It's amazing what a change in leadership, a little bit of time, and a change in membership can do for a conference.
Just three short years ago critics, pundits, national radio hosts, bloggers, you name it where ready to and were dancing on the grave of the Big 12. It was dead and it's parts sold off to the Big Ten, the SEC, the Pac-12, and the lesser known parts off to the Big East. Now, according to a report by Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com the Big 12 is in a position to play with the big boys in the next round of expansion – should it happen of course.
The conference held a four-hour, closed-door meeting in Irving, Texas, where the athletic directors seemed to be satisfied with it's 10-team model, but willing to make moves should dominos begin to fall from the Big Ten and SEC.
Amazing how the times have changed, right? The image of the vultures picking off the carcass of the Big 12 have now turned on it's head. The league is one of the strongest in the country in terms of money given to it's membership through TV contracts (estimated at over $26 million in this report). Now, it could be the ACC that is picked apart by the B1G and SEC and that means a chance for the Big 12 to pull in some targets of their own.
This time around they won't be caught off guard and aren't going to be reactionary. In fact they're actually making plans and looking at different scenarios according to the article.
Those moves could include looking at targeting Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville – schools that supposedly aren't going to be looked at by the B1G because of their want for members of the Association of American Universities in their conference membership or in the SEC because of the veto of current members of the conference.
Right now adding those three schools would be a huge, HUGE play in terms of football – the driver of all of this expansion talk for what seems like the better part of a decade. It's almost as if this was the plan all along for the Big 12. You know, go all rope-a-dope on us all.
Make us think they are down and just when you think you've got them they jump up and become the strongest conference in the country. That's a claim I don't make lightly, but adding FSU, Clemson, and Louisville is a massive move, no doubt about it.
Let's just look at the end of last season, shall we? Louisville won the Sugar Bowl, was the Big East champion (will move to the ACC for this season) and finished the year ranked No. 13 in the final AP Poll. FSU was 12-2, won the ACC Championship, won the Orange Bowl and finished the year ranked No. 10 in the final AP Poll. Finally, we have Clemson, which finished the year 11-2, won the Chik-Fil-A Bowl over LSU and finished the season ranked No. 11 in the final AP Poll.
How many times in the history of expansion have three teams of that kind of caliber had the potential to just fall in the lap of a conference? Even more amazing is that in this world of overreaction (Big Least, we're looking at you) the one conference that stood pat and waited out the storm could wind up being the strongest conference in the country from top to bottom.
Again, just looking at the end of last season's top 25, the Big 12's potential membership could have held down five of the top 15 in the AP Poll alone. I don't know about you, but that's damn impressive for a league that shouldn't even be in existence and nearly wasn't just three years ago.
One of the more interesting points on the other side of this expansion deal is that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has pointed to not wanting to have a conference championship game because outside of the SEC, championship games don't generate the money or ratings that make putting the event on worth it. So, it's clear that Bowlsby and Co. could well perfer to stay at 10 strong members of the conference, but are willing to make a move if others are going to attempt to grab even further from the ACC.
Of course all of this is contingent on a lot of what-ifs, maybes and probably-won't-happens – but at least this time around the Big 12 won't be the bullied kid on the super-conference block.
If they don't grow they are ultimately going to be absorbed. The three conferences with networks or planned networks are the most stable. The ACC and Big 12 without networks are the weakest for that reason and others. With the ACC it's product. With the Big 12 it's markets. The way things are headed there will eventually be 3 not 4 major conferences and the Big 12 and ACC won't be among them if changes in strategy are not made. If the ACC is able to partner with the SEC for a network they will survive. If the Big 12 expands its conference and adds a comprehensive network they will survive. The Big 12's reluctance to do so is indicative of Texas and Oklahoma wanting to keep options extraneous to the Big 12 open. The ACC predicament is simply due to not retaining their own tier 3 rights.
If there are ultimately only 3 conferences of 20 or so teams each loss of the Big 12 and ACC will only increase each of the survivor's shares of the proposed playoff's money by $40 million each, plus the revenue from additional markets. Those three won't be weeping the passing of the other two.