Commentary: Conference Expansion Rumors - Your Guess Is As Good As Mine
by Jonathan Hodges
Note: I have admittedly been absent from this scene for some time this
offseason, basically since the post-bowl game wrap up, but I will begin to post
preseason musings shortly, including a wrap-up of the spring practice season and
my usual preseason predictions.
The last time
that I chimed in about potential Big Ten conference expansion was back in
December, shortly after the conference officially announced they would be
looking into it. At the time, everyone figured they would be looking at adding
one member, setting up a conference championship, and taking probably one year
or more to do so. Things have drastically changed in the ensuing six months, to
say the least.
Within a month or two, the news came out that the Big Ten
was looking to add up to five additional members to yield a 16 member league.
All of the previously mentioned schools (Notre Dame, Missouri, Rutgers,
Syracuse, and Pittsburgh) were still on the table, but a few more were thrown
into the mix for good measure (Connecticut, Nebraska, and, the heavy hitter,
Texas). With that announcement, things began to shift across the nation, most
noticeably in the Big XII and Pac 10 conferences. Now time to try and sort this
all out, especially since an "ultimatum" deadline is quickly approaching for two
of the potential expansion candidates.
Revenue is the
As I mentioned in the last article that money was the key driver
in conference expansion, and other conferences have now had their hands forced
with the Big Ten looking to potentially scoop up five more members and expand
their (and their television network's) reach. The Pac 10 and the Big XII have
two of the worst television contracts of any of the six BCS conferences, with
unequal revenue sharing and very poor cable TV deals. They both have a primary
deal with ABC/ESPN, albeit not even close to as big of deals as the Big Ten and
SEC have, but then have the remainder of their games either stuck on regional or
low penetration networks (Fox Sports Net and Versus, respectively) or left off
of television altogether.
Rumors began to circulate that the Pac 10 and
Big XII were looking to partner and start their own TV network together (and
most likely renegotiate their primary deals with ABC/ESPN) in order to get into
the game. Then the Pac 10 apparently was ready to really stir the pot when it
was announced that they would pursue expansion by six teams, all of them coming
from the Big XII. Those teams would potentially be Texas, Texas A&M, Texas
Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado.
Current rumors are that the Pac 10 has authorized their commissioner, Larry Scott, to
pursue and take action on expansion, including adding six members, adding just
two members (rumored to be Colorado and Utah), pulling off some mega-merger by
joining with the Big XII as a whole, or (of course) doing nothing. Also added
to the mix is some good-ole Texas politicking where the state legislature
would require Baylor to be taken with Texas, wherever they may go (remember when
the Southwestern Conference was dismantled in order to form the Big XII,
then-Texas governor and Baylor alumna Ann Richards forced Baylor to go in over
the likes of TCU, SMU, and Rice).
The key, though, is that the Pac 10 is
looking to increase their guaranteed revenue stream by expanding and starting
their own television network.
The Fate of the Big
It looks pretty clear that the Big XII is hanging by a thread
with every conference that is pursing expansion targeting Texas, easily the
biggest revenue generator in that conference. It is also rather clear that
Texas won't be leaving without some cohorts, including Texas Tech, Texas
A&M, and, most likely, Baylor. It would probably also be desirable for
Oklahoma (and Oklahoma State) to tag along, especially if that expanding
conference is the Pac 10 (since they can accommodate more new members,
As mentioned earlier, the Big XII does not employ equal
revenue sharing, which makes the internal relationships a big unsteady at this
point. Also, remember that this conference is not that old and is comprised of
four members of the old SWC plus the Big 8 (all the members of the Big XII North
plus the Oklahoma schools). Therefore, the ties just don't run as deep as
either the Big Ten or Pac 10, who have had rather steady membership over most of
the past 100 years.
Don't Forget the MWC
It gets even
more intriguing with the Mountain West Conference (the MWC) looking to expand
themselves and potentially become a BCS conference. Utah and TCU had great
decades on the field, and now they are looking to add a 10th member who has also
had a pretty good run themselves, Boise State. That is rumored to be happening
in short order (i.e. this summer).
If the Big XII does indeed implode,
leaving the likes of Kansas State, Iowa State, Kansas, and maybe even Colorado,
expect the Mountain West to jump all over them in order to elevate to BCS status
in place of the Big XII. Also note that the MWC does already have their own
television network, the Mtn, which would receive a huge boost by adding more
Unfortunately for them, their conference doesn't have
nearly enough sway to bring in anyone outside of Boise State on their own, so
they'll likely be waiting for scraps after the primary battle has
What is interesting is that in the mid-1990's, the Western
Athletic Conference (WAC), of which Boise State is currently a member, expanded to 16 teams and then disintegrated when eight schools
left to form the Mountain West thanks to additional television revenue that
What's Going to Happen
guess is as good as yours until something comes out officially. Rumor has it
that Nebraska and Missouri are on the clock in terms of their intentions (i.e.
will they leave for the Big Ten), and if their answer is unsatisfactory, it
appears as though the Big XII South is ready to bolt to the Pac 10 (or whatever
it will potentially be called). The Big Ten has announced that it is willing to accelerate its timetable due
to other conferences potential expansion, so expect that something will happen
The most intriguing scenario is the Big XII South joining the Pac
10, Missouri and Nebraska (plus some more schools in the East) joining the Big
Ten, and the MWC grabbing up the scraps that are left behind. I'm not certain
such a seismic shift will happen, although it is not unprecedented (see what
happened when the Big XII formed). Following the last major conference
alignment (when the ACC expanded to 12 teams), the Big East was left weaker, but
never went away, and the "mid-major" conferences that were raided (most notably
Conference USA) still exist.
A lot depends on if the conferences actually
want to expand beyond 12 teams, which likely hinges on the potential revenue
those extra schools would bring. I don't think anyone has a clear picture
except for maybe the Big Ten expansion committee, which has a six month head
start on everyone else in their research. But with conferences now in a
reactionary and/or defensive position, anything can happen after the first one
pulls the trigger.
Previous jhodges commentary
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