Thursday, July 23, 2015

Big 12 Needs to Be 12, and Soon

By Jean Neuberger

The winds of change are picking up yet again.

As we head into the 2015 college football season, one would've thought that, during this, the "talking-season," one would've thought that the biggest push from coaches and administrator, especially those in the Big 12, would be an expansion of the College Football Playoff to eight teams.

While there was talk and endorsement of the idea, it was overshadowed by the one thing that has defined college football in the past decade.

Realignment. It's coming again.

The first ripples came from Oklahoma President David Boren. Boren expressed legitimate, long-term concern about the future of the conference, given that it seemed to be happy settling with just 10 teams. Boren was clear that he wanted expansion and that it was needed, despite the recent response from Commissioner Bob Bowlsby that there was "no interest" in expansion this year.

Simply put, Boren is right. If there is one conference that needs expansion, that needs to assert itself after being raided by the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC, it's the Big 12. It needs a championship game. It needs to stretch it's media presence. Mostly, it needs to show that there is long-term stability within; that they won't be raided by the other power conferences for teams anytime soon.

And for the last reason, Bowlsby needs to pick up the phone and start making moves now.

The first candidate is easy: BYU. The Cougars tested the independent waters and realized it wasn't going to produce much success (get that, Notre Dame?). BYU is a large campus with a big fan base that adds a solid media market to the Big 12 picture. Sure, you have to dance around the Sunday issues with their student-athletes, but Brigham Young is a reasonable and good fit for the conference; a school that frankly wouldn't be bothered by the disproportionate money split that flows strongest towards Austin.

The second pick, though, is tough. The ideal pick is Notre Dame. Missouri's Gary Pinkel did make a good point in saying that Notre Dame needs to find a conference. The Irish have been proud independents for years and took a deal with the ACC to stay that way in football. But the fact is, the growth of the power conferences have made it much tougher on Notre Dame to win titles. And, with conferences pushing to nine-game conference slates, the chances for Notre Dame to have a tough enough schedule to be considered for the playoff gets a little tougher each season, even with the guaranteed partial ACC slate.

Alas, TV controls that situation and the Irish are going nowhere, so maybe a quick glance to Houston or SMU is best. However, I wouldn't count out Memphis, which brings a big media market in SEC country to the Big 12 table, or Central Florida, which has a huge student base to go with an expanding media presence. Nevertheless, the pickings are very slim right now, despite the need being great. Bowlsby might be able to wait in the short-term, but not for long.

The next couple of years will be crucial to not only the stability and long-term success of the Big 12; it will also play a massive role in the stability of the Power Five conferences and the degree of realignment that is inevitably on its way. Bowlsby might not be the most influential person in college football right now, but he might be in one of the most important positions.

It's Bowlsby who could decide the fates of so many FBS programs. He has to be wise in making his next steps. The Big 12 is certainly counting on him.

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