Throughout last offseason and during the 2011 campaign, the national joke regarding expansion in college football centered on the absurdity of the Big Ten having 12 teams and the Big 12 having 10 members.
Because the sport continues to undergo massive change in all aspects of the game — conference landscape, postseason format, NCAA legislation, etc. — the issue of expansion will remain at the forefront for the foreseeable future.
And the Big 12 is a conference that has attracted some of the most attention when discussing this issue.
Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers will compete in the Big 12 in 2012.
New members West Virginia and TCU will officially join the league and immediately compete on the gridiron this fall. Despite losing Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, the Big 12 was able to land two programs that have held their own on the football field.
Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs bounced back from a rough start last year to put together another season with double-digit wins a year removed from their landmark win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, while the Mountaineers clobbered Clemson in the Orange Bowl, which was even more impressive considering Dana Holgorsen was in his first season as a college head coach.
But there are many who wonder if WVU truly did what was in the best interest of the university by moving to the Big 12, considering that the school didn't have a geographical partner when it changed leagues. In other words, it will take much longer and more money for the Mountaineers to travel to each road contest next fall. And that affects every student-athlete, not just a football player traveling once a week. Think men's tennis, women's volleyball, etc. While those sports don't generate the big cash, it doesn't reflect well on the university's administration for allowing such grueling travel to occur when the same individuals preach the sanctity of amateur athletics.
So will West Virginia get a geographical partner in the near future?
Speculation continues to persist that Louisville could still land in the Big 12 after nearly moving West last year. The Cardinals would bring a successful basketball program, a top-50 television market and a neighbor for West Virginia. Keep in mind that the Mountaineers are nearly 900 miles from nearest Big 12 member Iowa State, and they are nearly 1,500 miles from Texas Tech. Meanwhile, Louisville is only roughly 400 miles from Morgantown, as Kentucky and West Virginia are border states with similar cultures. And while football is the sport that drives the boat, Louisville being the nation's No. 1 college basketball market for television ratings is a big deal. And with an emerging footbal program, the city will rally around a program playing regularly against Oklahoma, Texas, etc.
Perhaps the X-factor is the impending new Big 12 commissioner. Interim conference leader Chuck Neinas, who helped keep the league together last year when it could have imploded, will eventually step aside for a new fulltime commissioner to take over. Neinas is currently signed through June. Whoever that new leader is will surely weigh the league's options in terms of future membership, especially as conference expansion and realignment plays out across the country in other leagues. Surely, a conference championship game could very likely be on the horizon again for the Big 12, which would need to go back to 12 teams for that to happen. But even if the league goes to 11 teams with the 'Ville, why not keep a round-robin football schedule and play 10 conference games?
Conference commissioners are always monitoring the landscape of college athletics, and the issue of expansion isn't going anywhere any time soon — especially for the next Big 12 commish.
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