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Leaders at Big 12 meetings: League set at 10

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione talks to reporters at the Big 12 conference's annual spring meetings on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione talks to reporters at the Big 12 conference's annual spring meetings on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in Kansas City, Mo.

May 31, 2012

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— If the Big 12 Conference is planning to expand in the near future, its leaders sure are putting forth a strong effort to hide it.

Wednesday, after the opening round of the conference’s annual spring meetings at the Intercontinental Hotel near The Plaza, interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione took time to address a group of reporters that even included one writer who covers Florida State for the Tallahassee Democrat.

The question on everyone’s mind was whether the Big 12 had any interest in expanding back to 12 or beyond. The answer that was given repeatedly throughout the question-and-answer session was, “No.”

“We did (discuss expansion),” Neinas said while answering the opening question. “And the athletic directors confirmed their position that they’re comfortable with 10 members.”

After stating that right out of the gate, all three men were asked in a variety of different ways about Florida State, Notre Dame, Clemson and other schools rumored to be at least on the radar of Big 12 expansion. Although all three presented a unified front, none of them chose to squash the speculation 100 percent, despite being given repeated chances throughout the hour or so that they spoke to reporters.

“We deal with what we know,” Castiglione said. “Not hypotheticals.”

Skeptics of the Big 12’s current stance point to similar words that came from the SEC office during the summer of 2011. After announcing publicly that the league was pleased with its lineup at the time, the SEC jumped at the opportunity to scoop up Texas A&M and, later, Missouri, but only after those two schools first severed ties with the Big 12.

Whether that’s what’s happening here is anyone’s guess, but Neinas, Pollard and Castiglione each said that the schools rumored to be linked to potential Big 12 expansion never were so much as mentioned during Wednesday’s meetings.

“We’re not talking about them,” Castiglione said. “We’re talking about 10.”

When pressed for clarification by the reporter from Florida, Neinas confirmed that the Big 12 had not been contacted by Florida State and added, “and we have not reached out to Florida State.”

As the questions concerning why 10 schools is ideal for the Big 12 piled up, Neinas continually pointed to what he believes is right with the league. He made mention of the addition of TCU and West Virginia and the greater sense of unity that has come with the elimination of divisions. He also briefly talked about the vastly improved television deals the league has secured with ESPN and FOX and highlighted the recent agreement with the SEC to create the Champions Bowl, which would pit the Big 12 and SEC football champions against one another in a postseason bowl game, provided those teams are not a part of the anticipated final four that appears destined to replace the current BCS system.

While all of those examples of the league’s strength and stability were known coming into the day, many still wondered if the Big 12 was and is making a mistake by not taking a more aggressive approach for a third straight summer.

“I would say the position we’re in is very proactive,” Pollard said. “We’re making the proactive decision to say 10 is in our best interest. We think we’re positioned in a way that we’ve got (everything) covered and can act accordingly if we feel we need to. But, right now, we think the way it’s going to turn out is we may be the one that’s left standing (while everyone else says), ‘They had this thing figured out a year ago or two years ago.’”

Added Neinas, yet again: “The future looks bright for the Big 12 Conference. Bigger is not necessarily better.”

As for the league’s official take on the best system to improve upon the BCS mess with a four-team football playoff at the end of the season, that stance was much more clear.

“We’re in favor of taking the four highest ranked teams,” Neinas said. “And we think there should be some type of selection committee situation and strength of schedule must, underscore must, be included in any analysis.”

A decision from the BCS is expected by the end of June. The Big 12 spring meetings resume today and will wrap up Friday morning.

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