Ever since UCLA and USC announced their departure for the Big 12, the entire college football landscape has been shaky.
Rumors, rumors, and more rumors. That has been the extent of all the college football expansion talk the past month since UCLA and USC announced their departure to the Big 10. At times it has seemed like the Arizona schools were locks into joining. Then it looked like Oregon and Washington were headed off to the Big 10. Most recently, Stanford and Cal have emerged as candidates to join.
So what is actually going on?
Only a handful of people know, but I’ve got a good theory.
The Big 12 is making a power move. They want to look strong. For this reason, everything is being done behind closed doors with five locks and an army of security guards. What the Big 12 does not want to happen is for them to send an invitation to a team, it get turned down and then have it get out to the public.
When and if the Big 12 makes a move, they want it to look like they made one direct and strong decision, no plans B, C or D. This is especially true if a team like Oregon or Washington turn down an offer and Stanford and Cal join. Nothing would look worse than news getting out that Washington turned down the conference, and so the Big 12 settled on Cal.
In fact, all that has been said is that the Big 12 is looking for teams that will help the conference. But they haven’t expressed what that means. Does it mean market? Perhaps recent success, or maybe more of a historic program. Do Olympic sports matter? Maybe academics? The thing is, the Big 12 has left it open to interpretation. They can sell any team to the country as their first choice.
The Big 12 would want to sell Cal and Stanford (or whoever) as if they were always the plan. The Big 12 also learned in 2016 that being open about expansion can be very dangerous. The league looked very weak when they decided not to expand and were mocked nationally.
Sure, the Big 12 was very open again in 2021, but that was out of necessity. The league needed the spotlight on them and had to take risks. The spotlight was healthy, because without it, other teams would have also left.
This year, the Big 12 is in a good spot. The league is looking like the third most secure conference in the nation. Sure the ACC has a massive media deal, but that appears to be the only barrier separating them from likely losing Miami and Clemson to the SEC, despite what SEC reports say.
However, at the same time, the Big 12 is head and shoulders below the SEC and Big 10, and they know it. While no addition will put them at the same level of the two, a strong and bold statement about any additions will help to put the Big 12 squarely at the big boys table, even if with a toddler chair.
That is why nothing is coming out. And that is why nothing will come out until there is a sudden surprise announcement, similar to what UCLA and USC did.