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League puts expansion talk on hold

By Cole Manbeck

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Big 12 Conference has undergone significant transformations each of the last two years. So for the time being, the league’s preference is to put a hold on the talk of expansion.

“What’s important is to remember where the conference was and where we are (now),” Chuck Neinas, the Big 12’s acting commissioner, said Wednesday at the Big 12 spring meetings. “I think that we have to build the family unity. This is giving an opportunity for two new members (TCU and West Virginia) to come into the conference so that everybody is working together. And right now it’s a very cooperative spirit.

“What you always do when you’re building a house is you make sure you’ve got a firm foundation. I think that’s what we have now and that’s what we’re working on.”

The Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and SEC have all made moves to expand their leagues in the last two years, but the Big 12 believes by staying at 10 schools it may eventually be better off than those leagues that expanded.

“We’re making the proactive decision to say 10 is in our best interest,” said Jamie Pollard, the athletic director at Iowa State, who also serves as the chairman of the Big 12 AD committee. “I could look and say, ‘If we were at 14 (teams) right now and looking at the BCS potential four-team playoff going what mousetrap did we build?’

“We think we’re positioned in a way that we’ve got all the iterations covered and can act accordingly if we need to. But we think right now, the way it’s turning out, we’re the ones left standing (and others leagues may say the Big 12) had this thing figured out a year or two years ago.”

College football is on the verge of creating a four-team playoff that would determine its national champion. If everything goes as planned, the playoff should be in place by the 2014 season — a new configuration that could be made official sometime this summer. The format for what would essentially be a Final Four of college football has yet to be determined, but the Big 12 is strongly in support of a system that puts the four best teams in the country in the playoff, regardless of what conference a team is from.

“The important thing is to conduct a playoff system that allows access,” Neinas said. “I think you have to give an opportunity to people who are qualified to play for the national championship to be in the playoffs.”

The Big 12 also wants to see a selection committee involved in the process of determining the four best teams, similar to how college basketball selects its 68-team NCAA tournament field.

“There’s a great deal of skepticism on the current ranking system with the polls involved — the Harris Poll, the Coaches Poll and the computers,” Neinas said. “I think there’s a need to take a good look at that. There’s a need for some type of selection committee to bring the human element into play.

“Strength of schedule must — underscore must — be included in any analysis. Why they eliminated the strength of schedule this last time is beyond me.”

That’s just one of the many reasons the Big 12 believes 10 is the best number. By standing pat, every school would continue playing each other in a round-robin format, which Pollard said enhances the league’s schedule strength.

“Most of us are playing at least one other BCS team in our nonconference games so we’re playing 10 (BCS teams in a season),” he said. “So our strength of schedule for our teams is going to be as good as anybody’s in the country. Whoever survives the gauntlet of our Big 12 regular season is going to be well-positioned to be one of those four teams that has a great shot to win the national championship.”

That also means the Big 12 would continue on without a conference championship game on the football field. While that opportunity for the league to take center stage in early December is a valuable marketing opportunity, the conference’s athletic directors believe the risk of a potential national championship team getting knocked out of the four-team playoff due to a loss in the conference title game outweighs the reward of playing the game. Meanwhile, the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC all face that risk with their conference championships (last season marked the first year for the Big Ten and Pac-12 title games).

“The first time somebody’s best team gets knocked out of the four-team playoff because they lost their championship game to a 7-5 or an 8-4 team, we’ll see how long they want to keep a championship game,” Pollard said. “Depending on how the BCS turns out our champion can get to the national championship with one less game. That’s a really good position to be in at this point.”

Expansion will continue to be a topic up for discussion, but as of now the Big 12 sees itself as a perfect 10.

“I think it’s important to say our heads aren’t buried in the sand,” Pollard said. “You have to continue to watch the landscape. You’re going to continue to think strategically but right now we think we’re positioned extremely well.”

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