College Football Conference Expansion: What if the Big 12 Acts First?
Assume for a moment, if you will, that the presidents from the schools that make up the Big 12 Conference call an impromptu meeting concerning the possibility of losing a school, or schools, to the Pac-10 or Big Ten.
At this huge roundtable event, the debate gets heated. Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado all have to fend off accusations of flirtations with the other conferences.
Finally, after some time and much arguing, Big 12 Conference Commissioner Dan Beebe says, "Enough!"
The room quiets down. All eyes focus on Commissioner Beebe. Knowing he only has as much power as the school presidents allow him, he takes charge.
"Gentlemen," he begins, "we have to decide right now if we are all in, or all out. We have a great conference, but if we don't make some tough decisions, we risk losing everything we have built over the last 16 years. I don't think any of us want that."
As the conversation moves forward and each person is allowed the opportunity to voice their opinions, their concerns, and their desires for the conference's future, it becomes apparent that everyone would ideally like to stay associated and for the Big 12 to survive and grow.
During the 2008 season, the Big 12 saw unprecedented levels of exposure and—at least for one season—had the country questioning whether the Big 12 might be positioning itself to overtake the SEC as the nation's dominant conference.
Fast-forward to February 2010, and the Big 12 now looks more like the prey than the predator. Now, instead of discussions about the dominance of the Big 12, the talk centers around whether the Big Ten and Pac-10 will expand to 12, 14, or 16 teams, and, in the process, how many teams will they pilfer from the Big 12 while they grow.
So, back to the meeting.
As the discussion continues, and at least the consensus of a desire to stay together—assuming certain concessions are made—is agreed upon, someone suggests expanding the Big 12. Instead of waiting around to see what happens, why not make a move to strengthen the Big 12?
Strengthen it to the point that losing a conference member or two is no longer an option—or a concern.
As ideas are discussed, all sides agree that the likelihood of coaxing current Big Ten, Pac-10, or SEC members to leave the comfy confines they call home to join up with the Big 12 are unrealistic, if not a definite impossibility.
Likewise, the ACC seems to be content in its current capacity, and neither the WAC, Sun Belt, nor Conference USA are home to many attractive options that would enhance the appeal and strength of the Big 12.
The Mountain West Conference has a few options of interest, but those options don't bring enough market size nor commercial appeal to center the conference's future around. Not enough heat.
The Big 12 knows at this point that it has to think outside of the box.
And then, it hits them...the Big East.
Across the country, everyone's favorite BCS punching bag is without question the Big East Conference. Yet, when talk of expansion looms, the first names always mentioned as candidates to enhance a conference's profile are schools from the Big East.
Now, before I am declared insane at the idea of the Big 12 grabbing teams from the northeastern part of the country, hear me out.
Currently, the biggest problem facing the Big 12 is a lack of television market accessibility. The lack of that market is the main reason the Big 12 has substantially lesser TV contracts than do the SEC and Big Ten.
The lack of market share is why the Big 12 is currently in danger of losing teams to more market friendly conferences.
The main reason the Big Ten would be interested in teams from the Big East is because of their market share footprint the Big East provides.
The Big 12 has two divisions made up of six teams each, based on geography. Is it written anywhere that a conference cannot consist of three divisions? You already have a Big 12 North and a Big 12 South. Why not a Big 12 East?
For the Big 12 East Division, the conference could grab Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, and Cincinnati. Talk about expanding a conference's market share.
Obviously the first question that comes to mind is the travel headache that would ensue.
Well, to a degree, that would be true. But the close proximity of the six Big East schools ensure they going to have at least five reasonable close conference division games.
In alternating years, each school would be facing one current Big 12 team on the road and two at home, and then the following year two current Big 12 teams on the road and one at home. When you factor in that each Big East team currently makes trips down to Florida and out to Wisconsin, the trips out west do not seem as daunting as one would initially think.
Of course, the Big 12 would now be a theoretical "Big 18 Conference," but the lucrative northeastern television market (rumored to be the main reason the Big East still has a BCS bid) paired with the household names already in existence in the Big 12 would give the Big 12 bargaining power like no college conference has seen before.
An 18-team super-conference might even give rise to a Big 18 Network. Think of the possible basketball matchups. UConn vs. Kansas. Syracuse vs. Texas. West Virginia vs. Oklahoma. How many NCAA tournament bids would this monster conference garner each season?
This conference is about football, however, and, say what you will, the Big East has proven itself against national competition, and the Big East teams would definitely be able to hold their own against Big 12 members on the gridiron.
At the end of each season, instead of having one conference championship game, the Big 18 would stage two semifinal conference battles featuring the three champions of each division plus one "at large" conference team (presumably the next highest finishing divisional team that did not win its division).
The winners of the two semifinal games would then meet in the conference championship game, with the winner receiving the Big 18's automatic BCS bid.
There will be arguments made that 18 teams would dilute conference revenue to the point of the Big 12 not having gained anything financially by expanding so large and over so much real estate.
Again, there is some truth to that. However, when you consider the added NCAA tournament revenue from all the additional bids this conference would receive (and let's face it, this league would have enough basketball firepower to grab eight or nine bids on an annual basis)...
When you consider the potential (although NCAA permission may be required) of having three playoff games within the conference that would all make money...
When you consider that this conference would absolutely have two BCS bids every season...
When you consider the television contracts for basketball and football a conference of this magnitude could garner, and the potential for starting its own lucrative network modeled after what the Big Ten has done (and with this many teams there would be no shortage or programming), coupled with all the markets this conference would encompass...
Finally, when you consider that this league could easily place 14 to 16 teams in bowl games in any given year, producing a ton of bowl money to divide among the schools...
When you take all that into account, as crazy a concept as it might seem like, you could envision a world in which a scenario like this might happen.
Will it happen? The chances are just about slim to none.
But...if it did...no one could ever accuse the Big 12 of not thinking outside the box.
And it would make some individuals very nervous in the Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-10.
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