Everyone knows what the hottest topics of next week's Big 12 spring meetings, taking place February 4-5 in Dallas, Texas, will be: expansion and a conference championship game. Many people believe that both are necessary for the long-term survival of the conference, as well as for bringing the perceived strength of the conference up to the same level as the Big 10 and SEC.
Of course, not everyone feels that way.
Is Bob Bowlsby the Big 12's Biggest Problem?
Two presidents of Big 12 schools, Oklahoma's David Boren and West Virginia's Gordon Gee, have come out in favor of Big 12 expansion in recent weeks, lighting a fire under a conversation that's really been taking place since TCU and West Virginia joined the league back in 2012.
These public comments form Boren and Gee came on the heels of the announcement that the Big 12 would be able to have a conference championship game without expanding. With everything coming out it felt like the conference was finally gaining a bit of momentum that would lead to new teams being brought into the fold.
That is, until Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby spoke up on Tuesday, while at a Q&A with students at the University of Texas.
"We don't have any imperative for getting larger," he said. "We haven't really spent any time thinking about who the candidates are, if there are any candidates. But there has been media speculation about it. It doesn't take any genius to look around and see where there may be prospects."
Bowlsby has been denying any rumored interest in expanding since becoming the Big 12's commissioner in 2012, making Tuesday's claim just the latest in a long string of comments that frustrate quite a few Big 12 fans to no end.
The most disheartening part of his claim is the first piece of the comment, "We don't have any imperative for getting larger."
While the Big 12 doesn't have any direct order to expand, it's foolish to think that staying at 10 teams could be anything less than damaging to both the actual and perceived strength of the Big 12. Not having a definitive conference champion did damage to the Big 12's CFP chances in 2014. Not having a championship game, an extra game for the top two teams in the conference to prove themselves, immediately puts the Big 12 behind the SEC, Big 10, SEC, and Pac 12.
But we know all of this, we've heard it before. Heck, we've said it before. And based on his comments, Bob Bowslby is aware that the conversation is happening. He just doesn't seem willing to do anything about it.
Arizona and Arizona State a good fit for the Big 12?
We've all heard of the "best fits" for expansion: BYU, UConn, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, Boise State, and Colorado State. An argument can be made for most of these schools, if not all of them, that would present them as the best option for the Big 12 if it openly began looking to add members.
But what about the two Arizona schools? Last Sunday, Arizona Daily Star writer Greg Hansen authored a piece that considered whether or not the Big 12 would be a better fit for the Arizona Wildcats.
Issues with travel immediately come to mind, but in Hansen's article he states:
A trip to Texas is 893 miles from Tucson. That’s almost as close as it is to Cal (858 miles). A game at Oklahoma is 954 miles. Arizona goes 1,282 miles to play Oregon. How about distant Iowa State? That’s 1,427 miles from Tucson. An Arizona game in Seattle is 1,538 miles.
Of course, Hansen is talking about only adding Arizona (or only Arizona State) but what about adding both? It would certainly be a boost to the strength of the conference, both on the football field, as well as the basketball court. It would be a nice expansion into new TV markets, and it would add two large fanbases.
This is, of course, just slightly in the realm of possibility because of grant of rights issues in the Pac 12. Another issue would be, shocker, the Longhorn Network:
The one problem with anyone moving into the Big 12 is that its current media rights deal isn’t much better than the Pac-12 contract.
Texas’ deal with ESPN, the Longhorn Network, which is struggling, has scuttled the Big 12’s efforts to launch its own network.
But the though of expanding West hasn't looked as appealing as it does when considering the Wildcats and the Sun Devils.
Stewart Mandel is pro Round Robin format
In a recent mailbag piece, Stewart Mandel said the following about the current Big 12 format:
It's unfortunate for the Big 12 that its unique championship model engenders so much criticism, because taken in a vacuum, it's arguably the only Power 5 conference that does it right. Ten is a more logical number of conference members than 14. Whereas a Georgia player can go his entire career without ever playing Alabama, Iowa State plays Oklahoma every single year. And because they all play each other, there's absolutely no dispute as to whether the champion is deserving.
The problem, though, is that the Big 12 does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a reality that sees four of the "Power Five" conferences sitting with 12+ members and three with 14 or more. While the round robin format does allow all schools to face off on the field, it makes a conference championship game in the Big 12's current setup, irrelevant and unnecessary.
Mandel points this out, saying that the Big 12 will "eventually expand," but the question remains: when? It has to happen sooner rather than later, or the gap between the Big 12 and the rest of the Power 5 will continue to increase.