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4 simple things to know about Big 12 expansion and what happens next

The conference isn’t adding teams at this time. That doesn’t mean Big 12 drama is anywhere near done.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

1. The conference wanted more money. It thinks it can get that without new neighbors.

The Big Ten didn’t extend invitations to Rutgers and Maryland in 2012 because it valued their academics. They needed to lay claim to the New York and Washington/Baltimore television markets so that The Big Ten Network could continue to grow in households and revenue.

There is no Big 12 Network. Per the league itself, it’s probably not possible, and there’s the matter of the Longhorn Network. So, when schools like Cincinnati, USF, and UCF pitched new market exposure, or when Houston built its campaign around retaking that city’s TV market from the SEC, there was no conference network executive to fan those flames.

Maybe everyone got their pitch wrong.

“We may have made a tactical error promoting ‘exposure in new markets,’” a source at one candidate school said. “Because to Texas and Oklahoma, that doesn’t matter. They don’t need that, and to everyone else that was probably a threat.”

2. The Big 12 never had a true identity.

To some involved in the audition process, the Big 12 feels like the same old story: two superpowers who can’t agree on a collective future (Iowa State’s athletic director said in a radio interview, “If we take Texas and Oklahoma out of the room, we're the Mountain West”), a cast of supporting schools with little power, and a league scrambling to cater and cajole.

“We got the feeling throughout it was four separate groups we were trying to sell: the league itself, Oklahoma, Texas, and then the remaining schools,” a source close to expansion told SB Nation. “And so maybe you can divide and conquer and you get one or two on your side, but I’m not sure how you successfully sell this four very different ways.

“You need all of them for the vote, but you really need Texas and OU, and then functionally, you need the league to sell the rest of the teams. I don’t know if that’s functional right now.”

3. The Big 12 is (probably) too disorganized to carry out a conspiracy.

Behold, a glorious back-handed compliment: no one who represents candidate schools and with whom SB Nation has spoken believes the Big 12’s theatre was designed as leverage to press Fox and ESPN for more money ... because no one we spoke with believe there’s that much cohesion among Big 12 decision makers.

“I choose to believe Commissioner Bowlsby was genuine with his interest and that we weren’t part of a larger negotiating tactic,” the athletic director of one candidate school told SB Nation. “But we also knew there were people inside the conference and at particular schools who thought expansion was the right move.”

Another source concurred:

“If their intent was only to renegotiate with current membership, they would’ve likely had an outside party evaluate each of us and provide a report. Instead, we went through that work ourselves. They wanted extremely detailed documentation on short notice. My assumption is some group or persons had the intent of expanding, at least at first.”

4. Given the current state of TV and new platforms, predicting 2025 is impossible.

As of now, the Big 12’s media revenue-sharing agreement is set to expire in 2024-25.

By the standards we value in 2016, everyone not named Texas or Oklahoma who opposed expansion probably cut their nose to spite their face. That’s because our assumption is that in 2025, those two schools will be be poached by other conferences (or in UT’s case, maybe declare independence) and a scramble to absorb some of the remnants will create a Power 4.

Based on what we’ve seen in the last decade, that scenario makes total sense.

The problem is, no one knows what’s to come. Will non-traditional content providers start paying rights fees to air college sports exclusively, free of traditional networks? Will cord-cutting remake the future? Or is it a market adjustment for providers like ESPN to better service over-the-top streaming consumers?

Nine years is a long time from now, and with fundamental uncertainties among TV networks, who provide college conference the majority of their revenue, the landscape is nearly impossible to predict.