Big 12 Expansion Takes a U-Turn, With OU’s David Boren at the Wheel

Jul 20, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to the media during the Big 12 Media Days at Omni Dallas. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to the media during the Big 12 Media Days at Omni Dallas. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The on-again, off-again world of Big 12 expansion just swerved off the road, again.

Oklahoma president David Boren, who just last year was out in front, leading the charge toward Big 12 expansion possibilities, apparently is now putting on the brakes and, some are saying, has changed his mind regarding the need for expansion.

A year ago, when there was widespread talk about the need for a conference championship in football to be on equal footing with the other Power Five conferences, Boren, who serves a chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, said at that time he believed the Big 12 was “psychologically disadvantaged” by having just 10 member institutions.

Not long after that, the Big 12 board authorized conference officials to begin accepting applications and interviewing potential new members.

It has been widely reported that the Big 12 has been notified by as many as 20 Football Bowl Subdivision schools of their interest in exploring partnership with the conference, and Big 12 officials have conducted sit-down interviews with a number of those who expressed a strong interest, including representatives of Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis and Brigham Young.

“Oklahoma has not yet taken a position on expansion.” –David Boren, Oklahoma president and chairman of Big 12 board of directors

After a University of Oklahoma regents meeting two weeks ago, it was reported that Boren cautioned that Big 12 expansion “should not be taken as a given.”

On Tuesday this week, Jake Trotter of wrote that Sports Illustrated and the Dallas Morning News had both reported that Boren had “come full circle” and “is now opposed to Big 12 expansion.”

Trotter reported that, in a statement to ESPN, Boren said Tuesday, “I do not know where the speculation came from, but Oklahoma has not yet taken a position on expansion.”

In an article on Tuesday, Trotter reported that “sources have told ESPN that one of Boren’s biggest motivations to expand was to drive the creation of a conference network. With only 10 schools and limited markets, expansion was viewed as a prerequisite for getting a network off the ground.”

Although Big 12 officials have been diligently exploring the possibilities and implications of creating a conference-wide TV network (another feature that would put the Big 12 on even ground with other Power Five leagues), it now appears that is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever.

Sports columnist Berry Tramel, in Tuesday’s edition of the Oklahoma City Oklahoman, writes:

"“To expand or not expand (in the Big 12), that is not the question. Since the league lost Nebraska and Colorado, then Texas A&M and Missouri, the evergreen question has not been how many. The evergreen question has been who.”"

Tramel says Oklahoma is not anti-expansion, rather OU is anti-expansion candidates. The central issue being finding candidates of equal stature to the schools that left.

All of this is extremely bad news for the Big 12. Whatever the reasons, if the Big 12 does not go through with expansion plans, its chances of longtime survival are virtually nil.

No one argues with the notion that Oklahoma and Texas are the anchor tenants in the Big 12 structure. President Boren has not come out and said it directly, but it certainly does not sound as if OU supports bringing a Houston or Cincinnati, or any other interested party, into the Big 12, now or perhaps ever.

Texas has been uncharacteristically reticent on the issue, but I can’t imagine the Longhorns ever being a fan of expansion, knowing that they could easily find a landing spot of their liking if the Big 12 were to go away, which is looking more and more like the final outcome in this sad saga.

I would not be a bit surprised if this latest shock wave radiating out on Big 12 expansion doesn’t prompt other conference members – notably an Iowa State, Kansas State or Baylor – to become fed up with all this dysfunction and fickle behavior, just like Missouri did previously, to seriously begin proactively considering their options rather than be left behind sitting on their thumbs while the conference comes tumbling down around them.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma is going to be cast as the bad guy in all of this.