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January 23, 2013

Realignment looming? Big 12 ADs to discuss expansion

Among the agenda items for Big 12 athletic directors at meetings in Dallas on Monday and Tuesday is a "philosophical" discussion about possible expansion, multiple sources close to the situation told Orangebloods.com on Wednesday.

While the degree of intensity about expansion in the Big 12 ranges from school to school, there is a sigh of relief the issue is finally being discussed - at all - under the watch of new commissioner Bob Bowlsby, sources said.

There was a fear among some members that Bowlsby would simply follow the wishes of Texas, which has been outspoken in keeping the Big 12 at 10 members, in large part, because of scheduling ease and to avoid a conference title game in football.

Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds and football coach Mack Brown have been outspoken that an upset in a football title game could derail a national title bid by the conference.

Critics of that argument point to the SEC and say its title game hasn't derailed any national title bids recently. Those critics also credit the divisions in the SEC for helping to keep the best teams from facing each other every year in league play, thus enhancing the chances of national title bids in that league.

Bowlsby stepped out a bit at the NCAA Convention in Grapevine, Texas, last week, telling reporters the Big 12 could be "proactive" in realignment. But Bowlsby was quick to follow up that he has seen no empirical evidence that bigger is necessarily better when it comes to conference makeup.

Bowlsby has also said he'd like the NCAA to consider allowing conferences with less than 12 members to have the right to break into divisions and have a league title game if they choose.

Certain to be involved in the Big 12's discussion of potential expansion will be the possibility of more schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference leaving the ACC in the wake of Maryland's decision to bolt for the Big Ten.

Multiple sources in the Big 12 told Orangebloods.com on Wednesday the Big Ten has tried to gauge the interest of Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia about possibly joining Maryland in the Big Ten. But the sources said those schools have indicated to the Big Ten thanks but no thanks - for now.

Some speculate those schools are waiting to see what happens with the legal battle going on between the ACC and Maryland over the Terrapins' $52 million exit fee. Maryland's attorney general filed a countersuit last week seeking $157 million in damages (triple the amount of the exit fee) for antitrust violations by the ACC and seeking to have the ACC's lawsuit moved from Greensboro, N.C., to the state of Maryland.

Big 12 sources said they believe Bowlsby's attention was officially grabbed in December when Warchant.com, the Florida State site on the Yahoo!/Rivals.com network, reported the Seminoles had reached out to the Big Ten about possible membership.

The Big Ten, however, requires its members to be in the American Association of Universities, which represent the top research institutions in the country. Florida State is not an AAU school.

Sensing that one of the biggest potential prizes in realignment might be looking around, the Big 12 under Bowlsby appears ready now to talk about some kind of consensus regarding who or what would make sense if the Big 12 was to grow beyond 10.

"We can't continue to monitor things," one high-ranking source at a Big 12 school said Wednesday. "If you monitor, you get passed by. We have to have our own game plan so we aren't reacting any longer.

"We may decide 10 is the best option no matter what. But I think we have to talk about every possible scenario as a league."

That sentiment was shared by three other officials at different Big 12 schools Wednesday.
Those sources said it's doubtful the Big 12 reaches a decision to take action on expansion in the meetings in Dallas. But contingency plans could certainly be made.

A pressing question, according to sources, will be how many schools could be added to the Big 12 before per-school revenue starts to drop. Right now, Big 12 schools are projected to earn roughly $28 million per school starting in 2014 from TV revenue that includes the new Sugar Bowl TV contract with the SEC.

According to sources in the Big 12, there would be wide interest in Florida State if FSU became serious about joining the Big 12.

"If it doesn't make sense to Florida State, then this is all a moot point," one Big 12 source said.

Warchant.com has reported, according to sources, that if Florida State was ever to leave the ACC it would want as many regional partners as possible in its new league.

The Big 12 knows all too well about wanting regional partners when another league attempts a takeover.

Larry Scott, commissioner of the then-Pac-10, attempted to lure Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Colorado to form a 16-team superconference in June of 2010. And Scott nearly pulled it off. But Texas A&M balked, showing more interest in the SEC.

Would the Big 12 be so bold as to grow to 16 by attempting to lure six schools out of the ACC, beating the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC to superconference status?

That idea is appealing to at least two schools in the Big 12, who believe such a move would ensure the viability of the Big 12 beyond its current grant of rights, which lock the league together through 2025. Those sources believe the Big Ten shopping around the ACC for expansion targets should be a call to action for the Big 12.

"You have to look long-term at a situation like this," said one source at a Big 12 school. "What ensures the league endures for the next 25 or 50 years? We can't get caught up in the next 10 to 15 years. We are talking about seismic shifts that will define the next 100 years."

So who and what would make sense for the Big 12? Is a football power like Florida State serious about looking around regardless of whether another ACC school decides to bolt for the Big Ten?

If the Seminoles, who voted against increasing the exit fees in the ACC from $20 million to $50 million last September, are serious about looking around, then three schools in the Big 12 believe the league had better do more than talk philosophically about expansion during its two-day meetings in Dallas next week.

The league better formulate a visionary, "proactive" plan that involves Florida State, the sources said.

If schools such as Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech could be persuaded to join the Big 12 while having each other as regional partners, the league would be at 14.

At that point, the ACC would be completely destabilized and a school such as North Carolina, where Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany received his undergraduate and law degrees, might consider jumping to the Big Ten, sources speculated.

Can anyone picture that? North Carolina, in the heart of Tobacco Road, in the Big Ten?

Half the ACC in the Big 12?

Would the SEC step in and possibly shelve its unwritten rule barring the addition of any schools from states in which the SEC already has members?

Would superconferences finally be upon us in college athletics?

Speculation of more seismic realignment in college athletics, whether it happens sooner or later, is definitely building.

And even a "philosophical" discussion of expansion by Big 12 athletic directors in Dallas next Monday and Tuesday won't do anything to quiet that speculation.

Stay tuned.


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