If you actually believe the Big 12 and its members, they are perfectly content with being a 10-team conference.
At least that’s the propaganda they are peddling this week at their annual spring meetings, despite speculation that Clemson and Florida State are interested in joining the league.
“The Big 12 athletic directors reaffirmed their commitment to 10 members,” Big 12 acting commissioner Chuck Neinas told reporters Wednesday. “We are happy and satisfied with 10.”
Of course, that’s the party line for now; but for how long? Probably not a lot longer.
Because when the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the Bowl Championship Series meet June 26 in Washington D.C., college football’s much-anticipated four-team playoff could finally become official. The announcement itself will be an afterthought, because what will matter most is how teams are selected for the new format.
Once it’s decided whether the playoff will consist of the top four overall teams, only conference champions or some combination of both, another wild ride on the conference realignment carousel will begin.
“Obviously the decisions around the BCS, wherever that winds up going, could have other implications for some realignment moves,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday. “I’m sure there will be some more yet to occur.”
And for this next go-round of conference realignment, the Big 12 has become the destination. Less than a year after being on the brink of collapsing, it is now in a position of power thanks to the miracle work of Neinas.
Big 12 officials know this and, once you get past their bluster about being fine with 10 members, they hardly sound opposed to expansion.
“We will continue to survey the landscape,” Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger said Thursday. “It doesn’t have to be at 10 forever.”
Said Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard on Wednesday, “I think it’s important to say our heads aren’t buried in the sand. You have to be strategic and watch the landscape.”
Being proactive has been the lesson after the past two years of dizzying conference realignment that has consolidated college football’s power among the Big Four of the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.
That shift already has Florida State and Clemson on the outside looking in as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Both could be even more so depending on the structure of the coming four-team playoff.
Even the biggest catch of all, Notre Dame, has to be evaluating its options more than ever before with a new postseason format coming.
“There has to be a very compelling reason to go to 12,” said Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis, chairman of the Big 12’s Board of Directors, on Thursday. “As of right now, I don’t think our membership sees the need to grow.”
So while the Big 12 insists it is satisfied with 10 members and has not had any expansion talks with other schools, just wait until the details of the four-team playoff are finalized and the conference starts getting telephone calls.
Then college football will get to see how much of the Big 12’s contentment actually can be believed.