The Big 12 has been rumored to be expanding to 12, 14, or even 16 teams in recent months. A desire for a conference championship game in football has always been the driving force, though stability in numbers has certainly been a factor as well.
Now, though, a new report says that any expansion is unlikely, and it’s all thanks to the Big 12’s television partnerships.
From SI’s Pete Thamel:
While that’s not a definitive consensus, a new development with the league’s television partners has made not expanding the most likely scenario. Multiple sources indicated there have been discussions with the Big 12’s TV partners to pay the league not to expand. The purpose of the payment would be to eliminate the pro rata clause in the TV contract—which the TV officials consider a loophole—that enables the league to receive nearly $25 million annually for every school it adds. The willingness of ESPN and Fox to discuss paying to eliminate that clause and end future potential expansion drama in upcoming years makes not expanding the most likely conclusion.
“If they put more money up and bought out that pro rata clause, we’ll likely keep ourselves at 10,” speculated a high-ranking Big 12 source.
As reported by Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand and Michael Smith, ESPN and Fox Sports are not warm on the idea of the Big 12 adding members from outside Power Five conferences. Potentially adding the likes of Houston, BYU, Cincinnati and UConn would water down the level of competition and quality of product in the view of those TV networks. Additionally, ESPN and Fox Sports would face increased rights fees as a result of the Big 12 expanding. Naturally, that’s exactly why the conference wants to add schools.
Of course, the potential television revenue boost the conference could receive in exchange for sticking with ten schools must be weighed against the potential gains from a football championship game. But with Oklahoma reaching the College Football Playoff last year, despite the lack of a championship game, it’s possible the Big 12 has decided that it’s not as necessary to maintain their competitive edge as it was in the days of the BCS.
It’s certainly bad news for schools like Houston and BYU that were hoping to make the jump to a Power 5 conference, but by now they’re likely used to looking in from the outside.