Just five months ago, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby predicted that his conference would be doomed unless it did something to substantially change its standing with the Power Five conferences, at least from a revenue standpoint.
Big12 commish Bob Bowlsby: "If we do nothing we'll be substantially behind (other Power leagues) a decade from now."
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) May 4, 2016
The thought, at least at that point, was that the conference had to expand beyond 10 teams in order to keep up, at least financially, with so many of its teams struggling with small alumni bases (by power conference standards) and small TV markets. So of course, in its press conference on Monday to address the future, the Big 12 chose… to do nothing.
“This was not a decision not to expand. This was an endorsement and a reinvestment in the strength of the 10 that we have,” Bowlsby said of the conference’s decision to stay at 10 members.
Going to be interesting to hear Big 12 spin after 11 schools spent a lots of time, money and prestige trying to impress the presidents.
— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) October 17, 2016
But don’t be fooled. The Big 12 is just not doing anything at this time. It might expand in the future. Or maybe not. All we know is that the Big 12 has absolutely no clue what it’s doing. In the span of about 15 months, the conference has done all of the following:
- Oklahoma president David Boren, who has spent the past year-and-a-half as quasi-Big 12 spokesman by simply thinking out loud, said the conference is “psychologically disadvantaged.”
- The conference used very fake math to determine that it needed a championship game and needed to expand, then only did one of those things.
- Boren, thinking out loud once again, said the Big 12 needed a TV network of its own (and to expand, and add a conference championship game) and it needed to do all of those things at the same time. Again, it did one of them.
- Boren also wanted Texas to eliminate the Longhorn Network.
- The Big 12 is also just a few years out from passing up on Louisville in its initial expansion push after the conference was raided by the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12. It chose not to take the Cardinals, who landed on their feet in the ACC, because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Officials at three key Big 12 expansion target schools all say same thing. They felt insulted by Boren's we-didn't-discuss-anyone comments.
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) October 18, 2016
The infighting, the indecision and the lack of any sort of plan is all hilarious, but what’s important to know after all of this mess is that the Big 12 is still probably screwed in the near future. Bowlsby was right about the other conferences passing his up. The Big 12 paid out around $20 million to its member schools this year, while the SEC is well past $30 million and the Big Ten is headed toward $50 million in just a few years.
With so much more money in the system than there was a decade ago, and none of it going to players, schools are essentially building recruiting palaces. High-priced projects once reserved only for donation-driven fundraising are starting to come only from TV money. That first wave is just arriving now, as Iowa is using its future TV earnings to finance a massive, $90 million stadium renovation. Projects in the hundreds of millions are likely to follow. The Big 12 will be left out of that, and thus, left behind in recruiting.
Do you think the two national brands in the conference — Texas and Oklahoma — are going to stay satisfied as everyone else’s revenue skyrockets? Would Oklahoma really rebuff the Big Ten when its TV deal is up in six years, and when its per-school conference shares could sail north of $60 million? The Big 12 has no chance of keeping its stars, and therefore its stature, in a case like that.
Regardless of the expansion decision, the Big 12 faces an almost certain death as a true power conference within the coming years due to those market forces. All we learned Monday is that the Big 12 still has no clue how to even begin to slow that demise, and it seems to be throwing in the towel on even trying.