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The Big 12 reacts to the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 alliance formation. Would league expansion talks include BYU?

The nation’s other Power Five leagues have recently flexed their muscle in the college athletics arms race. Where does all this leave the Big 12, and could it expand?

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Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to reporters during Big 12 media days.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to reporters during Big 12 football media days Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. Bowlsby responded to the recent news of an alliance between three of the other Power Five conferences in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12.

LM Otero, Associated Press

In the college athletics arms race that’s ramped up the past several weeks, there’s been one obvious Power Five conference on the outside looking in.

The Big 12’s Texas and Oklahoma will be joining the Southeastern Conference in the future, further strengthening the SEC as the nation’s top college football league.

Then on Tuesday, the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12 announced an alliance meant to help the three major conferences work together on issues such as scheduling, College Football Playoff expansion and NCAA governance.

Where does all of this leave the Big 12?

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby shared a statement with Action Network’s Brett McMurphy in response to Tuesday’s alliance news.

“The practical impacts of the arrangement are yet to be seen,” the statement read. “The Big 12 Conference has every expectation that we will continue to compete at the highest levels and will be intimately and actively involved in the national athletics agenda.”

Is expansion an option for the Big 12?

Both The Athletic and ESPN took a look at what the future could hold for the Big 12.  

The Athletic reported Tuesday that the Pac-12 will announce by the end of this week whether it will choose to pursue expansion or not. If the Pac-12 were to choose to add, say, two or four of the remaining Big 12 teams — that includes Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, TCU and West Virginia — or another conference helps pick apart the league through expansion, that would leave the Big 12 in an even more vulnerable position than it already is with Texas and Oklahoma moving on.

If the remaining eight teams stay together in the Big 12, though, there could be a possibility for expansion. 

The Athletic’s Max Olson reported that the Big 12 has already formed an expansion subgroup, though any talks of adding schools to the league are preliminary and there would be a variety of factors to sort through — getting the remaining eight universities to work in lockstep for a common goal, and how Texas and Oklahoma would vote (as long as they are still in the conference), for example.

Olson also reported that if the Big 12 does decide to expand, building the strongest football conference would be the approach it likely uses, and that could include BYU. The Provo, Utah-based school has been linked to the Big 12 and expansion talks before.

Who could be among the best candidates for expansion?

“One sentiment among multiple sources is that the Big 12’s best approach to expansion, if it does stay together, is focusing on building the strongest football conference it possibly can,” Olson wrote. “BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and Boise State would be logical targets if that’s the plan, and several more schools merit consideration. There still seems to be serious reluctance about engaging with Houston, which dates back to the conference’s unpleasant experience with UH board chairman Tilman Fertitta in 2016.”

Can the Big 12 stay together and thrive?

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson explored the difficulties facing the remaining eight Big 12 teams, and trying to keep the league together vs. individual schools fulfilling their own self-interests.

Adelson reported that the remaining eight aren’t in a hurry to add schools to the league, but among the main considerations for adding teams would be if expansion candidates would positively impact future television contracts.

“I think the eight continue — both on the president and AD level — continue to be together, and all of the ongoing conversations, a commitment to one another,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told ESPN. “I do think there’s a pathway for the Big 12 to be vibrant. We’re spending time right now really focused and working on what that pathway is or what those couple pathways are.”