Big 12 Conference Expansion Notes: BYU’s Issues & is the Big 12 Playing Poker

Photo via Daniel X. O'Neil @ Flickr

We haven’t talked about Big 12 Conference expansion in a couple of weeks, so let’s get to it.

The biggest news that dropped today is from ESPN’s Brett McMurphy where he writes that the Big 12 is set to interview 17 schools for possible expansion:

The 17 schools that will make their presentations to the Big 12 include Cincinnati, Houston, BYU, South Florida, UCF, UConn, Memphis, Colorado State, Boise State, Tulane, Temple, East Carolina, SMU and New Mexico, sources said.

It should also be noted that expanding by two seems to be the direction things are headed, but also on the table is not expanding at all and that not expanding or expanding by two is the likely scenario. Gotta guess that this is an incredibly awesome game of chicken that the Big 12 is playing with their television partners.
The big news this week was that LGBT groups had sent a letter to the Big 12 last week notifying them of the issues with BYU’s LGBT policy. This is obviously a bit tricky because this very much dives into the political realm, something that I’ve tried to keep completely separate from STP. And to summarize BYU’s policy is a very rudimentary way, it is okay to be LGBT, but you just can’t act on it at school. Hopefully that makes sense, although it is a weird fence to straddle. We should also mention that Baylor previously had a similar policy, which outlaws “homosexual acts” but that was changed last year. Frank the Tank and Frank merely makes the case that it could have a profound affect on BYU entering the Big 12 and I think that’s accurate:

However, that doesn’t mean the Big 12 has to accept BYU simply because the school is exercising its First Amendment rights, either. The Big 12 is every bit as much as a private association as BYU or the LDS church itself, so the conference can apply whatever criteria it wants in choosing its members. As I wrote in my very first post about conference realignment, there are tons of off-the-field factors that can impact expansion decisions, such as academics, TV markets and brand value. Increased emphasis on the protection of LGBT rights can certainly be a game changer, especially when public support for LGBT causes has gone from a small minority 10 years ago to a clear majority in rapid fashion and is increasing everyday (with near-unanimity among those under the age of 40). It clearly has been a deal-breaker for the Pac-12 with respect to BYU, so none of us should be surprised if it ends up being the case for the Big 12.

And to be clear, I echo Frank’s sentiments that BYU is completely within it’s rights to have this stand. I certainly have no issue with the expression of that right, but the counter-point is that the Big 12 can choose to exclude them because of that stand.

Our buddy, NewsOK’s Berry Tramel, asks if the Big 12 powers are truly playing poker with ESPN and FOX and gives two theories:

1. Big 12 fathers know the league is doomed, and that come 2025 and the end of the grant of rights that has tethered the members together, schools will go the way of the wind. So take all the money you can get now, which means milk the networks for $100 million extra a year, to be divided mostly with the current members and not with the newcomers.

2. Big 12 fathers, alarmed at falling too far behind the Big Ten and the SEC in media payouts, are using their TV contract to extort more cash and/or concessions from ESPN and FOX.

I think both of these are true and I’m, at this point, I’m near convinced that the Big 12 shuters in 2025, so have a great time until then. As an aside, Tramel’s opinion is that the Big 12 doesn’t really want more members, but just wants more money.

ESPN’s Jake Trotter and SI’s Pete Thamel have similar articles that essentially state that by adding Houston or some comparable school isn’t going to water down the Big 12, which seems to be the narrative that ESPN and FOX believe. I’m honestly indifferent about Houston. I really don’t think they would be good for the Big 12 members in Texas competing with Houston, but if they were added I wouldn’t be protesting outside the Big 12 offices either. The non-Texas Big 12 members aren’t real excited about adding another Texas team and I certain understand that. A conference that is dominated by a state in a sense, with Texas Tech, Texas, TCU, Baylor and possibly Houston would give the state of Texas 5 members. Of course, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa don’t really have any in-state options so they’re already at a disadvantage.

Colorado State will have their own beer garden at their stadium. Believe it or not, someone at the CSU athletic offices actually emailed me about this and the renderings are fantastic. Perhaps the biggest story is how CSU is reaching out to STP about some of this stuff.

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