David Boren sparked yet another round of conference realignment speculation last week when he made it clear that one of the Big 12's power progams isn't happy with the current state of the conference. Now that the initial hysteria has passed, let’s put theory into practice: What might a remodeled Big 12 look like?
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume:
- The pool of expansion candidates consists solely of schools outside the Power 5 conferences;
- Expansion is limited to two schools; and
- The conference adds a championship game at the end of the year.
(*I’ll dive into the conference network issue in the very near future – Boren’s comments suggested that’s a sticking point for OU.)
Now, let's save the Big 12 in five simple steps:
Step One: Add two schools.
The entirety of the schools outside the Power 5 are realistic options for Big 12 expansion. We’ll say the conference picks Cincinnati and Central Florida in this scenario.
Step Two: Organize into divisions.
With Cincinnati and UCF in the fold, here’s one possible alignment:
- West – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State
- East – Baylor, TCU, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Iowa State, West Virginia
This configuration keeps the Oklahoma and Kansas schools together. By putting Baylor and TCU in the East, it assures the teams in the that division that they will have a game in Texas every year for recruiting purposes.
Step Three: Re-institute a conference championship game pitting division winners.
Hello, JerryWorld? Put the games on campuses?
Step Four: Cut the conference schedule back to eight games.
ESPN and Fox might not like this, but it gives schools more flexibility to add home contests to the annual schedule.
Step Five: Mandate that every school must play a Power 5 non-conference opponent.
You could even call for two required Power 5 opponents to juice the TV contract and enhance the league's overall strength of schedule, but we’ll say just one in this case.
This set-up doesn't completely dilute the overall quality of the league from a football perspective. It also leaves plenty of room for Big 12 schools to mold their schedules to meet their own objectives.
For example, Oklahoma could make it a policy to schedule two non-conference opponents from the Power 5 every year to ensure the home slate remains a draw for fans. Since we’re speaking in the hypothetical, why not see if Nebraska wants to start playing again every year on Thanksgiving weekend? (Sorry, Iowa.)
Consider this four-year schedule in which I took a few liberties with non-conference opponents and used the SEC trick in November.
From a membership and logistics standpoint, this proposal seems to offer a reasonable way to save the Big 12 as we now know it – if not enhance its long-term viability.