The University of Texas played host to a Big 12 Commissioners Panel earlier today, during which current Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and former commissioner Dan Beebe answered questions on a range of subjects, including conference realignment. Current Big 12 Deputy Commissioner Tim Weiser was also on hand to field questions.
Bowlsby discussed the summer of 2010, during which it was rumored that the Pac-12 had invited the Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Oklahoma State Cowboys, and the Texas A&M Aggies to head west. Bowlsby said that no official invites were sent, and that such moves wouldn’t have made geographic sense.
It was somewhat surprising to hear a conference commissioner talk about the importance of geography given that a conference branching outside of its traditional borders to add members is becoming more common. It was more surprising hearing it from the man who ushered the West Virginia Mountaineers into the Big 12. Continuing on the point of geography, Beebe said that location can’t be the only factor, and that where the students attending a school come from was also important.
Beebe used the Colorado Buffaloes as an example saying that they were a good fit in the Pac-12 since many of their students come from the west coast. He also pointed out that the Big 10 adding the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins made geographic sense because it helped connect the Penn State Nittany Lions to the east coast where a large number of their attendees hail from.
From there the discussion turned to how the Big 12 was dealing with making WVU more comfortable in the conference. There was a consensus amongst the panelists that the TCU Horned Frogs integrated much faster than the Mountaineers due to their location. West Virginia is more than a bit outside of the Big 12’s traditional territory, but the school fit the Big 12 mold and was added despite the geography issues. From Bowlsby’s comments it was apparent that fitting the mold was the most important thing in deciding candidates for future membership.
While the commissioner maintained that the Big 12 will hold at ten members until “persuaded” to do otherwise, he did hint at which schools could be targeted should the conference expand. When asked if there were any teams that could persuade expansion, Bolwsby replied that there were none he was prepared to discuss at the moment. That tells me that the Big 12 has a list of schools they want to add. Bowlsby continued by saying, “If you want to know what schools the Big 12 might be interested in look at the conference’s current members”.
If that is the way we are to play this game then so be it. Schools that have history with current members would be near the top of the list. That means that the SMU Mustangs (former member of the Southwest Conference, big rivalry with TCU), Cincinnati Bearcats (member of Big East with WVU), Boise State Broncos (had a blossoming rivalry with TCU when both were Mountain West members), and the BYU Cougars (popular non-conference opponent in the past and future) are all prime targets for expansion. Just following the clues here Mr. Bowlsby.
Signs that expansion wasn’t in the cards included Bowlsby said that he was happy with not having a conference championship game. He backed a notion that Beebe brought up, which was that by not having a conference championship you avoid the risk of your best team getting upset and not challenging for the national championship. While that is true, I think it would be healthier for the Big 12 to see the “best” team upset in the conference title game rather than have to endure seeing the Kansas State Wildcats get flogged by the Oregon Ducks in a BCS game. Worse yet we could be subjected to once again watching OU get beaten mercilessly in a national championship game, but I digress.
The future is still murky in terms of when or if the Big 12’s name will ever make numerical sense. Bowlsby repeatedly put down the thought that 16 team conferences were a good idea, but 12 really is a perfect number. That is enough teams for two divisions and a championships game, while few enough to keep your traditional rivals playing each other on a regular basis. Despite that lingering murk, I feel the picture has been made a bit clearer and that the Big 12 will expand when the time is right.
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