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Big 12 decides not to expand, BYU to remain independent

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, right, and Oklahoma President David Boren take their seat to speak to reporter after The Big 12 Conference meeting in Grapevine, Texas, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Big 12 Conference has decided against expansion from its cu
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, right, and Oklahoma President David Boren take their seat to speak to reporter after The Big 12 Conference meeting in Grapevine, Texas, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Big 12 Conference has decided against expansion from its current 10 schools after three months of analyzing, vetting and interviewing possible new members. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
LM Otero, AP

It appears that the BYU football program will remain independent for quite some time to come.

The Big 12 Conference, which has been exploring the possibility of expansion for months, announced from Dallas Monday that it will not be adding teams after all.

“Right now it’s best to stay where we are,” Oklahoma President David Boren said. “We would never say never (on expansion). But we feel it would be wrong to say it is an active agenda item, because it no longer is."

And with that announcement, BYU's hopes of joining a Power 5 conference anytime soon were dashed.

Boren added that there was no vote or discussion about any particular school during the Big 12 presidents' meetings, held Sunday and Monday. The decision not to expand, Boren said, was unanimous.

BYU released a statement after the Big 12’s announcement.

“Over the last few months, BYU has learned a lot about its strengths as an institution and as an athletic department,” the statement read. “Through our in-depth review we have reinforced valuable relationships and have been reminded how strong we are as a university. BYU strives to run its athletic program like a P5 institution. Our national fan base and broadcast ratings, along with the many historical and recent successes of our teams, attest we certainly belong. We believe BYU can significantly contribute to the athletic and academic excellence of a P5 conference.”

In July, Big 12 presidents heard presentations from paid consultants about how the conference could improve its chances of landing a team in the college football playoff by expanding and increasing revenue.

The Big 12 presidents then voted to explore expansion. What followed was the league going through the process of vetting potential candidates, including BYU.

In September, the Big 12 pared down expansion candidates to BYU and 10 other schools: Air Force, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU and Tulane.

There were in-person interviews, video conferences, exchanging of information and background work that was “very thorough,” according to Bowlsby.

Of the expansion exploration process, Bowlsby said it was “perhaps … a little more of a sweepstakes than we thought it would be."

Bowlsby added that exploring expansion was "public and transparent and was intended to be that."

“Let me say I think we all feel deep gratitude for those colleges and universities who showed interest in joining the Big 12,” Boren said. "We have all taken notice and learned a great deal about these universities. It is time and effort certainly not wasted."

Bowlsby said he talked to the presidents or chancellors of all 11 finalist schools during the process and again Monday, after a decision was made.

Over the weekend, there were reports that expansion was unlikely because the Big 12’s television partners, ESPN and Fox, were expected to buy the league out of its pro rata clause — increasing revenue for all 10 league members. Or in other words, the networks would pay the league not to expand.

Monday, Bowlsby avoided the issue when he was asked the question about whether the networks were buying out the pro rata clause.

Meanwhile, both Boren and Bowlsby underscored the stability and strength of the Big 12. The Big 12’s grant of media rights is due to expire in 2025.

"There's not a single school looking to leave the conference,” Boren said. “We are committing to staying with the conference."

During the expansion exploration process, Bowlsby said he “made references to individual institutions, but I did not make any recommendations."

As for the Big 12 meetings that concluded Monday, Bowlsby said, “I made one recommendation. That we should bring this process to closure. That we shouldn’t kick the can down the road. … This was not a decision not to expand. This was an endorsement and a reinvestment in the strength of the 10 that we have."

According to SI.com, BYU played a major role in the Big 12’s decision not to expand.

“Two events shifted the tenor of expansion exploration. The first came in early August when FoxSports.com wrote an article indicating the potential backlash from the LGBT community against BYU if the Cougars were admitted,” wrote Pete Thamel. “BYU was the prohibitive favorite to join the league, and when it became politically untenable to take the school, which is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the entire tenor of expansion changed.”

Bowlsby said Monday that the league completed a thorough Title IX review to ensure compliance from candidate schools.

In the end, the Big 12 chose to remain at 10 teams moving forward. "Bigger," Bowlsby said, "is not always better."

EMAIL: jeffc@deseretnews.com