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Changes in college athletics leave major-conference outsiders more desperate to get in

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall wants to be in the Big 12. But no Big 12 invitation is likely anytime soon, and BYU and other football-serious schools clearly are sweating in this uneasy age of collegiate athletics.
by Berry Tramel Modified: June 7, 2014 at 4:36 pm •  Published: June 7, 2014
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photo - Bronco Mendenhall leads BYU onto the field. AP photo
Bronco Mendenhall leads BYU onto the field. AP photo

No wonder Mendenhall told the Austin American-Statesman, “We would love to be in the Big 12. I would love to be a member of that conference. I think that would make a lot of sense.”

Mendenhall was not too proud to politick. “Our attendance is high enough. And our winning percentage is high enough,” Mendenhall said. “We have the entire Salt Lake City and Utah market as well as a worldwide following because of the (Mormon) church. There'd be a ton to offer the Big 12 because it's a money-generated world right now. You're talking about an amazing kind of brand.”

Trouble is, of course, the Big 12 has no desire to expand. It stabilized at 10 during the chaos of a few years ago and is thriving, at least financially. The Big 12 announced a record $220.1 million revenue distribution for the just-completed school year.

“It’s working really well,” said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. “The addition of an 11th or 12th team has to strengthen the conference. Just adding other schools that doesn’t strengthen the conference doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”

Joe C. is more cautious than most, which is good in this climate. “I don’t think anybody could ever say never,” he said. “You can’t discount the fluid nature of our whole structure. There’s so many things going on at the moment. To close out any option would be very short-sighted. That doesn’t mean we’re actively pursuing any of them. But if the world around us changes, you reserve the right to consider your options. That’s why I’ve been very open-minded until we see if things are truly settling.”

But no great options exist for the Big 12. Be it branding (UConn football and Cincinnati football don’t move the needle) or geography (Provo, Utah, and Morgantown, W.Va., in the same conference?) or saturated market (Houston), no school on the outside seems a home run for the Big 12. Or even a ground-rule double.

“I’m not hearing any interest in expansion,” Holder said. “Bigger has some advantages. It definitely has some disadvantages as well.”

The Big 12 for now is in solid shape. But that pounding on the door of the ark is from schools not in solid shape who feel it beginning to rain.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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