The Big 12 athletic directors just finished two days of meetings in Dallas considered pivotal to the future direction of the conference, though it appears that the focus for the time being will instead shift from possible expansion to a scheduling alliance.
At the NCAA convention roughly two weeks, new commissioner Bob Bowlsby had said that the Big 12 "could be proactive" in considering possible expansion scenarios.
However, on Monday Bowlsby also reiterated his stance that he and the league do not consider expansion as an end to itself:
Bowlsby - "We are never going to get bigger just for the sake of getting bigger" #Big12— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) January 28, 2013
Bowlsby "It's largely theoretical that bigger is better. Time will tell what that change has on the landscape." #Big12— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) January 29, 2013
Rather, the discussions are more about being prepared, as those who believe in doomsday scenarios might stockpile food and weapons:
I think that it's possible to make a considered decision to stay at the most favorable structure, and that's where we have been.
But having said that, I don't think we ever want to be in a position of being un-nimble, and by that I mean it's a changing environment and we have to be prepared to respond to that changing environment, and this meeting is certainly going to help us do that.
It's not about what we're prepared to do. It's that we're prepared.
Following the first day of meetings, the emphasis was instead on a "scheduling and marketing alliance" with another conference or conferences that would represent something of a compromise between maintaining the status quo and expanding to 12 or 16 teams.
Since the SEC and Pac-12 commissioners denied any current talks with the Big 12 about such plans, the current thought is that it is the ACC that the Big 12 would target as the partner in the so-called alliance:
Under alliance proposal, Bowlsby said every B12 FB team could play an ACC team "or several perhaps." Could take some time to set up.— kbohls (@kbohls) January 29, 2013
Bowlsby declined to name the other two conferences voted on by the league as possible alliance options.
The idea is that the alliance would provide exposure for both conferences and some possible big-time non-conference match ups like those played between Oklahoma and Florida State for the last several years, without having to go through the whole expansion process.
For a school like Texas, which has non-conference games scheduled through 2018, the alliance would present some difficulties, with athletic director DeLoss Dodds already on the record as saying that Texas doesn't want to abandon any non-conference opponents to play Texas A&M, though he could certainly justify doing so in regards to a possible Big 12-ACC alliance as something that was mandated by the league and in which he had little choice.
Preparation won't stop other conferences from pursuing expansion, either, notably the Big 10. Chip Brown is reporting that commissioner Jim Delany has already reached out to Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia ($) to gauge their interest in joining his conference.
The good news for the Big 12 as it continues to be reactionary instead of proactive is that that list doesn't include the teams it would likely pursue if it decided to go the route of expansion, with Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State the schools that most commonly are associated with an increase to 12 or 16 teams.
As Bowslby has maintained in the past, perhaps the greatest consideration in expansion is not expansion for the sake of keeping up with everyone else, but rather how it impacts the bottom line. Even without a conference championship game, the Big 12 is now on excellent financial footing, with a strong television deal and each school still possessing their third-tier rights.
As a result, any addition would have to either maintain or increase the profit margin for the Big 12 to become proactive in pursuit of other schools to add to the mix. And there aren't many that can.
To that end, though, the Big 12 has reached out to industry experts to determine how much value possible expansion targets could provide:
Big 12's Bob Bowlsby says conference has spoken with TV, media consultants "to value different scenarios. But those are speculative."— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) January 29, 2013
Nothing new there, but the meetings did confirm it once again, which is no small thing.
What about a conference championship game?
There was some noise from Bowlsby at the NCAA convention that the Big 12 could star the process of convincing the governing body to allow conferences with 10 teams to hold a conference championship game, though it wasn't clear if that would require splitting into two divisions or simply taking the top two teams, as decided by some formula like the BCS.
It appears that the verdict was for maintaining the status quo:
Bowlsby (Re: Conference Championship Game) "We like our path to the postseason and feel good about it." #Big12— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) January 28, 2013
Bowlsby (Re: FB Championship Games): "It is a good time not to be in the Championship Game business". #Big12— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) January 28, 2013
So much for that, then.
The Age of Harmony continues?
The conference is obviously much more stable than it was when it was sitting at eight teams and looked like it was on the verge of collapsing before adding TCU and West Virginia. Bowlsby went out of his way to emphasize the new-found harmony, calling the meeting a "lovefest" when asked about the Longhorn Network.
But the league's athletic directors also declined to answer individual questions, which could have been to provide a unified front behind Bowlsby. If perception is often reality, one of Bowlsby's goals has probably been to decrease the talk of divisions within the remaining teams and for everyone to remain on message.
Skepticism aside, it's much easier for all the athletic directors to work together without the discord that characterized the conference before it nearly broke up when it's no longer in danger of falling apart and the money is good.
Perhaps all the talk isn't really lip service, after all.
Big 12 trying to secure Florida bowl alliance(s)
On the docket for Tuesday was a discussion about future bowl alliances. It seems that the Big 12 is trying to break into the Florida market:
Bowlsby: "We have spoken with three bowls in Florida and would like to have at least one there". #Big12— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) January 29, 2013
Currently, of the nine bowl tie-ins for the Big 12 conference, only the Gator Bowl is in Florida, but it only selects a Big 12 team twice every four years.
Bowlsby gave some insight into why a Florida bowl would be important:
Bowlsby (re: bowls): "Destination is important. Fan experience is important and student-athlete experience is important."— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) January 29, 2013
Several Florida bowl contracts are coming up in the next several years:
Only one year of bowl tie-in contracts remain for Cap One, Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, giving Big 12 chance to reach an agreement.— kbohls (@kbohls) January 29, 2013
Besides the experience, playing bowl games in Florida could increase exposure in those markets for Big 12 teams looking to recruit in the talent-rich state.