Big 12 expansion is truly immortal.
The league elected to stay at 10 members back in October, disappointing the 20-plus candidates who signed up for a misguided, three-month beauty pageant in which no one was crowned the victor.
It was clear, however, that even if the Big 12 was done actively exploring expansion, the conversation and speculation would continue in some form as long as the league retained its status as the smallest Power 5 conference.
The Big 12 would expand if it had a suitable candidate. For now, it doesn’t, but nobody is more equipped to ignite an expansion discussion than Texas’ athletic director.
For now, that’s Mike Perrin, who told the Austin American-Statesman he “wouldn’t be surprised to see something happen” in Big 12 expansion before his tenure is up in August 2018.
That makes one of us, but “something happen” could mean anything from the Big 12 actually extending an invite to revisiting an exploration of future membership.
Either way, it’s worth discussing: What could be the next step for the Big 12?
Two scenarios stand out.
The first is a waiting game for the Big 12.
Earlier this month, the SEC announced it would be distributing a whopping $40 million per member. Exact comparisons get a bit sticky, but the Pac-12’s members can expect to receive somewhere around $27 million in conference revenue for the 2015-16 school year.
The Big Ten is expected to be somewhere in the ballpark of $35 million, but will see a significant uptick once the $2.64 billion Tier 1 deal it signed with ESPN activates.
Last June, the Big 12 announced it had distributed $30.4 million to its 10 members.
It’s hard to categorize the Pac-12 Network, which is still struggling for widespread distribution, as anything other than disappointing. It hasn’t been the cash cow or the symbol of prestige that the Big Ten Network and SEC Network have become.
If the Big 12 continues to prove it will be closer to the Big Ten and SEC in revenue, it gains a foothold in convincing Pac-12 members to make a cash grab. That’s what realignment decisions are. Arizona and Arizona State have only been Pac-12 members since 1978.
The Big 12 has enjoyed a relatively calm period of stability since Texas A&M and Missouri left, and no longer faces annual questions in the offseason about conference implosion, even if Texas and Oklahoma remaining in the league isn’t a given. Still, bringing in two Power 5 programs would further cement the league’s future.
If there’s a “wow” move to be made for the Big 12 in expansion, that’s the one.
This summer, the Big 12 figured out what most of its members already knew: None of the Group of Five candidates made sense as members. In two-to-three years, maybe that changes. TCU quite literally won its way into the Big 12, and though Houston’s candidacy met resistance from league members outside Texas, the Cougars’ run under Tom Herman in just over a season fashioned them into a more attractive candidate than ever.
Is it that unrealistic to wonder if another school with a new-ish face on the sidelines– hey there, Cincinnati, Memphis, UCF or USF– got on a run, it could be viewed very differently if the league revisited the expansion conversation?
The league’s recruiting and NFL talent production is down as the Texas talent pool gets more crowded. Adding a new territory — like Florida — would be welcomed for coaches and could only help the financial bottom line.
For now, there’s no real movement for the Big 12 in expansion, but for the dreamers out there who’ll never stop talking about it, there’s plenty to examine on the horizon. And one could look to the east or west to see it.