Chuck Neinas says the Big 12 is finished expanding for now. And you can trust him, so long as you don't get too picky about what “now” means.
The Big 12 added West Virginia on Friday, leaving Louisville in the wretched Big East. The Big 12 might be a pirate ship, but at least America wants to watch the Bluebeards play football.
But don't count out Louisville coming on board, too. And maybe sooner rather than later.
A Big 12 source told me that despite what Neinas said Friday, the conference has not settled on 10 as an ideal number. In fact, there could be a push to also invite Louisville soon and bring the membership to 11.
Make the West Virginia/Big East negotiation a two-school affair. Strength in numbers.
Eleven is an odd number in more ways than one. But the Big Ten had 11 members for 20 years.
At 11, the Big 12 could stand pat and try to work a deal for Notre Dame as an associate member, in all sports but football. At 11, the Big 12 could stand ready to easily get back to a full 12-team league with divisions and a championship game, no matter whether the 12th team is manna from Heaven (Notre Dame) or another Big East refugee (Cincinnati).
At 11, the Big 12 would have scheduling options. Stick with the nine-game league schedule, which means each football team would skip one conference opponent a year.
Or even better, the Big 12 could go to a 10-team league schedule. Coaches wouldn't like the severity of such a task, but it would greatly enhance the Big 12's television package. More inventory; more quality games.
West Virginia got the nod over Louisville primarily for television purposes. The Mountaineers are a brand name on the gridiron. Louisville wouldn't add value to the network contracts. But if Louisville meant a 10-game conference schedule, well, that's different. That's 55 conference games; that's a lot of good football.
Plus, Louisville brings other benefits to the Big 12. Across-the-board athletic success. The Cardinals beat OSU to go to the 2007 College World Series. The Cardinals beat OU in the 2009 Women's Final Four.
And Rick Pitino's team has been known to play a little basketball. I know conference realignment is football driven, but a school that can put the Big 12's name in lights in March is a handy bonus.