The circus that is Big 12 expansion had two more performances this week.
On Tuesday, TMGcollegesports.com reported that the Big 12 had cut down the list of candidates from between 18 and 20 schools to between 6 and 8.
On Wednesday, ESPN reported that the list was actually 12.
There was a consensus of opinion that the interviews with the candidates will begin within the next few weeks.
After spending most of the day checking the pulse of people around the Big 12, my opinion is that both totals are way too HIGH when it comes down to seriously talking with candidates.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
I think that there will a maximum of five schools that are seriously considered. I think that there is also growing sentiment in some areas of the Big 12 to table all expansion talk for one season.
But before any of this can really begin, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby must know how his Presidents feel about the status of BYU.
The Cougars credentials as a school with a national football presence are unquestioned. What is open to debate is whether BYU has too much outside baggage for the Big 12, which is dealing with the aftermath of the scandal at Baylor. BYU's candidacy has prompted outrage from LGBT community about the possibility of the Cougars joining the Big 12.
If the Big 12 Presidents say they can live with BYU--although I think it will be in football only--the Big 12 can quickly close the deal by adding BYU and Houston as their two new schools .
But after poking around and talking to people familiar with the inner workings of both Texas and the Big 12, I think the Big 12 Presidents will tell Bowlsby to pass on BYU.
I think there will be three schools fighting for two spots. I think those three schools will be Houston, Cincinnati and Connecticut.
Houston is as much a political choice as it is an athletic decision. With a new branch campus opening in Houston, Texas (not athletic) officials want to make peace with the University of Houston, which does not want Texas in its back yard. The President of UT and the Governor of Texas both have endorsed the University of Houston.
In a Presidential election season, I think politics win. I think Houston will get enough support to be admitted to the Big 12, even though athletically it does not make a whole lot of sense for the rest of the conference.
I think the two schools who will emerge from the rest of the pack are Cincinnati, which has waged the longest and most public campaign for membership, and Connecticut, who will be fighting for one spot. That is a toss up race, which right now is too close to call.
I think there is an element in the Big 12 that is intrigued with the possibility of having a Big 12 footprint in the Northeast in football and basketball.
And I mean the Northeast, which means an area from Boston to New York, including Storrs and Hartford, Ct.
I think the possibility of having a Texas or an Oklahoma facing UConn at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Ma. or Yankee Stadium or Met Life Stadium is intriguing to the Big 12. So is the possibility of having a UConn-Texas or a UConn-Oklahoma or a UConn-Kansas basketball game played in New York's Madison Square Garden.
And having an Eastern partner for West Virginia also has some value, although West Virginia-Cincinnati also works.
So let the circus of the past few days play itself out over Labor Day weekend. Let the fans of UCF, USF, Cincinnati, Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, UConn, Houston, Rice, SMU, Temple, Tulane, and Memphis play their Fantasy Expansion games.
Let the rabid fan base from each school call us idiots or label us clueless because we do not have their schools at the top of the expansion list.
When it comes to crunch time, I think the Big 12 will choose either not to expand this year or cut it down to three schools fighting for two spots, or even two schools for one spot.
Based on information gathered from talking to people involved with the process, I think those three schools (with BYU out of the mix) will be Houston, Cincinnati and UConn.
Let the expansion speculation continue and let the real games begin.[/membership]