Originally, it was the Power 6 conferences--Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and Big East. But then the Big East football conference imploded after an internal civil war was orchestrated by a group of schools known as the "Catholic 7.
So it became the Power 5 conferences who controlled the destiny of big time college football.
The master plan was simple.
The Big Ten expanded and created a television network. The Pac-12 expanded and created a television network. The SEC expanded and created a television network. The ACC expanded and created a television network (which will debut in 2019). The income for each member school doubled and sometimes tripled.
And then there was the Big 12.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
It got smaller, losing Texas A&M to the SEC and Nebraska to the Big Ten. Colorado went to the Pac-12 and was replaced by West Virginia. The Big 12 could have gotten Louisville, but that was also a plan that failed to succeed. There was and is no conference television network.
It has gotten worse, rather than better for the Big 12, which has created a serious question of whether the Big 12 is worth saving.
In many ways, the Power 5 has shrunk again-- to the Power 4.
If the Big 12 knows what it is doing, or where it is going, it is doing a better job of keeping that quiet than it has in conducting its other business the past several months.
Almost everything the Big 12 has attempted has failed to meet expectations.
Expansion? Competitive? Exposure?
Look at the idea of a conference television network.
A TV network was created--the Longhorn network, which benefited Texas and almost no one else. Not surprisingly, the Longhorn network is struggling.
The Big 12 is the only one of the Power 5 conferences not to have a conference championship game. When the 4-team College Football Playoff system was created a few years ago to replace the BCS, not having a conference championship (extra game, extra exposure) was regarded as a detriment.
The Big 12 was shut out the first season, but Oklahoma made the cut last season.
The Big 12 squabbled among itself as Texas and Oklahoma flexed their muscles and their egos. On the opposite end, Kansas football dropped to a level where it is the leader in a discussion as to the worst Power 5 conference school.
Bob Bowlsby, who left his job as the athletic director at Stanford to become commissioner in 2012, was told by the Big 12 Presidents to make things bigger, if not better, as well as more financially lucrative.
So the conference talked about expansion back to 12 schools. But the prime cuts of beef in the expansion market weren't on the shelves anymore. The Big 12's television partners balked at paying more money for less quality.
What made it worse was that the Big 12 kept changing the rules. There would be expansion. There wouldn't be expansion. There would be four schools added. There would be two schools added.
Week after week, month after month the discussions continued. Bowlsby, used to civilized meetings at Stanford, was caught in a poop storm filled with egos and politics.
Bowlsby is more than qualified. But he is now in an environment similar to what Tom Hagen found himself in when Michael Corleone took over the family business in Godfather II. "You are out,'' said Michael, who explained to Hagen, the family lawyer, that he needed a "war time'' consigliere.
How well Bowlsby handles the Big 12's new business has yet to be determined.
The presidents have their own agendas. Oklahoma President David Boren, who never met a microphone he didn't like, couldn't help himself. He talked and spread rumors without saying much of anything.
No one knows when the next episode of the Boren-Identity will be released.
And there is Texas, which also has its own agenda, doing what is best for Texas at everyone else's expense.
Other Presidents, not wanting to offend their brethren, said there would be open auditions for schools that wanted to join. What should have been a list of four or five schools--BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, UConn, and UCF--expanded to 19, most of them having no chance of making the final cut.
What was meant to be private, spilled into public in an era in which there are NO secrets when more than two parties are involved. After a series of interviews with 11 schools who made the first cut, everyone is waiting and wondering what the Big 12's next move will be or when it will come.
On the field, the Big 12 has crashed and burned in the first three weeks of the college football season. Powers like Oklahoma and Texas and TCU all lost early.
Baylor, which had elevated itself to the top of the Big 12 pecking order, crashed and burned in a sexual abuse scandal, which wiped out the administration and the athletic department.
The talk of expansion is more interesting than what it is happening on the field.
The Presidents will meet in the middle of next month and make a decision on what move to make next, if they make any move at all.
Why bother? It will be the wrong decision.
The Big 12 has never been a cohesive league, dating back to the days when it was the Big 8, dominated by Oklahoma and Nebraska.
It doesn't know what it is, or where it wants to go. Adding two schools from a football standpoint,--Houston and BYU would provide the biggest gains and it isn't even close--and creating a championship game would help, but it won't add that much value.
If the Presidents do vote not to expand, the Big 12 will have sealed its own fate. Maybe not immediately, but by the time the current contracts with ESPN and Fox expire in 2024.
The predators in the turbulent waters of college football will strike quickly. Texas and Kansas could be picked off by the Big 10. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could be gobbled up by the SEC.
The remaining schools will have to fend for themselves unless the Pac-12 wants to cherry pick a few more schools. But there is, minimal value for the Pac-12 from the remaining schools such as Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
One time several years ago when Boise State was just starting to emerge as a Top 25 contender, Rankman and a Jerseyguy interviewed former Boise State football coach Dan Hawkins, who talked in general terms about expansion.
"Bigger is not better,'' said Hawkins, in a zen like statement. ""Better is better.''
In world of Power 5 football, a world without the Big 12 is better than a bigger Big 12.[/membership]