IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Big 12 will have a football championship game in 2017. What remains unclear is if the conference will still be a 10-team league then.
While the Big 12 board of directors made a somewhat surprising decision this week to resurrect the football title game, the league’s spring meetings ended with possible expansion still a lingering issue that suddenly seemed less urgent.
“I’ll just say we’re not ready to vote on expansion,” said David Boren, the Oklahoma president and chairman of the league board. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to reach some kind of consensus. It may be a consensus that we keep revisiting it in the future. … We’re definitely committed to talking to each other as a group before the summer is over.”
Just last summer, Boren called the Big 12 “psychologically disadvantaged” as the smallest of the five power conferences. Even in January, Boren talked about his league’s need to get bigger, restore its championship game and have a league-wide television network for long-term survival.
Even with only one of those three, Boren left his first spring meetings as the board’s chairman saying the conference has “never been stronger” and has sent a message that it is “absolutely” here to stay. The league will split a record $304 million in net revenue, about $30.4 million per school for the 2015-16 school year.
Boren acknowledged that the idea of a traditional TV network is now “off the table.” He cited the current marketplace and ever-changing technology as reasons for that.
Expanding by two or four teams — or none — is still unsettled.
“We don’t know if there is an expansion process,” Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said when asked if a championship game could speed up the process to possibly add teams.
The Big 12 board comprised of the league’s presidents and chancellors, not Bowlsby and the athletic directors, will make any final decisions on the league’s makeup.
Board members this week received and reviewed lots of data from consultants hired to determine how expansion would affect the league, and have asked for even more comparative data. Boren said any additions would have to strengthen the conference long term.
“We have to look very carefully at all this, in what we are doing is enhancing and certainly not diluting,” Boren said.
Without getting into specific names, Boren said the league is complimented by how many schools have expressed interest in joining the Big 12.
“I don’t think we need any more phone calls or material in the mail. I think that every member in the conference is well aware of all of the schools that have expressed interest,” he said. “There are presidents I haven’t heard from in a long time that I’m hearing from. There’s a lot of desire to join this conference, but they don’t need to do anything. It’s a matter of our own internal evaluation that we’re continuing to move forward.”
Media members from Cincinnati, Memphis, Orlando (UCF) and Houston were among those who attended the spring meetings in North Texas.
The Big 12 was still a 12-team league with two divisions when it last had a championship game in 2010.
In the College Football Playoff era, the Big 12 has been the only of the five power conferences without a championship game — and the only one to play a round-robin schedule. Oklahoma made the playoff last season after TCU and Baylor were both 11-1 when left out of the first CFP two seasons ago.
Even when resuming a league championship game in 2017, the Big 12 could keep a round-robin schedule if still at 10 teams.
“If indeed we’re still playing a full round-robin and we have a championship game, I think our means of determining our champion is the strongest of all the conferences,” Bowlsby said. “We’re two years in and we’re batting .500. And we’d like to bat higher than that. And we think this gives us the best chance to do that.”
That would also guarantee a rematch of the regular season in the title game — if there was a championship game e last season, Oklahoma would have had to play Oklahoma State the week after beating the Cowboys 58-23 in the regular season finale.
Bowlsby said the Big 12 would “in all likelihood” move to divisions, and has looked at models with two five-team divisions and a round-robin schedule. That would leave the option to schedule games between teams from opposite divisions earlier in the season, creating a time gap before the rematch of division winners in December.
“One of our prime considerations is to avoid the situation where there are back-to-back games,” Boren said. “There are weeks to do that and ways to work through that.”