As it does nearly every offseason, Big 12 expansion has reared its head once again. This time there appears to be more momentum than ever, as the perception has shifted from “if” the Big 12 expands to “when”, and “who do they add?”
As the only power five conference without at least 12 teams and a championship game, the Big 12 has been struggling from a perception standpoint since the last major conference realignment of 2010-2012. The conference is stuck, as there isn’t a second obvious choice beyond BYU to get the conference back to 12 teams and put the matter to rest.
But forget about the realignment from five years ago. Had things gone differently at the very beginning for the Big 12, back in the mid-1990’s when the Big Eight took four teams from the Southwest Conference to form the Big 12, we would likely be looking at a very different college football landscape today.
I dug up these old Fort Worth Star-Telegram article from 1994 (links here and here). They were written at a time when the Big Eight (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado, Iowa State, Nebraska, and Missouri) had already decided to add four teams from the Southwest Conference (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor) to form the Big 12.
But the conference explored adding two more teams to make the “Big 14” conference, even trademarking the naming rights. Turns out the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Big 12 decided to stay put at 12 teams rather than move to 14 because there wasn’t another program to couple with BYU to justify further expansion. The Big 12 considered New Mexico at the time, but ultimately decided not to pull the trigger.
Still, I applaud the Big 12 of 22 years ago for looking ahead rather than playing catchup like today’s Big 12. In hindsight, I think it would have been best to add BYU and Tulane to form the Big 14. Tulane was and is no powerhouse, but they would have added a third private school to go along with Baylor and BYU, giving the conference more balance in that regard. They have stellar academics, a great footprint being in New Orleans, and 22 years later they might have the revenue to have a decent football program had they been in the Big 14 all along. (Also: great road game trip for fans)
Furthermore, if the Big 14 with these teams had come together in the 1990’s, it would have been in a much stronger position during the major realignment of 2010-2012. The potential Big 14 could have been in for a big enough payday from TV networks that disgruntled members may not have bolted for the likes of the Pac-12, SEC, and Big Ten. Maybe the Longhorn Network could have been prevented, and a conference network created instead. Or perhaps “super conferences” would have formed, as it would be much more feasible for the Big 14 to add two teams than the former Pac-10 to add six teams.
With the exception of the Big 12, the other four major conferences have 12, 14, 14, and 14 teams. Playing with 10 teams and without a conference network is simply not the landscape of today’s college football conferences. A Big 14 would have been a step ahead of the college football world, instead of many steps behind like it is now. It would have likely kept what we now know to be the Big 12 in good shape as one of the best conferences in the country. What a diverse and mighty conference it would have been, and almost was…