Nothing is over until it is over as Yogi Berra told us, but in terms of the ongoing adventures of Big 12 expansion certain patterns are emerging.
According to sources familiar with the process, the Big 12 is now focusing on adding two--not four-- schools. And while multiple schools will receive consideration, the front runners appear to be [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership] BYU--but probably in a football only scenario--and either Connecticut or Cincinnati.
BYU has the most support because it is the strongest football entity in terms of overall appeal. But the issue of accepting BYU in all sports, which means adjusting to the Cougar's Mormon based stand of no Sunday competition, remains a major stumbling block.
Although there is not any great enthusiasm for a football only membership, it is a compromise which could work.
Left out of this equation are schools such as Houston, Memphis and UCF. Other schools mentioned such as Tulane, Boise State, Colorado State and USF were never considered front runners.
None of this is certain because the Big 12 has taken on the look of a political convention with back room deals being made as schools gather support.
The "campaign'' is expected to last for a few weeks with a final decision and vote expected near the end of the month.
Houston was considered a front runner with political support from the Texas governor's office as well as the University of Texas administration. But there is very little support for the Cougars from the Big 12 schools north of the Red River. Houston needs 8 of 10 votes to get approval, which means it needs support from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas or Kansas State. Right now, the votes are not there, which is why deals are being proposed.
And even the Texas schools are lukewarm about a plan which would boost Houston's recruiting status in the part of the state which all Big 12 schools routinely visit.
Memphis received a boost because of Federal Express backed money and support, but the poor record surrounding Memphis academics is a drawback and there is not a great deal of enthusiasm about the Tigers around the league.
The lack of support for UCF, located in Orlando, with television markets and a deep recruiting talent pool is a mystery. USF, located in Tampa, dropped out of the race because of academic fraud issues involving the football and basketball programs.
Which leaves two schools for 1 spot.
Both Cincinnati and UConn will be considered for full and football only membership. Cincinnati would have more of a problem finding a landing place for its other sports than UConn, which would focus on rejoining the Big East in its other sports.
As full members it is regarded as a close race.
The switch in sentiment from four new schools to two, is driven largely by the lack of enthusiasm of the Big 12's television partners (Fox and ESPN) to pay more money for what most people consider less than premier additions.
Some Big 12 members are pushing for the four school expansion, which would mean extra money, but television is pushing equally hard not to do it. A two school expansion looks like the compromise position.
Word has it that television is willing to pay the increased fees for two schools, but not four.
Although nothing is certain and the landscape is changing on an almost daily basis, the basic expansion scenario appears to be a process of contacting interested schools for the next few weeks. The Big 12 will then pare down the list to a final four or, most likely, two and make an announcement sometime before the end of the month.
If it is a two school expansion process that includes BYU--which seems to be the most solid rumor---a big winner could also be the American Athletic Conference, which was facing a defection of as many as four schools.
If AAC commissioner Mike Aresco loses only one school, and it isn't Houston, he would regard that as a major victory.
And, if that school is Cincinnati, the AAC could easily just replace the Bearcats with UMass, creating a natural New England rivalry in football and basketball with UConn.
In addition to losing only one team, the AAC would get a bonus exit fee check in excess of $10 million from the departing school, which would be regarded as manna from heaven by AAC members. [/membership]