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Report: Big 12 won’t expand or add a conference TV network (at least for now)

Andre Simone Avatar
June 1, 2016


A report has surfaced today from Chip Brown of Horns Digest suggesting the Big 12 has no intention of expanding in 2016.

As Brown puts it, “Expansion is not happening and neither is a Big 12 network – not this year, multiple sources across the Big 12 as well as TV industry sources told HornsDigest.com.”

While talks had picked up recently, leading many Colorado State Rams fans to get excited, with several Big 12 school presidents advocating publicly for expansion, the atmosphere seems to have changed in meetings this week in Dallas. Oklahoma president David Boren has been one of the most vocal advocates for conference expansion in the past and even he’s recently said, “I think we kind of got out ahead of ourselves,” Boren told reporters recently. “Somehow, the speculation got out ahead of what the reality on the ground is.”

So what is the reality? And what are the roadblocks holding back a potential Big 12 expansion?

The Roadblocks:

Wait a conference championship is possible with just 10 teams?

The biggest assumption (at least from an outside perspective) is that the Big 12 has to expand so that they can have a conference championship and thus a better shot at getting a team in the playoffs. Not so fast my friend! That might not be true.

Brown reports that while expansion is not on the table for these meetings, a potential conference championship is, meaning a championship is being thought up with just 10 teams. This takes away the leverage of any possible suitors (CSU included) and any urgency the Big 12 might have had to expand.

While a conference championship in a 10-team league would mean a regular season rematch in the title game, Brown also explained that potential revenue from the championship game could be of $20-$30 million in TV dollars for the conference and $2-$3 million per participating school. That, plus adding a 13th game for the playoff committee to evaluate the Big 12 candidates, could be enough for the Big 12 to not feel the expansion pressure anymore and survive under the present structure.

TV Money:

Well, truth is this is all about money, but while a conference championship could be the solution to mainlining a 10-team Big 12, the biggest roadblock to expansion is the existing TV contracts that the conference is already tied into.

The Big 12 is currently under contract with Fox and ESPN through 2024 and the University of Texas is tied into a contract with ESPN and the Longhorn Network through 2030.

If this were twenty years ago, this might not be as much of an issue to expansion, but in 2016, conference expansion means adding a conference TV network, period. In essence, there is no 12-team Big 12 without a Big 12 Network, simply put the two are one and the same.

This is why Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has called “the Longhorn Network a boulder in the road,” not just for expansion, but of how the conference is currently constructed with revenue sharing and future TV deals all being affected by it. Part of why other (meaning not Texas) school presidents were pushing for expansion was because the controversial Longhorn Network would have to disappear for that to happen. Now it seems people are realizing that might be easier said than done, as ESPN committed $300 million through 20 years to the network and Longhorns. A way out of the Longhorn Network has to be found before a Big 12 Network is feasible, in essence.

A lack of desirable candidates:

While expansion was fast and furious in 2011, it was primarily with Power 5 teams moving to other Power 5 conferences. The nonpower-5 schools don’t seem to appeal as much despite TCU’s recent success in the Big 12.

Oklahoma president David Boren added: “I personally do not have any candidates at this point.” Insinuating that there really wasn’t anyone who jumped out.

Brown went on to explain:

“The Big 12’s own research seems to reveal a bunch of positives about expansion and how expansion would help the formation of a Big 12 Network and how a football title game would add money.

But the research never talked about specific candidates. And the bottom line is – non-Power 5 candidates don’t move the meter. Period. The Big 12 already did a study – nearly five years ago – on candidates like Cincinnati, UConn, etc, and the TV partners said those candidates wouldn’t warrant redoing current TV contracts.”

While Denver is a greater market than Cincinnati, one has to assume that CSU and their market share of the metro area would warrant about the same interest and TV revenue increase. Yes, it would be a step up for the Rams, the Big 12 is still unconvinced that CSU or any of the expansion candidates are going to upgrade the conference in the two areas that matter most, wins on the field and increasing revenues.

So what now?

First, the Big 12 needs to find some real solutions to some of the conference’s biggest issues. A conference championship has to be established regardless of what the decision may be on expansion, or the conferences biggest problem remains. The Longhorn Network needs to be figured out as well, it was initially a solution to keep the conference together back in 2011 when disbandment seemed possible, now it’s one of the biggest issues in the present construction of the league and might be it’s biggest obstacle moving forward.

While this might quell things, for now, these two issues need to be resolved without expansion, if expansion talks are going to stop anytime soon. Finding resolutions to these two things is the only way expansion talk truly disappears.

Brown suggests that 2024 might be a better time to revisit expansion talks, when ESPN and Fox’s contracts are up, by then the landscape of all of the college football could be much different. It will be essential for the Rams to not stand by and wait until then.


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