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The Big 12 reportedly won’t expand after all, but it technically didn’t promise it would

The conference’s July expansion announcement was carefully worded.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Day Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma president David Boren, who has been been quite outspoken for years about the possibility of the Big 12 expanding, is now reportedly leaning against expansion.

A couple weeks later, Sports Illustrated reported ESPN and Fox might succeed at putting a stop to Big 12 expansion:

Multiple sources indicated there have been discussions with the Big 12’s TV partners to pay the league not to expand. The purpose of the payment would be to eliminate the pro rata clause in the TV contract—which the TV officials consider a loophole—that enables the league to receive nearly $25 million annually for every school it adds. The willingness of ESPN and Fox to discuss paying to eliminate that clause and end future potential expansion drama in upcoming years makes not expanding the most likely conclusion.

This may seem like a drastic change of events from this past summer, when all signs seemed to point toward expansion, but there are a few reasons why expansion was never a surefire thing.

Let’s look at the top candidates that the Big 12 was considering.

In early August, the Big 12 reportedly was gauging interest in a whopping 17 schools. The most frequently reported favorites were BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UConn.

Houston, which looked like an even more legitimate candidate after beating Oklahoma in the season opener, was an obvious choice. Geographically, it makes sense, and it’s had high-level success in recent years. Two Texas schools — Texas and Texas Tech — were fully on-board. But some at other Big 12 schools oppose the move, with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy explaining the recruiting challenges of adding another Texas school.

BYU’s averaged 9.3 wins per season since 2006 and has a large, national fan base. But one glaring issue arose: BYU’s stance on LGBT individuals. In August, advocacy groups sent a letter to Big 12 administrators that detailed “discriminatory policies” by BYU, a religious institution.

Given the stance college sports has taken regarding discrimination, welcoming BYU into the Big 12 without policy changes could be a challenge. The NCAA has since moved championship events from Charlotte due to North Carolina’s discriminatory state law, and the ACC followed suit by moving its conference championship.

UConn was reported several times as a top candidate, but it’s also very far away.

That leaves Cincinnati among the reported favorites. It’s a fine candidate without any major flaws. But even if Big 12 schools like Cincy, they won’t expand to 11 teams just for Cincy.

Yes, this summer, the Big 12 all but said it was going to expand.

“All but” is key.

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced at conference media days that his conference would begin evaluating potential members. He publicly solicited applications, but he didn’t guarantee the conference would expand.

With eight out of 10 conference members having to approve each new school, the conference might agree that more isn’t always better. The Big 12 will have a championship game without expanding to the typical 12 teams, thanks to a new NCAA rule, so for now, the conference could be just fine without expanding.

It might seem like the Big 12 can’t make up its mind — that’s been the case before — but it worded its July expansion announcement cautiously enough that it could now choose not to expand without contradicting itself.