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Big 12 Expansion: Money Grab or Power Play?

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Big 12 expansion talks have reeked of one thing so far: cold, hard cash

West Virginia v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

No matter which way you slice it, the process of expansion for the Big 12 reeks. There are many different forces at work, all with different agendas. There’s been a mind-numbing amount of requisite, bureaucratic coach-speak from Big 12 leadership. Notably present are all the politics and angling you’d expect from a major conference and cable networks in 2016. It’s fitting that in the year of a presidential election, our football conferences are getting political too.

Put simply: Big 12 expansion is a money grab, and a naked one at that. The simple fact is that there doesn’t exist a single aspect of college football that money doesn’t affect, and expansion isn’t any exception.

I’m not trying to demonize the Big 12 for trying to delay the inevitable, when their TV contract with Fox and ESPN is up. That inevitability is death—Texas and OU are all but guaranteed to bolt for greener (or more specifically, Southeastern) pastures at some point down the road.

Big 12 brass has been predictably silent on the financial aspect of expansion. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and OU president David Boren, among others, have not keyed the public in on the process of expansion, especially in reference to potential revenues. Instead, they’ve only offered platitudes about the conference’s competitive spirit, adding to tradition, or bolstering academics.

But the revenues are hard to look away from: if the Big 12 adds two teams, ESPN and Fox will be forced to pay out a combined $40 million. Four teams would mean an additional $80 million for Big 12 schools. The conference also decided on adding a championship game in 2017—expansion or no expansion—which will be another significant revenue boost for schools to share.

There is one smoking gun, in my opinion, that gives away Big 12 brass: any team who joins can expect only to gain a portion of that TV money, with the lion’s share going to the Big 12’s 10 extant teams. A school from the SEC, ACC, Pac 12 would scoff at that prospect, but teams like BYU, Houston, Cincinnati, and Connecticut may see that as a small price to pay for access to a ‘Power 5’ conference.

The Big 12 is expanding, but it’s not for reasons of academics or competition. It’s not about tradition or pageantry. It’s not about any high-sounding generality that Bob Bowlsby or David Boren offer the press. It’s about one thing, the greatest ritual in all of sports: watching the money stack higher, and higher, and higher.