May 31, 2012

Big 12 is ready to expand ... with Notre Dame

What the Big 12 is saying publicly and privately about possible expansion are two different things, it seems.

While the Big 12 athletic directors came out publicly Wednesday saying the league is happy and strong at 10 schools, one source in the Big 12 told Thursday, there would be interest right now in adding Notre Dame, even if the Irish remained independent in football.

"There isn't interest in expansion outside of Notre Dame," the source said.

Under proposals discussed between the Big 12 and Notre Dame, the Irish could bring their non-football sports to the Big 12 and play up to six football games against the Big 12 while remaining independent in football.

That would allow the Irish to keep its NBC contract for football, which runs through the 2015 season.

Even interim commissioner Chuck Neinas said publicly Wednesday when asked if Notre Dame was to pick up the phone and call the Big 12, "We'd accept that call."

Another source in the league said the athletic directors are making no contingency plans on expansion based on if certain schools express interest or if a proposed four-team playoff takes a certain format.

"There's just no urgency right now for the Big 12 to be proactive," the source said.

But another key Big 12 source told Thursday about potential realignment, "There could be a flurry of activity on all fronts once the new BCS playoff format is announced."

The Big 12 athletic directors on Wednesday made clear their desires about several things, including:

****A format for a potential four-team playoff in college football (have a selection committee pick the best four teams at-large because the current system doesn't give strength of schedule enough weight)

"There needs to be a human element to kind of handle the unknowns. You can't always say computers get it right or opinion polls will get it perfect,'' Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "You still need someone with good, rational thinking to deal with unforseen circumstances that may come up. Who knows what form that takes but some form of human element that gets college football to the point of determining the best teams.''

****Where the semifinal games should be played (within the current bowl structure)

****Where the championship game should be played (bid it out to a city like the Final Four and Super Bowl do).

****And the Big 12 athletic directors publicly expressed their desire to remain a 10-team league - for now.

"We think we're positioned extremely well," said Iowa State's Jamie Pollard, chairman of the Big 12 athletic directors. "I don't think there is anything that has transpired that would (make) us talk about that anytime in the near future. At the same time I think it's important to say our heads aren't buried in the sand."

Added interim commissioner Chuck Neinas:

"The future is very bright for the Big 12 Conference," he said. "There is no hurry to consider expansion. You have to remember where we were and where we are. We have to build family unity. We have the opportunity for two new members to come into the Conference. We have a very cooperative spirit and something to build on. When you build a house, you build the foundation first.

"Are we happy and satisfied at 10? Yes. We have not reached out to Florida State nor have we been contacted by Florida State."

Interestingly, incoming commissioner Bob Bowlsby didn't arrive for the Big 12 meetings until late on Wednesday, after the athletic directors had met and discussed the pros and cons of expansion as well as the Big 12's position on a college playoff format.

Bowlsby will be present at meetings on Thursday, when Pollard will report the athletic directors' findings to the league's presidents and chancellors, as well as on Friday, when league revenue distributions are announced.

For the most part, Neinas and Pollard, speaking on behalf of the league athletic directors, said all the right things about the positives of being a 10-team league for now.

The ADs love having round-robin scheduling for league games in football and the double round-robin in basketball. The TV money will be there once the Tier 1 deal with ABC/ESPN is finalized (roughly $20 million per school); along with a 13-year granting of Tier 1 and 2 TV rights by schools back to the conference to cement their commitment to each other.

And Pollard reminded everyone of one of the big pitfalls of once again becoming a 12-team league, thus resuming a conference title game and all the complications of scheduling because the round-robin play is eliminated.

"We appreciate the position we're in by not having a championship game," Pollard said. "Our champion can get there with one less game. It's a good position to be in."

"The first time somebody's best team gets knocked out of a four-team playoff because they lost their championship game to a 7-5 team or 8-4 team, we'll see how long they want to keep a championship game," Pollard added.

But when Pollard said, "I don't think there is anything that has transpired that would (make) us talk about (expansion) anytime in the near future," the door was left open for how the new college playoff format could affect the college landscape.

The conference commissioners are meeting in Chicago on June 13 to begin hammering out their difference of opinions on how the playoff should function. The Big 12 and SEC favor selecting the four best teams. The Big Ten and Pac-12 favor some component or hybrid that requires a majority of the teams selected are conference champions.

Some at the Big 12 meetings snickered privately at the conference champions model because it seemed to try to ensure the Big Ten and Pac-12 would always have a representative in the playoff. Only one Big Ten school has ever played for a BCS national title (Ohio State). The Pac-12 has had two (USC and Oregon).

But Neinas used the fact that Stanford was ranked ahead of Oregon at the end of last year as an example of how the current formula (coaches poll, Harris poll and computer rankings) fail to factor in strength of schedule.

Neinas noted that Oregon won at Stanford; won the Pac-12 title; and played LSU on the road and still finished behind Stanford in the final BCS rankings and would have been left out of a four-team playoff last year, while Stanford would have been in.

So the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame will get together in Chicago on June 13 to hammer out a final format. Then, on June 20, a proposal will be considered by the oversight committee made up of presidents and chancellors. Once that proposal is finalized is when some in the Big 12 think there could be a potential stir in realignment. Maybe not. But maybe.

Stay tuned.

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