Should the Big 12 expand? Coaches weigh in

DALLAS

No coach is more qualified to weigh in on the debate. 

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has hoisted Big 12 trophies in the league’s BR (Before Realignment) and AR (After Replenishment) periods. Throughout the league’s time as a 10-team organization, he’s been a constant voice pushing the league toward adding two more teams. 

"We’ve been fortunate to win two conference championships, but aside from that, we’ve got four divisional championship trophies in our trophy case and they wouldn’t be there if we didn’t have divisional play," Snyder said. "That meant a great deal to the growth of our program." 

The Wildcats have earned a reputation for having one of the league’s most voracious fan bases and this is a question worth asking: Would that still be the case if the Big 12 never had divisions? Would Kansas State even have been able to build its program to its current level without them?

Added incentives can do wonders inside and outside the locker room. 

"That impacts young guys with an attitude of ‘let’s just play the season out, get it over with.’ Sometimes it can affect attendance a great deal, and there are other schools in our conference that can attest to the exact same thing. I can name two or three. It didn’t happen very often, but they were competing for a divisional championship in the last game of the season and their fans were there, the stands were full," Snyder said. "That was important to those programs." 

Missouri never captured a Big 12 title before leaving for the SEC, but the Tigers built their reputation in part thanks to three Big 12 North titles from 2007-10. 

Snyder relished successes and failures in divisional title races. Even at 6-5 in his first season back at K-State in 2009, the Wildcats traveled to Nebraska on the season’s final weekend with a chance to win the Big 12 North. 

"We lost it, but everybody was excited about it. That’s the value of having it," Snyder said. 

For Snyder, a vote against Big 12 expansion is a vote for fewer interested programs at the end of the conference season. Forget coaching — never doubt his ability to construct an argument in a debate. 

No Big 12 team has gone undefeated in league play since the conference moved to a nine-game schedule in 2011. The league also has not played for a national title in that period. 

Could adding two teams not only help fledgling programs build, but also help the Big 12 push a team into the national title picture? 

It’s a complicated question and Snyder has seen the dark side of that argument, too, blowing a fourth-quarter lead as a heavy favorite in the 1998 Big 12 Championship Game, eventually losing and costing the Wildcats a chance to play for a national title. 

Final decisions will be made above their heads, but FOX Sports Southwest spent Monday and Tuesday polling every Big 12 coach for their opinion on Big 12 expansion. Snyder has been the most outspoken and most opinionated supporter, but he has some reinforcements, too. 

"Yeah, I would (be in favor of expansion) from a selfish standpoint," Baylor coach Art Briles said. 

The Bears pushed their program into national prominence despite a lack of divisions, but in Briles’ early years, being stuck in the same division as stronger Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech programs didn’t make building any easier. 

"If they felt like we could still get the same dollar bill and add a couple teams and it might help us down the road in the playoff, I don’t think we can really judge it one year on the playoff. I think you wait, I don’t know how many years," Briles said. "Honestly, divisions are OK."

That’s a big if, and one on which several coaches are willing to plant a stake in regards to expansion. 

"If it’d be the right teams, if somebody’s going to bring something to continue to improve the quality, sure," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. 

Added West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen: "I think there’s some quality teams out there. Coming from the Big East, I got to know a lot of these teams. Being in Conference USA, I knew some of these schools, obviously some of these being mentioned: Houston, Central Florida, Memphis. And then up in the old Big East days, Cincinnati and UConn. In order for some of those teams to be considered; they need to model what TCU did, which, 10 years ago, they started building and started winning. Which teams those are is not for me to say, but I’d use the TCU model in order to be considered." 

The irony of Holgorsen’s case is no Big 12 coach was more against expansion than TCU’s Gary Patterson. He’s not looking for anybody to follow his blueprint and become a hurdle between him and an elusive national title that narrowly escaped him in 2014 and 2010. 

"No," Patterson said when asked if he’d like to see the Big 12 expand. "The only way you do that is you’ll probably have to travel a longer distance and I’ve already done the West Coast-East Coast thing." 

He’s right about travel. Despite teams like Houston and SMU getting mentions among expansion candidates, the odds of the Big 12 adding a fifth team in Texas are almost nil. 

"Let’s bring Nebraska back and a few others; one other maybe. I don’t know that," Snyder said. "I know the programs I’ve seen mentioned; all good programs, all good universities."

Long stretches without games against Ohio State or Michigan might be a disappointment, but the Huskers won’t be forfeiting the Big Ten’s stability any time soon. 

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Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy straddled the fence on the debate but when he surveys the landscape from up there, he left little doubt about what he sees. 

"It’s going to be interesting because there’s some power struggles going on. There’s certain people that are really pulling for this and some people saying we like it how it is. It’ll be interesting to see what happens because there’s some pretty powerful people involved in the decisions being made right now," he said. "My opinion, there will be two teams added to the league at some point. I don’t know when, where, how or why, but I just think they will. I think that’s the direction it’s going and the guys who are in charge are smart enough to get the right group." 

In a nutshell, where does each Big 12 coach stand on expansion? 

Art Briles, Baylor: "Yeah, I would (support expansion) from a selfish standpoint. So we only have five (annual games) and three (cross-divisional games) and rotate those three. … Honestly, divisions are OK. They’re OK."

Paul Rhoads, Iowa State: "That’s way above my pay grade. I will cop out and I have no problem doing it. (laughs)"

David Beaty, Kansas: "It’s an everchanging landscape in college football. If they do expand, I know that commissioner (Bob) Bowlsby, if that happens, I know he’ll pick the right fits. That’s important for us, the right fits in the Big 12 moving forward. Not just anyone, but making sure they fit the Big 12. I’m confident of that." 

Bill Snyder, Kansas State: "I’ve long been an advocate of a certain way, and only because of its value to Kansas State. … I have always favored the way it was at one time. I favor a 12-team conference, I favor two divisions, and I favor a championship game."

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: "If it’d be the right teams, if somebody’s going to bring something to continue to improve the quality, sure." 

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: "I wish I could speak intelligently on it. I have a lot of confidence in our league office. Do I think at some point two more teams will get on board? I do. I don’t know who they are, I don’t know when. Do I want to have a conference championship game right now? No. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t think there’s any reason right now to hit a panic button."

Charlie Strong, Texas: "Whatever the commissioner thinks is right, I’m all for." 

Gary Patterson, TCU: "No. Reason I don’t really look forward to it is the only way you do that is you’ll probably have to travel a longer distance and I’ve already done the West Coast-East Coast thing."

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech: "I really don’t have much of an opinion on that, truly. I think it’s a great plan, what we’re putting out there now. … I haven’t thought too much about expansion, I just play the games on the schedule. The only one I’ve heard consistently is BYU and obviously they’re a storied program, but I haven’t thought too much about it."

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: "There’s some quality teams out there. … In order for some of those teams to be considered, they need to model what TCU did, which, 10 years ago, they started building and started winning. Which teams those are is not for me to say, but I’d use the TCU model in order to be considered."

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