Why the Big 12 Passed on Expansion, and Why The 10-Team League isn’t Going Anywhere Soon

The Big 12‘s university presidents announced on Monday that the conference will not be adding any new members. The logic behind the decision is clear: the status quo is more lucrative than any of the expansion options.

Why the Big 12 Passed on Expansion, and Why The 10-Team League isn’t Going Anywhere Soon

For the last three months, these university presidents have considered over 20 different expansion candidates. They held actual interviews with 11 different schools. Regardless of how much value any of these candidates or groups of candidates could have added to the Big 12, that potential increased value fell short to an easier, quicker payday for the conference.

Reports have stated that a new television deal is a possibility for the Big 12, specifically one in which ESPN and Fox would eliminate the pro rata clause in the current contract. As it stands right now, under the current contract with that pro rata clause, the networks would pay the Big 12 an extra $25 million per year for each school the conference adds.

Eliminating that clause, in conjunction with the return of a football conference championship game, amounts to ESPN and Fox essentially paying the conference not to expand.

If a new TV deal is struck, the money that eliminating the pro rata clause and adding a conference championship game would be greater than the additional revenue that could brought by adding more members. Quite simply there is more money to be gained by going this route, rather than expanding the conference.

The Candidates

Probably the most lucrative candidate that was being considered was Brigham Young University. Earlie reports stated that some of the conference’s presidents, such as Oklahoma‘s David Boren, wanted BYU to join the conference.

Public backlash because of BYU’s stances on issues like abortion and LGBT rights nixed the allure of bringing BYU into the conference. From that point forward, it seemed that other candidates progressively became less and less attractive to the Big 12.

Although the return of a football conference championship game and the elimination of the pro rata clause in the current TV contract are likely to force ESPN and Fox to up the ante; ESPN and Fox may still save money over the term of the contract this way. Committed through 2025, if the Big 12 had added two schools for the 2017-18 season and beyond, that would have cost ESPN and Fox an additional $400 million ($25 million for each new school times eight years). If the conference had expanded to 14 or 16 schools, that cost obviously would have went up even more.

Potential New TV Deal’s Chilling Effect

The potential of a new TV deal is very attractive to the university presidents. As long as the status quo remains more lucrative than expansion, expansion will remain in the realm of discussion but not action. Another element to consider is that by standing pat at 10 schools, that additional revenue will only be split 10 ways, as opposed to 12, 14 or 16. Obviously, that means a bigger cut for the current members.

“This was not a decision not to expand. This was an endorsement and a reinvestment in the strength of the 10 that we have. Bigger is not always better,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a press conference on Monday evening.

Bigger is better, however, when discussing the size of the checks that will be sent out to the 10 schools that currently make up the Big 12. That is the true reason that all of the expansion talk is being shelved for the immediate future.


Main Photo: MANHATTAN, KS – NOVEMBER 21:  A general view of the the Big 12 logo painted on the field during a game between the Kansas State Wildcats and the Iowa State Cyclones on November 21, 2015 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)