When it comes to conference expansion and the Big 12, I’ve spent a lot of time recently spinning ideas off of what has been said publicly by the people in charge. I’ve tried to get a feel for what might be coming down the pike and how it will affect Oklahoma.
I haven’t written much about what I’d like to see as a fan.
TV and recruiting territory drove the round of realignment in the major conferences that started in 2010. Of course, the Big 12 bucked the conference brand-building game plan. The league contracted while the other power conferences got bigger. It dumped its championship game in favor of a round-robin conference schedule. It didn’t do anything to expand its conference footprint.
While realignment was going down, the Big 12 plan sounded to me like trading your iPhone for a brand new Motorola Razor on the recommendation of DeLoss Dodds. Oddly enough, though, it turns out that I actually like the results.
Don’t get me wrong: I miss the conference’s original constituency. Losing Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado sucked.
But I really like the fact that the Big 12 teams all play each other every year. More importantly, I can’t complain about what TCU and West Virginia brought to the league.
No, they don’t add anything to in terms of eyeballs or new talent hotbeds. But they do really like football and have shown a commitment over the long term to being competitive. They fit well in the Big 12 in that respect.
As a fan, I favor an expansion approach that brings in those kinds of programs over one that picks up Maryland and Rutgers any day. Fans get nothing from adding the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to a conference – except more games with Colorado and Utah. Adding viable candidates such as Cincinnati or Central Florida to the Big 12 may fit the mold of how the other major conferences have approached expansion, but I don’t have a ton of confidence at this point that they fit the Big 12's level of football fanaticism.
If the downside of doing expansion “the Big 12 way” is that the league remains a regional conference, that’s a feature to me, not a bug. The regional nature of college football made it into the best sport on the planet. Abandoning those roots to get more TV money and enhance your position on the recruiting scene is the kind of short-run thinking that will bastardize the sport.
If that puts OU and the rest of the Big 12 at some kind of disadvantage in the national playoff picture – and I’d argue it’s too early to make that call – so be it. I'd rather not see the conference contribute to the sport's NFL-ization
Maybe I'll feel differently in a few years. Right now, though, I'd prefer that the Big 12 sit tight and look for ways to improve within its current structure.