At first, second, third and fourth glance, Big 12 expansion has too many moving parts to begin to understand where Oklahoma, alongside Texas — it’s blood rival and brother, too, in the college football wars — might want to take the conference now and later.

Like, what schools might be in the hopper if the league expands from 10 to 12 or 14 institutions?

Like, what will the conference’s primary television partners, ESPN and Fox, want to do?

Like, is there a Big 12 Network coming down the pike?

Like, how much money’s at stake?

Like, what happens when the conference’s lucrative television deal — but not as lucrative as other conference’s deals — concludes following the 2024-25 school year?

Too much, right?

Maybe this will make it simpler.

• The announcement that ESPN is going in with the ACC to create a network scared the bejeezus out of the Big 12 and perhaps rightly so. Not having a network has made Big 12 athletic programs not nearly as rich as those in the SEC, Big 10 and Pac-12, all of which have networks. And now the ACC’s going to have one, too.

• As it turns out, a “pro rata” clause in the conference’s current deal demands ESPN and Fox cough up an additional $25 million per year, per additional conference member, should new members be added, even with no say in who those new members might be. Thus, even without a network, the Big 12, up to a point, owns a license to print money.

• One school of thought says OU and Texas should get behind adding two or four schools and, should no network be forthcoming, play out the current television contract before becoming free agents in the conference hunger games, then move where they’re most valued, clean up financially and become proud ex-members of the Big 12, offering good riddance to all the dead weight they’ve been carrying around all these years.

• Other schools of thought have hardly been mentioned. Instead, it’s become two different binary questions. Expand by two or four teams? Embrace the Big 12 in perpetuity or play out the string through 2025 and become a free agent?

• OU and Texas hold the cards. Of the 10 schools that make up the Big 12, only the Sooners and Longhorns control their own destiny.

Got it? Good.

Here’s what should happen.

The Sooners and Longhorns should press conference expansion to 14 and plan to stay in the Big 12 (or Big 14) forever. It’s the right thing to do and, well, that’s enough. It’s the right thing to do. Why?

• Anywhere else but the Big 12 (or Big 14) and Oklahoma is no longer Oklahoma and Texas is no longer Texas. Standard bearers of their former conferences, the Big Eight and Southwest, they’re now tied together in the Big 12 and must remain so to hold on to their prestige.

In the SEC, they’ll never be Alabama or LSU. In the Pac-12, they’ll never be USC or UCLA or Washington or Oregon. Even if they’re more successful, their prestige will be stripped.

Look at Nebraska. Look at Texas A&M.

The Big 10 belongs to Michigan and Ohio State. Nebraska, in its new conference, is no bigger a deal than Oklahoma State in its old one. A&M, in its new conference, paddles in the same boat. Readying to move on to the highest bidder in 10 years is no way for OU or Texas to go.

• The Big 12 should want to expand. It has to get to 12 institutions just to live up to its name and might need to reach 14 to be competitive in an age of super conferences. Yes, finding four new programs — even if BYU and Houston are the first two — may not raise the league’s collective power rating, but it would accomplish other things.

Like two seven-team divisions that would make a championship game more meaningful. Like enough programs playing enough sports to never have to worry about programming for a Big 12 Network. Like doing college football a real favor because right now, winning a national championship only makes you the best of 65 programs — the sum total of Power Five conference members and Notre Dame — or 66 in the off years a BYU or Boise State actually threatens to reach the the final four.

If the conference were to add BYU, Houston and any two of Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut, South Florida, Central Florida, Boise State or Colorado State, it brings that number to 69 or 70. And if the Pac-12 responds by going to 14 teams, it becomes 71 or 72.

The tyranny of the Power Five is boring. We need another power conference or more universities in the Power 5. We just do.

• There is no financial downside. ESPN and Fox are over a contractual barrel.

• The thought that the conference, weakened by expansion, is more likely to blow up at the end of its television contract is bunk. It must expand to remain competitive. Also, in 10 years, the new Big 12 (or Big 14) will have laid down roots. Newbies will have stepped forward. TCU’s no doormat, so why should BYU, Houston or Cincinnati have to be?

There’s more but that’s enough.

In the end, there are no good places for OU and Texas to go.

What’s left is making the conference you’re already in as big and great as it can be.


And stay put.

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