Big 12 Not Expanding Should Surprise No One

Ryan Mayer

The Big 12 conference ended it’s long audition process for new members yesterday by announcing that they had decided not to accept any new members. In his press conference, commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that the decision wasn’t one of not expanding so much as it was an “endorsement and reinvestment in the 10 that we had.”

So, here we are, after three months of pageantry and presentations and whispers of as many as 20 different schools being under consideration for a coveted spot in a Power 5 conference, nobody gets in. The Big 12 is Lucy and all of the schools that were jockeying for a potential spot in the league are Charlie Brown.

As Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports wrote in reaction to the news, the conference owes all of the schools it dangled the carrot of expansion in front of an apology. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, a University of Texas alum, blasted the conference for not bringing in Houston. Looking back though, we should have probably seen this coming.

It was just a little over two months ago now that we were made aware that the conference’s TV partners, ESPN and FOX, were unhappy with the talk of expansion. The reason for that unhappiness was the potential $20-25 million dollars per school that the cable networks would have to cough up as part of a “pro rata” clause in their contracts with the Big 12.

Then, on Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel reported that the networks had reportedly been in contact with the conference about potentially kicking in more money if they didn’t expand. As one source that Thamel quoted in the article noted:

“If they put more money up and bought out that pro rata clause, we’ll likely keep ourselves at 10,” speculated a high-ranking Big 12 source.”

Granted, no renegotiated TV deal was announced yesterday, but one has to believe that conversations are ongoing between the conference and its TV partners. Television contracts are the main reason that we saw the first round of conference realignment a few years ago, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that TV partners likely influenced the decision not to expand.

That makes yesterday’s decision make a little more sense. The 10 schools in the conference essentially decided to add a few more zeroes to their own bottom lines in exchange for voting not to expand the conference further. The TV partners don’t have to cough up the extra money for the conference adding schools making them happy. In the short term, it’s a win-win.

Overall, the Big 12 didn’t necessarily need to expand. The expansion talk blossomed out of the conference missing the first College Football Playoff in 2014. The studies they had done concluded that adding a couple teams in order to have a conference championship game would give them a better chance of making the playoff going forward. What their studies didn’t tell them is that their TV partners would balk at paying the money that adding teams to the conference would entail. Once that happened, expansion was pretty much dead in the water.

Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.

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