Big 12 football: Waiting on a commissioner for more expansion?
I received a little feedback on my column in the Friday Oklahoman concerning bringing in Louisville to the Big 12 to complement West Virginia, regardless of the Big 12′s debate on whether to get back to 12 schools or not. You can read that column here.
The most interesting response came from a Big 12 insider who supports Louisville’s admission to the conference. He said he believes that while there’s a general interest in talking about expansion, be it it Louisville or any other school, there’s also the opinion that the league should wait until a new commissioner is on board.
Interim commissioner Chuck Neinas made it clear when he was hired last September that he didn’t plan to stay on the job permanently, and that plan apparently still holds. It looks like Neinas is content to finish out the school year, then step aside in the summer to make way for a new commish.
A Big 12 search committee has begun preliminary work on finding a new commissioner. Among the prominent names mentioned so far are Notre Dame athletic Jack Swarbrick and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky.
Swarbrick would be interesting, since the Big 12 has consistently tried to entice Notre Dame into some kind of alliance. Join the league in all sports except football, but agree to a scheduling rotation in football, too. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds in particular covets Notre Dame and appears to have a good relationship with the Fighting Irish administration. But Notre Dame has provided no clues that it would be interested in a Big 12 alliance.
Banowsky, the son of former OU president Bill Banowsky, is a well-respected administrator, and some within the league touted Britton Banowsky for the job as soon as Dan Beebe was forced to resign last September. Banowsky is in an interesting position; his conference is imploding, as is the Mountain West, which explains why the two leagues have agreed to form a new conference together. What that means for Banowsky or Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, I haven’t heard.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione has been mentioned as a commissioner candidate but told me he wasn’t interested and gave some valid reasons.
My pal Kirk Bohls at the Austin American Statesman has promoted Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne for the job, which would be an ironic hire, since the Aggies are leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. Byrne is a sharp and classy guy. I don’t know if he can run a conference, but I also don’t know why he couldn’t. Byrne clearly wasn’t crazy about A&M’s departure, though he was a good soldier for A&M and didn’t go against the company line.
Just as likely as any scenario is that the Big 12 goes for an out-of-the-box candidate, as the Pac-10 did when it hired Larry Scott two years ago. Scott came to the Pac from the women’s tennis tour and made an immediate splash. He was aggressive in conference expansion, seeking the Oklahoma schools and the Texas heavyweights, and produced a huge gain in television contracts for his conference. On the other hand, Scott largely struck out in expansion. He added only Colorado and Utah, which frankly didn’t do much for his league’s profile.
But the overall idea might be right, that the Big 12 schools plan to wait until a new leader is on board before addressing further expansion. The Big 12 was forced to address the issue last autumn when A&M and Missouri announced their intention of leaving. Television contracts mandated at least a 10-team league, and the Big 12 had to act fast to get West Virginia and TCU. There is no such emergency now.
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