invitation.
The departure of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten during the big realignment fever that grappled college football, left the Big 12 in an interesting position: Ten teams happy with the situation due to the money being split between less members, but also at something of a disadvantage because they don’t have a championship game. Many think that is the reason TCU or Baylor missed out on a playoff invite in 2014, although Oklahoma getting in (and losing to Clemson) proves it might have to do with other reasons.
Either way, the Big 12 seems to be moving ahead towards expansion and also having a championship game. Documents ESPN.com has obtained show that officials from the University of Houston, the University of Memphis, University of Central Florida and Colorado State University have been lobbying members of the Big 12’s composition committee. Houston, Memphis and UCF play in the American conference, which is out of the power five conferences. Colorado State are part of the Mountain West conference.
What did the documents reveal? West Virginia president (a school very interested in the expansion, feeling like the odd team out geographically) Gordon Gee flew to Houston to tour the school’s athletic facilities and speak with top officials, and review a spreadsheet of the Houston football team’s TV ratings in the Houston market during the 2015 season. Gee is part of the composition committee for the Big 12, which also includes Oklahoma president David Boren and Baylor president Ken Starr.
Memphis president David Rudd wrote a letter to the three, promising to pledge $500 million investment in academic and athletic infrastructure over the next five years, and noted that FedEx chairman Fred Smith is going to be providing the school with the financial power behind the move. FedEx would also be willing to sponsor the Big 12 championship game, but this seems like something that will happen only if Memphis are accepted as a member of the conference.
There have also been talks with university presidents of Colorado State and UCF. Boren has been the driving force behind the move towards expansion, saying the league “psychologically disadvantaged’ without 12 teams, a championship game and a conference network. Texas, who are refusing to give up on the failed Longhorns Network, are something of an obstacle in that manner, although more money is alway something that convinces people to give up their principles.
What about Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati and Florida State? They might be something the Big 12 dream about or muse about, but in reality, the schools that there has been contact with seem like much more reasonable and realistic options. With the direction college football is taking and the changing opinions of power brokers within the Big 12, it’ll be difficult keeping the conference at its current structure and size.
However, don’t be surprised if this attempt at expanding the conference results in contraction and disbanding it. The SEC will be happy to court both Texas and Oklahoma, while we’ve heard the Pac-12 connected to these schools in the past. While college football powers seems happy with five big conferences, the vision of four super conferences might become a reality at some point.