Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby is apparently diving right into the deep end of the conference expansion pool. I was told that “back channel” contact is currently taking place with five high major schools, with regards to joining the Big 12 conference. These lines of communication have been opened with Clemson, Maryland, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Notre Dame.
It is anticipated that two of those five will join before summer’s end, two of those five will be invited to join the Big 12. (There is also an outside chance that a combination of Brigham Young for football, with Notre Dame in all other sports could be combined with one of the other four schools. But it’s definitely an outside chance.) Initial contact has been made with all of the schools, and none of the five have closed the door on the possibility. Georgia Tech is a bit lukewarm, based upon the relative academic reputations of the ACC and the Big 12.
Notre Dame is reportedly talking to the ACC as well, but has qualms about going that route, given the revenue disparity between the ACC’s new ESPN deal and the one the Big 12 agreed to with ESPN/Fox. The Big 12′s deal offers $20 million annually per team, with escalators that could raise that figure to as much as $23-25 million, should the Big 12 find attractive expansion candidates. Meanwhile, the ACC’s deal is not only for less annual money, at “only” $17 million per team, but includes all three tiers of television rights, meaning that a school like Notre Dame would be deprived of a potentially lucrative revenue stream that their third-tier rights would provide.
The other schools–Atlantic Coast Conference members all–have expressed unqualified interest in continuing the discussion of switching conferences. Asked to rank the expansion candidates, the person I talked to placed them in the following order, based on a combination of the school’s interest in joining the conference, and the conference’s interest in having them:
2) Florida State
4) Notre Dame*
5) Georgia Tech
[Ed.: Fixed a mixup of FSU and Maryland. Maryland was listed 3rd.]
*=Reportedly, if the Big 12 was to warm up to a ND/BYU combination, that would jump up the list considerably. At this point, however, Big 12 officials are more interested in using the leverage of the new 4-team playoff to force Notre Dame out of their comfort zone of football independence.
It would appear that we are now headed into another summer of realignment. But with an aggressive new commissioner in the driver’s seat, the Big 12 appears ready to be driving the bus this time, instead of just desperately trying to get out of the way.