Big 12: No expansion, UConn must come up with Plan B

The wait officially began on Sunday night when the 10 Big 12 Presidents/Chancellors gathered in Dallas for a two day meeting which would determine not only the immediate future of the conference, but the fate of 11 other schools, all of whom wished to elevate their status.

One of the schools with a stake in this game of Big 12 expansion roulette was the University of Connecticut, from the American Athletic Conference. Other interested AAC schools included Cincinnati, Houston, Central Florida and South Florida.

For the UConn leadership group--led by President Susan Herbst and Athletic Director David Benedict--it was a "wait for a phone call'' situation.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Like the other Big 12 wannabes, UConn hadn't heard much from the Big 12 since they made their presentation in Dallas last month. But they were told that when some kind of decision had been made, they would be notified.

On Monday afternoon, the call came. But it wasn't the news any of the schools wanted to hear: No expansion. The Big 12, not surprisingly, couldn't come up with enough (8) votes to approve any school. And Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who was in favor of expansion, couldn't guide his presidents to a compromise position.

Amazingly, the process ended on Sunday night when the Board of Directors (the 10 presidents and chancellors) voted unanimously not to expand. "No votes were taken, no discussion of individual schools,'' said Oklahoma President David Boren at a press conference on Monday afternoon. "The decision was unanimous."

Bowlsby, who had spent the last 10 months conducting a vetting process and identifying candidates, said that he talked to the Board for 90 minutes and mentioned some schools, but gave no specifics, because the Board closed the door to expansion very quickly. "I didn't make any recommendations,'' said Bowlsby. "We never got to that point and the Board never asked me."

So is the expansion chatter among Power 5 conferences and the Big 12 finally over?

Bowlsby and Boren were clear about that.

""This was not the right time to expand,'' said Boren, who had waffled back and forth on the expansion issue for the past few months.

Bowlsby was definitive about the future of the issue of expansion. ""We will not consider it (expansion) as an active agenda at this time,'' he said.

Instead of making plans with new faces in new areas, the Big 12 will attempt to move into the college football championship game world with 2 teams in one 10 team league playing for the title in what will be a rematch game.

There are all sorts of potholes with such a scenario. By having 12 teams and 2 six team divisions, you have a much better chance of having a quality championship game between two teams who have not played during the regular season. By sticking with 10 teams, the Big 12 guarantees a rematch because the conference schedule is a 9 game-round robin format.

As for UConn, the choices available are to return to the AAC in all sports and hope the revenue flow doesn't shrink to the point where it becomes a financial burden or make a move to jump to the Big East in all sports and find a conference for football.

The Huskies could offer a compromise of staying in the AAC in football only, but that is not likely to be accepted by the AAC And, any such move will come at a price.

The AAC has a $10 million 27 month exit fee clause. AAC commissioner Mike Aresco, who is the big winner in this issue since his conference did not lose a school, says that if a school wants to leave early, the AAC will not oppose the move, but additional exit fee money (in addition to the $10 million) will be required.

UConn faces a tough decision.

Also wounded by the Big 12's non-move is Houston. The Cougars had put all of their resources and planning into presenting a long term plan that would get them into a Power 5 conference. Now they must deal with the same financial shortcomings in revenue that UConn faces.

And, they are almost certainly going to have to start a search for a new football head coach. Part of the incentive to keep Coach Tom Herman was the guarantee of a bump in Herman's salary to $5 million a year--if Houston were invited to the Big 12.

Now that is not going to happen. Herman is on the top of the wish list of almost every athletic director searching for a new head coach. LSU is already open, Purdue fired Darrell Hazell on Saturday, Texas and Notre Dame might be open if both schools continue to spiral downward.

Herman has done a great job reviving the Houston program, but without the security of spot in a Power 5 conference, Houston can't match any offer in terms of money or prestige.

As for the overall future of the Big 12, the prospects, no matter what Bowlsby says, are not great. Each of the other Power 5 conferences have 12 or 14 teams, a championship game and their own television network (the ACC will begin in 2019).

Bowlsby disputed that assessment.

"I feel good about the outcome and bullish about the future,'' said Bowlsby.

Bowlsby did his research among the football community and he was told that the Big 12 would have a better chance of placing teams in the Final Four playoffs if they expanded to at least 12 teams and held a conference championship game.

The Conference presidents chose to maintain the status quo. They conducted an expansion search including schools who had NO chance of getting serious consideration and instead of making a choice, they did nothing, with the hand prints of ESPN and Fox, who were reluctant to pay more money without an overall improvement of the product, very evident.

Television, as it generally does, got what it wanted. It didn't have to pay more money for less, although the Big 12 is likely to get some extra money for its first league championship football game next season.

None of this will be lost on Bowlsby, who did the best he could under difficult circumstances. Now the Big 12 must live with its decision and hope it's the right one.[/membership]

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