Big 12 expansion: A TV decision?

The power of television could again be demonstrated when the Big 12 Presidents meet in two weeks to discuss the topic of conference expansion.

According to sources familiar with the process, the Big 12's television partners-- ESPN and Fox--are urging the Big 12 to NOT expand, a stance that they have maintained since the topic of the Big 12 increasing from 10 to 12 or even 14 schools was first seriously discussed several months ago.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

As an incentive to do that, sources say the television networks could be willing to increase payouts next season for the conference's first championship football game as well as extend the overall television contract for another 5 years, beyond its expiration date in 2025.

Such a move would be far cheaper for the television networks than the additional $20 million a year they are obligated to pay for each additional school, a deal which was part of the 13-year $2.6 billion media rights deal signed 4 years ago.

According to sources throughout the league, no one is certain what the Big 12 will do for a simple reason: No one in the conference really knows. Various opinions from conference schools have been floated over the past several weeks, but not even Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby--who supports expansion--is sure what will happen when all the presidents/chancellors gather in Dallas on Oct. 16-17.

Watching with a growing sense of uneasiness are the schools such as Houston, BYU, UConn, Cincinnati, UCF and USF, who are regarded as the front runners if the Big 12 makes a move to expand from 10 to at least 12 schools.

Adding to the confusion and uncertainty is the Big 12's lack of movement in extending the grant of rights deal beyond 2025, a move which would give the league's power brokers, Oklahoma and Texas, an easier and cheaper way of jumping to another conference (SEC, Big Ten?)

In the Big 12, grant of rights fees gives the conference, not the individual school, the media rights fees for home games of the conference schools during the length of the contract.

Just what path the Big 12 follows will be revealed in two weeks. Until then, the back room deals and negotiations on how to proceed will continue.[/membership]