Debate continues over Big 12 Conference expansion plans

Will the Big 12 add two more teams?

Oklahoma, which is a driving force in the conference due to its football success, has been sending out mixed signals about whether the Big 12 should stay at 10 teams or expand.

OU President David Boren has been advocating expansion back to 12 teams, with two divisions and a football championship game. Max Weitzenhoffer, chairman of the OU Board of Regents, reportedly opposed expansion but then backtracked after a recent meeting.

“I remain firmly committed to my belief that we should all work together to make the Big 12 Conference even stronger through holistic reform,” Boren said, “that allows for possible expansion and the creation of a Big 12 network.”

When the Big 12 was formed, it combined all of the schools in the Big Eight (OU, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska) with four schools (Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor) from the Southwest Conference.

But Colorado left for the Pac-16 Conference and Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference. Then Missouri and Texas A&M departed for the Southeastern Conference.

Then the Big 12 added TCU (a former member of the Southwest Conference) and West Virginia, which gave the Big 12 10 teams.

Without 12 teams, the league went to a round robin schedule, with every football team playing nine conference games plus three nonconference games. The divisions were gone and so was the championship game.

Controversy arose when quoted Weitzenhoffer as saying: “We’re not on the same page.”

According to that report, Weitzenhoffer doubted the benefits of expansion, from both a monetary and public relations view. He was demanding answers on where the board stood on expansion.

He since softened that position.

“I first want to make it clear that I have complete confidence in the leadership of the University of Oklahoma,” Weitzenhoffer’s statement read. “President Boren has proven to be a visionary and effective leader of the university. I am confident that our president will lead the university in the right direction on matters related to the Big 12 Conference. He has and will continue to have my full support.”

Earlier, Big 12 athletic directors and coaches held their annual meetings and Commissioner Bob Bowlsby gave them a report from an analytics company that showed that the Big 12 had a 10-15 percent better shot to make the four-team football playoff with 12 teams and a championship game. Without more teams, the Big 12 has only a 62 percent shot at the four-team playoffs each year, according to Chicago-based Navigate Research.

Bowlsby thinks the league must take action or it will take a back seat to other Power Five conferences (the SEC, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten and the Pac-16) in terms of income.

Weitzenhoffer told that fellow regent, Clay Bennett, also opposed expansion.

Weitzenhoffer said, “We just want to let him [Boren] know, we don’t like it. If it goes forward, it may get to the point where we may not be able to stop it.”

Money is a critical factor. Big 12 schools make about $23 million a year in shared income and adding two teams might lower that figure.

Boren is chairman of the Big 12 CEOs. He is a member of the league composition committee with Gordon Gee of West Virginia and Kenneth Star of Baylor. Gee wants expansion and has said that Kansas and Iowa State do, too.

“I’m not convinced that Texas is,” Gee said. “I don’t know what the situation is in Texas. I don’t think they want it. They’re very coy about it. I’ve talked to the [Texas] regents office a couple of times. I can’t really get anything out of them.”

Weitzenhoffer told that the only answer is to take teams from a Power Five conference. With the exception of the SEC, those conferences are bound at the moment each by a grant of rights. If any school leaves, its television rights are retained by the previous conference.

That means no Power Five school would probably leave in the next 10 years.

“I don’t think anybody can [be shaken loose],” Weitzenhoffer said. “We’ve been fiddling with Notre Dame for years … but they’re not going to be leaving.”

Weitzenhoffer said the Big 12 gains little in expanding to schools like Boise State, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis and South Florida, among others. TCU and Baylor have the smallest football stadiums in the Big 12 at about 45,000. The schools mentioned all have smaller stadiums.

Connecticut is the only school with an athletic budget ($72 million) that is close to the Big 12 schools.