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Derek Redd | The Charleston Gazette | July 20, 2016

Big 12 to start exploring expansion candidates

  The Big 12 board will look at options of adding additional members to the conference.

The 10-member Big 12 Conference could grow to 12 -- or even 14 -- in the future.

Expansion is on the table for the conference after its presidents and chancellors voted unanimously Tuesday to have commissioner Bob Bowlsby "actively evaluate" the interest of universities who have contacted the Big 12 about joining.

Bowlsby and University of Oklahoma president David Boren would not say which schools are on the Big 12's radar, but there have been many that have contacted the conference to see if they might join. Adding both two and four teams to the conference will be on the table.

"I would say, yes, it's a forward step," Boren said in a Tuesday evening conference call. "It's a positive step. It's not yet a decision, if any particular university or college -- or even a definite decision about when we expand or the way, the form this would take. But it's definitely a forward step, and I think it shows momentum on the board to very seriously consider this as a possibility."

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The conference will look at several factors in the right candidates -- athletic program strength and competitiveness, fan base, access to media markets, reputation for integrity and academic standards. Bowlsby said any new member would have to bring stability to the conference and have a "high top end."

"You know, they're going to join a family," Bowlsby said. "And it's important that they strengthen the family and we strengthen them."

The announcement comes on the heels of news that the Atlantic Coast Conference and ESPN have agreed to a 20-year deal and rights extension that would lead to the creation of the ACC Network -- a linear network by 2019 and a digital network beginning this fall. Boren said the news of that agreement played a factor in Tuesday's vote.

"We try to keep an eye on the changing environment at all times," Boren said, "and we did want to be brought up to date in terms of potential impact that the ACC matter could have."

The vote also was another move to fortify the Big 12's position in the college football landscape. At 10 members, including West Virginia University, the Big 12 is the smallest of the power conferences. The conference uses a round-robin football schedule, and has been the lone power conference without a championship game. That led to Baylor and TCU being named co-champions in 2014 and both being left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

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The league recently announced it will play a conference title game beginning in 2017. Exploring expansion candidates was another step to solidify the Big 12's spot.

"We want to do everything possible to put this conference in a position to play for national championships," Boren said. "We want to do everything we can to add a data point. ... We're evaluating what expansion of the league might contribute to that process, as well as what it might contribute to financial stability and general stability of the conference."

Bowlsby said the process likely will come in two stages -- preliminary work, then perhaps a fact-finding or negotiation stage. It's not a fully fleshed-out plan, but Boren said the conference has a number of suitors eager to talk to the Big 12.

"It's certainly nice to be in a situation where you're made to feel wanted," Boren said. "And we've certainly been made to feel wanted by a lot of colleges and universities around the country."

This article was written by Derek Redd from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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