Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

Big 12 expansion likely

August 22, 2002


Bigger is always better in college athletics, particularly if bigger means making more money.

By merging the Big Eight Conference with four teams from the old Southwest Conference, the Big 12 Conference was born in 1997, and the amalgamated dozen have been smiling all the way to the bank ever since.

Growth seems to be inevitable when colleges affiliate. What started as the Big Six, for example, became the Big Seven and then the Big Eight. Also, the Big Ten has actually had 11 members since it added Penn State in 1993, and now the Big Ten is talking about adding a 12th member, probably Pittsburgh.

I suppose the Big Ten would remain the Big Ten even with 12 members, and yet it is very likely the Big 12 name will be available again someday. When? Hard to say, but expansion in the pursuit of increased revenue is almost instinctive.

When the Big 12 Conference considers expanding again, here is the key question: Will the potential new member or members bring enough additional television sets into conference demographics to prevent dilution of the league's TV revenue? In other words, adding a new school for the sake of adding a new school without considering the law of diminishing returns is bad business.

It doesn't take a genius to determine the best way to add TV sets would be to approve a school from a state preferably a heavily populated one that doesn't already contain a Big 12 member.

Illinois would fall into that framework, but Illinois State is the only real possibility, and ISU's football team is in NCAA Div. I-AA . If Illinois State ever upgrades its football program, perhaps. Not that anyone in Illinois would watch an Illinois State-Oklahoma State football game, but how about Illinois State-Texas or ISU-Nebraska?

Then again, Illinois State may be on a road too far, an eastern outpost too unreachable from, say, College Station, Texas, or Boulder, Colo. Another question: How many people who own TV sets in Illinois give a hoot about Illinois State?

As you know, the Big 12 Conference has a whole bunch of one-eyed boxes under lock and key in the Lone Star State. To tell the truth, sometimes I think everybody in Texas is either a graduate of A&M; or UT. Those universities are huge and their alumni permeate the state. Meanwhile, Texas Tech pretty much takes care of the TV sets in the panhandle and the Permian basin while Baylor, the other Big 12 school in Texas, has the Baptist boob tubes safely secured.

Even with four Texas schools in the Big 12, five more Texas schools with NCAA Div. I-A football programs are not. All five are in the most populated areas of the state. Southern Methodist and Texas Christian are in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth megalopolis while North Texas is on the fringe. Both Houston U. and Rice are located in the massive Houston metro.

Would adding one or more of those other five Texas schools to the Big 12 Conference add enough extra television sets to justify their addition? Or would it be more a case of cutting the same pie into more slices?

At the same time, if you add one or more southern schools, do you balance the equation by adding two northern schools? Assuming you can come up with two northern schools. That cupboard is nearly bare.

Colorado State? Possibly, but can the Rams provide enough additional Front Range TV sets to justify membership? Does CSU have any fans west of the Eisenhower Tunnel?

New Mexico? Perhaps. Albuquerque is an untapped Big 12 market and the city is readily accessible from many Big 12 sites by Southwest Airlines.

Wyoming? Forget it. Wyoming has only 263 TV sets. Or is it 262?

Make no mistake about it, though, the Big 12 Conference is on a collision course with expansion. It's just a matter of time and, of course, money.

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